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UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development

Introduction: Education for Sustainable Development

'Education for Sustainable Development is an investment in our future… each respective country should ensure that appropriate resources are made available for its development' - World Summit on Sustainable Development: Plan of Implementation (2002).
The Global Development Research Center (GDRC) endorses and supports the initiative of the UN to designate the decade of 2005 - 2015 as the 'UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development'. Much of the work of GDRC focusses on incorporating sustainability concerns within everyday decisions - how can lifestyle choices and consumption patterns be made more environmentally sound, and have less negative impacts?

The UN-DESD started on 1 January 2005, and extends to the end of the year 2015. This coincides with the Millennium Development Goals which state that by 2015, "children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling and that girls and boys will have equal access to all levels of education."

The UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development seeks to (a) incorporate quantitative and qualitative ESD indicators into on-going monitoring and evaluation of Education for All (EFA) and the UN Literacy Decade; (b) monitor the progress of activities undertaken by UN agencies, Governments and NGOs in observance of the Decade and facilitate implementation and follow-up; (c) evaluate the achievement of measurable results in realising the aims and objectives of the Decade, particularly in regard to the integration of ESD in national educational policies, programmes and systems; and (d) make recommendations to further promote ESD based on results and lessons learnt from the Decade.

The main thrusts of Education for Sustainable Development, originally identified in Chapter 36 of Agenda 21, have been expanded upon in the Work Programme of the UN Commission of Sustainable Development (CSD), reports of the major UN Conferences of the 1990's such as the conference on Women in Beijing, and Population in Cairo, The World Education Forum in Dakar.

  1. Public understanding of the principles behind sustainability. ESD has a major role in furthering the discussion of sustainability itself and the evolution of the concept from a vision to its practical application in culturally appropriate and locally relevant forms.
  2. Mainstreaming ESD. This social process needs to be mainstreamed into all sectors including business, agriculture, tourism, natural resource management, local government and mass media, adding value to program development and implementation.
  3. Lifelong-learning for all. Society has to adapt to a phenomenal rate of change in knowledge – a university degree is current for some 5 years – so the know how and capacity of individuals and organisations to be able to continuously learn is a most precious asset for the future. Therefore quality life-long education and learning opportunities are required for all peoples regardless of their occupation or circumstances. Without access to not only basic education but also higher education, nations will find development of any kind, let alone the much preferred sustainable development, very difficult. This education must also reflect the local culture and societal needs.
  4. ESD is relevant to all nations. The realization that it is our most highly educated countries that create some of the greatest threats to a sustainable future for the planet, the reorienting of existing education programs in all nations to address the social, environmental, and economic knowledge, skills, perspectives, and values inherent in sustainability is also a major thrust of ESD.
  5. Specialised Training Programs. The development of specialized training programs to ensure that all sectors of society have the skills necessary to perform their world in a sustainable manner.

Contributions to this section are welcome! Please send an email to Hari Srinivas at -

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