By Jonathan Power

LUND, Sweden (IDN-INPS) - In a press conference on January 27 President Donald Trump said he believed in the worth of torture but then added most surprisingly that using it wasn’t going to be his decision. It would be decided by the Secretary of Defence, General James Mattis, who, as Trump said, is against torture.

Three years ago the US Senate Intelligence Committee published a summary of a thorough report on the recent American use of torture. Its chairwoman, Dianne Feinstein, said the 6,000-page report is “one of the most significant oversight efforts in the history of the US”.

- Photo: 2021

Education For Sustainable Development as Overarching Framework to Achieve the SDGs

Viewpoint by Simone Galimberti

The writer is Co-Founder of ENGAGE, a not-for-profit in Nepal. He writes on volunteerism, social inclusion, youth development, and regional integration as an engine to improve people’s lives. He can be reached at

KATHMANDU, Nepal (IDN) — A life insurance policy for humanity, this is how Audrey Azoulay, the UNESCO Director-General defined the scope of all efforts focused on addressing climate change and the persistent degradation of our biodiversity.

We have been hearing and talking a lot about mitigation and adaptation but much less has been the attention on Action for Climate Empowerment, a new approach that should be fully integrated into the broader Education for Sustainable Development framework.

Certainly, there has been in the last three to five years a lot of attention about climate activism, the bold and upfront type of advocacy been carried out by young climate “warriors” whose role was essential in creating the sense of urgency about climate change that prevails now.

Less talked and discussed instead is the attempt to institutionalize common actions to deal effectively with the climate emergency.

The Doha Work Plan has been the main global mechanism trying to involve and engage the global citizenry for an effective response to this global crisis, actively pursuing a new level of global consciousness about the adverse effects of climate change while also building the foundations of a more sustainable future, able to live up to the expectations set by the Agenda 2030.

With the COP26 in Glasgow fast approaching, there has been a whirlpool of events and initiatives under the auspices of the Secretariat of United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change also known as UN Climate Change.

The overall aim is to come up with a revamped implementation plan that could build on Doha’s and truly mainstreams all the efforts in the field of Action for Climate Empowerment.

What could be done between the reality of having multiple agendas, complementary and linked to each other but often pursued ineffectively through a fragmented fashion and the need to think and act boldly, ambitiously, and systematically?

Perhaps the upcoming UNESCO World Conference on Education for Sustainable Development that will be organized virtually from May 17 to 19 could offer an answer to this conundrum, provided the same concept of education for sustainable development becomes stronger, more visible, better marketed, and mainstreamed across the sectors.

[The conference is organized by UNESCO in cooperation with and generously supported by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research of Germany, and with the German Commission for UNESCO as advisory partner.]

The conference, moved back from 2020 due to the pandemic, offers an opportunity to reflect and re-energize about the great potential that education for sustainable development has to help achieve the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals, the best pathways for humanity to turn the Agenda 2030 into a reality.

Both concepts, education for climate empowerment and education for sustainable development have strong justifications because they are based on Art 6 of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and Art. 12 of the Paris Agreement.

More should be done to unify and tie them together and the conference could help.  

Over the last few years, a lot of discussions have taken place to better understand how to unlock the stumbling blocks that prevent ESD to truly get the recognition (and the resources) it is due.

There have been certainly positive outcomes following the adaption of the Aichi-Nagoya Declaration named after the city in Japan that hosted the last UNESCO World Conference on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) in 2014.

One of the most interesting success story related to the implementation of ESD that could be broadly understood as a holistic approach aimed at creating the consciousness, awareness, and know-how among the people, from students to parents, from teachers to administrators and beyond, about the need of more equitable and sustainable consumption patterns together with more healthy lifestyles while embracing inalienable human rights, is the creation of a vast network of stakeholders around the world.

Schools, universities, civil societies have come together in a series of widespread networks that have been collaborating through innovative partnerships, putting actions to the words behind the universal principles of sustainability, equity, and justice.

From ProSPER.Net, an alliance of committed universities in the Asia-Pacific working to integrate sustainable development in their core curricula to the Copernicus Alliance, a similar initiative in Europe to UNESCO’s Associated Schools Network, ASPnet, to the Eco-School Global Program focusing on embedding sustainability in pedagogies for small kids to the Global RCE Network that facilitates regional interdisciplinary action- research partnerships in the field of sustainability, just to mention few of them, a lot is going on.

There have been 2,161 programs, 139,093 learning institutions, 37,669,951 learners involved 139,093 learning institutions supported School 2,148,873 teacher educators involved, putting in practice the Global Action Plan, GAP that, following the Aichi- Nagoya summit, had been the overarching framework for the promotion of education for sustainable development from 2015 to 2019.

Despite these staggering numbers, far too many people are not fully aware of the importance of holistically embedding sustainability in the classrooms across the entire educational spectrum and the entire framework is still too much considered as a nice “add on”.

Yet the reflections UNESCO and its partners have undertaken to revise the GAP in preparation for the incoming summit are encouraging.

The focus now is really to try to understand and apply the transformative nature that education for sustainable development can have on the students, with the advantages it brings in helping them achieve their full potential.

There is now the consciousness that it’s after all about self-leadership with “being sustainable” becoming a key value that reinforces others like personal accountability and integrity, that, all together, represent the foundations of character leadership.

Moreover, an incredible array of resources is now available like for example “Getting Climate Ready, A Guide for Schools on Climate Action” that applies and transfers key concepts of education for sustainable development and make them truly “ready” for schools across the world to win the challenge against climate change.

With so much at stake and with so many overlapping initiatives, one of the key tasks for the delegates at the summit this week will be truly come up with a holistic strategy to better link programs apparently separated like “education for climate empowerment” with the overarching ESD framework.

Better visibility and promotion of ESD will surely help to reach out more key stakeholders but equally important is that the message to be conveyed must be clear and easy to understand to all: education for sustainable development is not an extra, something the less resourceful and poorest schools in developing countries can afford to miss.

The winning strategy is to radically upend the current status quo in terms of how traditional pedagogies are being imparted across the educational spectrum.

All the learning should be transferred through the lens of sustainability, but this is easier to say than get it done because it requires a gigantic effort.

Perhaps this is the true challenge but also at the same time the key to successfully achieve the SDGs: a transformation of pedagogical approaches in a way that they can promote new patterns and new behaviors while helping students become better persons and better students.

While pedagogists and experts in leadership should embrace this global contest, it also goes down on new forms of working together that, in the end, boil down at a revamping the way international cooperation is managed.

Creating links and connections even among different UN agencies not only between UNESCO and UN Climate Change but also among others, including UNDP, UN Women, and UNICEF just to mention a few of them, can help to establish a common front to help not only educate people but through it, also engage them to embrace the Agenda 2030.

The new ESD for 2030 framework for the period of 2020-2030 that will be formally launched at the summit should be financially backed in such a way that it can truly bring systematic change, without which we won’t be able to imagine human beings thriving rather than just surviving beyond 2050.

As UNESCO explained, “education is the most powerful element in preparing societies for the global challenges that climate change brings. It equips individuals, communities and the wider world with the understanding, skills, and attitudes to engage in shaping green, low emission, and climate-resilient societies”.

The Berlin Declaration that will be adopted this week at the global summit should be ambitious enough because remaining anchored to a cautious realism won’t bring us far.

Certainly, the success of the upcoming COP26 this November will not only depend on the goodwill of the governments to agree on new ambitious emission targets but also on their interest and capacity to involve their citizenry.

World leaders have no choice but to embrace education for sustainable development. [IDN-InDepthNews – 16 May 2021]

Image: The UNESCO World Conference on Education for Sustainable Development will be held as a virtual conference from 17 to 19 May 2021. Credit: UNESCO

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