It is easy to see why UNESCO thinks that ESD has relevance to the SDGs; after all, they both are about "sustainable development", and a straightforward calculus would have it that quality ESD contributes not only to an understanding of the goals, and an appreciation of their importance and value, but also to their realisation. I should say that it is the last of these that is the most troublesome aspect of all this, but set that aside for now.
Those involved in global / development education are also readily able to endorse this relationship which probably explains why they are making much of the running in helping schools and others tackle the issues.
But what about environmental education? It is clear that the SDGs relate to environmental issues, and that, one way or another, many environmental issues are issues of environmental justice: that is, generally-speaking, it's poor people and disadvantaged communities that bear the brunt of environmental problems. It ought to be obvious, therefore, that environmental educators should address the goals. But do they?
Well, the interests of environmental educators do map onto the goals, and I have highlighted the most obvious references:
Goal 1: End poverty in all its forms everywhere
Goal 2: End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture
Goal 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
Goal 4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
Goal 6: Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
Goal 7: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
Goal 8: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
Goal 9: Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
Goal 10: Reduce income inequality within and among countries
Goal 11: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
Goal 12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
Goal 13: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts by regulating emissions and promoting developments in renewable energy
Goal 14: Conserve and sustainable use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development
Goal 15: Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss
Goal 16: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
Goal 17: Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development
Thus, environmental educators who focus on oceans and marine resources, ecosystems, forests, desertification, land degradation, biodiversity loss, climate change, renewable energy, water and sanitation, agriculture, health, pollution, waste, etc, are addressing the foci of the goals whether they know it or not.
But, if part of the purpose of addressing the SDGs is to enable an appreciation of their importance and value, and also to contribute to their realisation, it follows that the goals must be explicitly referenced. Thus, it's not enough to teach about sustainable marine resources (Goal 14) without indicating that this is one of 17 goals that address issues of supreme relevance to the the lives of billions of people, and the planet more generally.
And do environmental educators do this sufficiently clearly? Or do we leave it to those interested in global learning, etc, to stake a claim to be the champions of all this?