Even UNESCO now talks about education, not ESD

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

UNESCO is sidelining its flagging ESD project.  Although its website recently had this headline:

Education for Sustainable Development placed firmly on the COP21 map

... it was followed by this:

"The critical role of education in climate change was given the stamp of approval at the Paris climate conference COP21."

The full text is set out below.  In it, despite the headline, the emphasis is on education, not ESD.  In fact ESD is only mentioned twice: [i] in the context of the GAP, and right at the end by a "youth ESD leader" who has a vested interest in  doing so.

See for yourself ...

In negotiations to draft the climate agreement involving delegates from 195 countries, Article 8bis on education was the first agreed upon stating that “parties shall cooperate in taking measures…to enhance climate change education, training, public awareness, public participation and public access to information.”

Education for sustainable development, both formal and non-formal, was afforded an entire thematic day as part of the conference on December 4 when numerous UNESCO-supported events including discussions and interviews took place in a dedicated exhibition space.

UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova, speaking at the event organized by French Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, in the presence of Ségolène Royal, French Minister for Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy, stressed there could be no sustainable development without education and called for reinforced mobilization to transform education systems.

"At the opening of COP21, 150 heads of state rang the alarm on the state of our planet. This must be translated into political decisions, into financial investments, and calls for a deep change in mentalities, in behaviours,” said the Director-General. “This change happens through education, because education brings the skills and values that youth need to successfully manage the energy and climate revolution.”

The Director-General also participated in the UN side event organized by UNESCO and other UN agencies entitled “Learning to live with climate change  –  Accelerating climate change education and awareness-raising.”  She said that education was the red thread tying together the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and climate change action. “To succeed, we need greener societies, and fundamentally, we need green citizens.”

She laid out three crucial actions to move forward: integrating sustainable development more deeply into national education systems; giving teachers the knowledge, resources and skills to fulfill their role as change agents; and creating stronger and more innovative partnerships, including with the private sector. She explained that UNESCO works with 13 UN agencies to promote climate change education; leads advocacy at global and regional levels, assists countries to integrate climate change issues in their education systems, and provides technical guidance, training and resources such as online training courses.

As part of the day UNESCO organized five discussion rounds of 45 minutes each touching on the five priority action areas of the Global Action Programme on ESD (GAP): policy actors, whole-institution approaches, educators, youth and local communities. These were animated by UNESCO partners – experts, practitioners and youth representatives – from around the world with many visitors stopping by the UNESCO pavilion to engage in animated, interactive debates.

The UN Alliance Side Event on Non-Formal Education and Innovative Approaches for Climate Change stressed the important of the generation born this century in effecting a major shift in thinking to make the transition to low emission, climate resilient development.

Education is crucial in promoting the change in lifestyle, attitude and behaviour needed to and the side event showcased alternative approaches for climate change learning such as music, video games and social media.

Nick Nuttall, Spokesperson for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), said: “The number one weapon in delivering climate change is education.”

Tariq Al-Olaimy, Co-founder of strategy consultancy 3BL Associates and youth ESD leader also praised the effectiveness of education for sustainable development (ESD) in changing people’s minds and behaviour towards more sustainable ones.


UNESCO is clearly now trying its best to focus on changing the nature of education across the world, rather than "introducing ESD".  About time, you might think; Fat chance, might be another response.

Sadly, it's stuck with ESD as an idea that's now just getting in the way.  It's also stuck with well-meaning folk who still think that ESD is the answer – although they have lost sight of the question.  Such folk all know, of course, that trying to change education systems is a thankless task, and just prefer to do what they enjoy – even though it will make little difference.  T'was ever thus, of course.

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates


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