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London Regional Centre of Expertise (RCE) 
on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD)

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Background

The Story of a Global Movement

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In 2002, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution announcing the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (UNDESD 2005-2014). The UNDESD stressed the need to reorient existing education towards sustainability. In response, the United Nations University (UNU) called for the development of regional networks for the promotion of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD). Regional Centres of Expertise (RCEs), both collectively and individually, aspire to achieve the goals of the UNDESD by translating global objectives into the context of the local communities in which they operate.

The RCE network brings together multi-sectoral and interdisciplinary members who might not usually work together. This includes members from education, civil society, business and government. This enables the RCEs to create solutions to these challenges through dialogue, education, and learning. RCEs ensure that the many facets of sustainable development have a place in primary, secondary, and tertiary education and research, as well as in informal learning spaces.

As of January 2015, the UNU has acknowledged 135 RCEs throughout the world, in Africa, the Asia-Pacific region, Europe, the Middle East, South America, the Caribbean, North and Central America. For further details, please visit http://www.rce-network.org/portal/rces-worldwide.

The Sustainable Development Paradigm

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In order to understand Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), one needs to understand sustainable development.

So what is Sustainable Development (SD)?

There are diverse definitions, but the most often quoted one is that of the Brundtland Commission – ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.’

There are four dimensions to sustainable development – society, environment, culture and economy – which are intertwined, not separate. Sustainability is a paradigm for thinking about the future in which environmental, societal and economic considerations are balanced in the pursuit of an improved quality of life. The concept of SD achieved prominence in the political agenda since the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio. Today, the quest for an environmentally sound, socially just, economically viable and ethically acceptable development is increasingly being regarded as a priority by all nations in the world.

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Education for Sustainable Development (ESD)

The UN University (UNU) defines ESD as ‘the educational process of achieving human development in an inclusive, equitable and secure manner’, linking it to the UNDP’s three pillars of human development: economic growth, social development and environmental protection.’ According to the UNESCO, the vision of ESD is ‘a world where everyone has the opportunity to benefit from quality education and learn the values, behaviour and lifestyles required for a sustainable future and for positive societal transformation.’

ESD is for everyone. It is about lifelong learning from childhood to adulthood, in all potential spaces of learning, whether formal, non-formal or informal. It is widespread, encompassing economic, social and environmental concerns affecting our present and future. ESD prepares people of all walks of life to plan for, cope with, and find solutions for issues that threaten the sustainability of our planet. It is centred on changing mind-sets, enhancing capacity for facilitating change and equipping people, communities and organisations with new skills and knowledge, to bring about long-term and sustained change.

Stakeholders:
ESD involves a range of stakeholders from organisations or institutions (e.g. schools, universities, NGOs, media, museums, zoos, botanical gardens, state bodies, local businesses), groups (e.g. environmental groups, local communities) and individuals (e.g. students, who work in education or in the spheres SD, such as economic growth, social development and environmental protection).

Learning Spaces:
ESD takes place in all learning spaces including non-formal learning, community-based organisations, civil society, the workplace, technical and vocational training, formal education, teacher training, higher education educational inspectorates, policy-making bodies and beyond.

Improving and reorienting education is one of the goals of Agenda 21, which was adopted at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio.

Chapter 36 of Agenda 21: Major thrusts of ESD

Chapter 36 of Agenda 21 identifies four major thrusts of ESD:
The promotion and improvement of basic education: However, mere increasing of basic literacy and numeracy will not significantly advance sustainable societies. Basic education must focus on imparting knowledge, skills, perspectives and values that encourage and support sustainable lifestyles
Reorienting existing education at all levels to address sustainable development: Rethinking and revising education all education to include more principles, skills, perspectives and values related to sustainability in social, environmental and economic realms is vital for making societies more sustainable
Developing public understanding and awareness of sustainability: Making societies more sustainable requires a population that is aware of goals of sustainable societies and has the knowledge and skills to contribute towards them.
Training: All workers can contribute to sustainability at local, regional or national level. A critical component to ESD is specialised training programmes for training the workforce to work in a sustainable manner.

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