Rio+20 and Education and Training, Shanti Jagannathan, Senior Education Specialist, ADB
Going by reports in the press, the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development did not quite set on fire new commitments for sustainable development. The outcome document from the Summit lacks the punch for extraordinary next steps. However, two Es, Economics and Education in the context of sustainability, captured the imagination. The Guardian reported that “beyond Rio, green economics can give us hope”. UNEP argued that green economics would bring the environment within the “visible spectrum” of economic activity. It is believed that the participation of 1,500 corporate leaders compared with only a handful in 1992 signals that there is plenty of green business to be done.
Education for sustainability was actively discussed. The conference outcome document calls for the development of sustainability curricula and training programs for careers in fields related to sustainability. It advocates support to higher education institutions to carry out research and innovation for sustainable development. Entrepreneurship and technical and vocational training to bridge skills gaps to meet sustainable development objectives are also stressed.
250 higher education institutions joined together to issue a declaration at Rio in support of sustainable development, by agreeing to take actions to teach sustainable development concepts across all disciplines, encourage research on sustainable development issues to improve scientific understanding and transfer of technologies and undertake greening of campuses by reducing environmental footprint and promoting sustainable practices.
A number of side events at Rio led to discussions on education and training for sustainability. The UN report ‘Shaping the Education of Tomorrow: 2012’ reviewed gains made during the ongoing UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005-2015) and called for unifying different aspects of sustainability such climate change, disaster risk reduction and biodiversity in education. The International Business Leaders Forum released the report ‘Partnerships for Education: Building the foundations of a green, prosperous and equitable global economy’. A number of UN organizations participated in the side-event “UN Multi-stakeholder Strategies for Scaling-up and Mainstreaming Learning for Sustainable Development”. UNITAR drew attention to the role of training in the side event ‘National Learning and Skills Strategies to Advance a Green Transition Organizing partners’. The UN CC:Learn seeks to advance global knowledge sharing and national capacity development to strengthen climate change. The recent creation of the Inter-agency Working Group on Greening Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) and Skills Development advocates international partnerships for green skills and capacity development.
These are promising trends in a hitherto neglected area. Article 6 of UNFCCC had been somewhat limited in only advocating awareness building. A more active and long-term role for education to advance climate change implementation but also to find new and innovative solutions for greening economies is very timely.
Leading educational institutions are already on this track. Stanford University now has 500 courses that include a component of sustainability embedded across the curriculum for various disciplines – medicine, mathematics, economics, engineering, law and life sciences. The University’s Sustainability 3.0 strategy aims to reduce the environmental impact of students and campus buildings. Columbia University has a Master of Science in Sustainability Management and an extensive array of sustainability management courses. Columbia and IBM have partnered to launch a green tech skills initiative to provide next generation entrepreneurs access to skills needed to accelerate sustainability projects and to be competitive when they enter the workforce. Hong Kong University proposes to start a Master of Arts on Education for Sustainability. TERI University of India as a specialized institution focuses on courses in climate science and policy, natural resource management, environment studies, renewable energy engineering and management, sustainable development practices etc. The Petroleum University of Gujarat has established a school of solar energy. Much more work is at hand to increase the global availability of qualified and skilled professionals.
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