UN Recommendations for Sustainable Development Education

In opposition to my previous post, which problematizes the role of sustainability in higher education, here’s a quick look at what the participants at the Johannesburg Earth Summit had to say about the issue. Building upon some fundamental principles set by the United Nations Conference of Environment and Development, held ten year prior in Rio de Janeiro, the Johannesburg Summit’s report emphasizes the necessity to foreground issues pertaining to Sustainable Development across all disciplines in all institutions of higher education.

Here are some pertinent excerpts from the Summit’s report:

“Education is critical for promoting sustainable development. It is therefore essential to mobilize necessary resources, including financial resources at all levels…to complement the efforts by national governments to pursue the following goals and actions:” (116).

“Allocate national and international resources…for improved integration of sustainable development into education and in bilateral and multilateral development programmes, and improve integration between publicly funded research and development and development programmes” (119).

“Integrate sustainable development into educational systems at all levels of education in order to promote education as a key agent for change” (121).

“Provide all community members with a wide range of formal and non-formal continuing educational opportunities… promote sustainable development” (123).

“Support the use of education to promote sustainable development, including… (d) recommend to the United Nations General Assembly that it consider adopting a decade of education for sustainable development, starting in 2005” (124).

Suppose, for a moment, that there was consensus amongst university administrators that sustainable development should become an overarching area of emphasis. What would this mean for institutions of higher learning?

Would it mean requiring all students to take courses in environmental studies or reinterpreting all disciplines through a “green” lens? Would it mean instilling in students an awareness of the interconnectedness of planetary systems and the global consequences of their actions? Or increasing the energy efficiency of campus facilities?

Would sustainable development be the purview of an environmental studies department or Facilities Management? Or would it (should it be?) a unifying theme across all disciplines – the ultimate interdisciplinary question?