IEF 7th Annual Conference electronic version

Submitted by admin on 25. August 2010 - 21:44
17-20 December 2003
Orlando, Florida, USA

2003 Electronic Conference Report

23 November - 18 December 2003

To Build the World Anew - Anticipating the UN Decade for
Education for Sustainable Development"

Organization of the E-Conference
The 2003 International Environment Forum (IEF) Electronic Conference was held from 23 November-18 December, prior to rather than parallel with the 7th IEF Annual Conference in Orlando, Florida (17-20 December 2003). The conference topics were the same and the e-conference allowed many IEF members and other interested people around the world to contribute their thinking to both events and provide input to planning for activities in support of the upcoming United Nations (UN) Decade on Education for Sustainable Development (2005-2014).

The e-conference was organized by Peter Adriance, Sylvia Karlsson and Judith Fienieg, with Judith moderating the discussions and preparing the weekly summaries. It attracted 38 participants from 16 countries: Australia, Brazil, Canada, Cyprus, East Timor, Honduras, Indonesia, Lithuania, Mongolia, New Zealand, Niger, Portugal, Samoa, Spain, United Kingdom and USA. This wide participation shows the useful role of even such simple e-mail exchanges in networking among people around the world and in enriching the contribution that the IEF can make on important issues.

The e-conference had a separate theme each week:
1st Week: The Big Picture on the Decade. Who/What/When/Where/Why/How?
2nd Week: What Perspectives on Knowledge, Science, Values and Spirituality Can the Bahá'í Teachings Give to Education for Sustainable Development and the Decade?
3rd Week: What Specific Contributions can IEF Make Toward the Decade?

At the beginning of each week, participants received an introductory e-mail with some topics/questions for discussion, as well as links to papers and web sites that provided background and further reading materials (see the end of this report). Participants could then send comments to the moderator for distribution to all participants, and the discussion flowed. At the end of each week, the moderator e-mailed a summary of the contributions for that week. A compilation of all contributions was distributed at the end of the conference. This report is a synthesis of the three weeks of the e-conference.

1st Week (23-29 November 2003)
The Big Picture. Who/What/When/Where/Why/How?

The 1992 Earth Summit marked the beginning of an unprecedented effort to understand and work toward achieving 'sustainable development' -- addressing human needs holistically by integrating environmental, economic and social goals. The World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD, held in Johannesburg in 2002) re-emphasized the vital role of education -- not only in building awareness of the need for sustainable development, but in fostering the necessary changes to bring it about at all levels. Toward that end, beginning in 2005, the UN will launch the UN Decade for Education for Sustainable Development (DESD). The UN has appointed UNESCO as its Lead Agency for planning the Decade. Their goal is to build a broad ownership at all levels, global, regional, national and local/community, for the goals of the Decade and to engage all possible partners (including governments, NGOs, civil society, private sector) in the effort.

The UN materials (weblinks to 3 documents, see end of report ) given during the first week provide the framework, conceptual approaches and the wider thinking that will permeate activities during the Decade. Participants were invited to send questions about the material, further web links to national or international initiatives (whether from governments, civil society, or others), and personal observations and experiences about educational needs or activities that relate to sustainable development.

Synthesis of Comments and Suggestions (1st Week)
Rather than focus on defining sustainability (which has many definitions), we must identify its benefits and the drawbacks of its absence to the stakeholders, such as economists, politicians, industrialists and environmentalists. Instead of talking about "awareness-raising" and "behaviour changes," perhaps it is more useful to emphasize "lifestyle choices." Among other things, sustainability is a spiritual issue. Moral leadership comes from "practising what we preach."

Universities play an important role within the education for sustainable development context. [Some recent examples of environmental education that were cited include Outward Bound and Maine Educational Cooperation, Vermont Institute of Natural Science ELF Program, undergraduate and club programs in environmental studies at Dartmouth, Women in Science, Minorities in Science.] The educational system frequently produces leaders incapable of addressing our most pressing problems, or else they hamper implementation by acting merely so that their power is maintained. Universities struggle with the fact that sustainability overlaps disciplines that are sometimes in conflict (i.e. science/religion), requiring the application of consultation skills.

Some of the sustainable development philosophies current today consider the natural world to be a static platform, which it definitely is not. What we need is to develop the tools required for adapting to changed regional conditions (temperature, moisture, etc.) in pace with climate change.

2nd Week (30 November-6 December)
What Perspectives on Knowledge, Science, Values and Spirituality
Can the Bahá'í Teachings Give to
Education for Sustainable Development and the Decade?

The second week sought to expand that framework with perspectives from the Bahá'í Faith, including perspectives the teachings give on knowledge and science on the one hand and values and religion or spirituality on the other. Participants emphasized that the two knowledge systems must stop being antagonists as they really constitute two mutually reinforcing forces in human existence, both of which are integral to the Bahá'í perspective on development itself. The aim of Week 2 was to see how these perspectives relate to the concrete need for education for sustainable development. The guiding question was: "What perspectives can be gleaned from the Bahá'í teachings on: 1) development, the goal and the process; 2) knowledge and science; 3) values and spirituality; 4) bridging knowledge and values, science and spirituality in education?"

Synthesis of Comments and Suggestions (2nd Week)
The Bahá'í teachings on consultation offer a solution to the challenge of bringing scientific knowledge into policy decision making, at once valuing the input that the latest scientific advancements can offer, taking into account the voices of the many stakeholders, and removing the pressure from the individual to either take credit for a successful policy decision or take blame for a poor one.

With a global ethic and the knowledge that the web of life is interconnected, the dynamic process of sustainable development will take us towards global citizenship, bridging knowledge and values. Linking science and spirituality in education means bringing together the North-South divide, East-West thinking, the so-called "developed"/"developing" countries, and honouring human experience (indigenous/industrialized).

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan practises his tribe's five virtues of dignity, confidence, courage, compassion and faith (see weblink to Annan speech). - In the virtues area and for the success of sustainability endeavors, truthfulness, trustworthiness, and justice also cannot be overlooked and are essential for action. - Environmental protection measures, such as the termination of oil drilling or logging in ecosensitive regions in rich countries, often result in an increase in those same damaging practices in poorer countries in the world. This "environmental impact displacement" is no global solution. - UNESCO's Framework could perhaps be strengthened by including and/or further emphasizing the "value of spirituality in sustainable development" and indigenous and traditional peoples voices.

"Collaborative stewardship" increasingly involves NGO's working outside of the political process, precisely because such collaboration gets results, and solves problems, not just decides winners and losers. On the government side, environment is still dealt with as separate issue, not integrated in all sectors' policy planning, with a separate ministry, unrelated to the other ministries. Their effectiveness individually and collectively could be improved if environment were integrated in their mainstream efforts and considered collaboratively.

We need to make the environmentally friendly choice both easy and enjoyable somehow, because realistically, most people in their day-to-day lives won't think about the environmental consequences of their thousands of actions. Seven examples were given to implement environmental action. It was suggested that IEF set up a "repository," a website maybe, for anyone to post practical ideas.

3rd Week (7-14 December)
What Specific Contributions Can IEF Make Toward the Decade?

The theme for the last week focused on specific contributions that IEF could make towards education for sustainable development and the Decade. Participants were asked to be as concrete as possible and include suggestions on how to implement their proposals, such as: Can this task best be spearheaded by one individual member as coordinator, or should an electronic working group be established? Is the proposed activity (such as developing education materials) possible internationally, or are the contexts so different in the regions that we need to have regionalized working groups? Do we have the necessary human resources in IEF to carry it out, or how do we prioritise where to start?

Synthesis of Comments and Suggestions (3rd Week)
It was noted in the previous week's discussion that IEF, through its global membership and expertise, provided a unique platform for addressing the broad context of environment and sustainable development. It could act as a catalyst. Some specific suggestions on IEF's potential contributions included: stimulating consultation and partnerships aiming for concrete initiatives at the local level; exploring how conferences could be made more sustainable (i.e. trash, towel washing, etc.); engaging the younger generation by first finding out what knowledge they have through making a survey at the December 2004 Social and Economic Development Conference; setting up a website with links to simple practical solutions e.g. on tree planting and recycling; developing/sharing values-based education, guidelines and maxims that draw from the Bahá'í teachings and the best available knowledge of practice in such education; making a repository of materials for storytelling about ESD; acting as a catalyst and in various ways helping to fine tune the Decade's vision when it emerges at the international level. Other discussion themes and comments follow.

The connection between words and action needs to be illustrated in sustainable development education. Letters, emails, and meetings are only going to be treated seriously if these are expressed in action. Each message for sustainable development can be traced from ideas, to expression, to action, and this should be illustrated or inferred within the messages. Religion, represented by spiritual transformation, needs practical (and wholly beneficial) paths to follow within this physical world and thereby complements science.

When trying to reach the general public, we need to be mindful of the way in which the message is sent and received. There will be audiences at all levels, and where a message is received successfully, the receiver will relate to it and feel a part of the process and subsequently may share and/or implement the message. Even on a professional level, people need to explain issues to each other in a simple way so that they might better cooperate toward the same goal.

Some 'cultural standards' are against the principles of equality and justice, among others, and hinder sustainability. One way to face this is through raising the awareness of law-makers to support the processes for creating and implementing new laws. One example is from the very successful Biodiversity program in Mongolia where the GEF project managed to pass 13 environmental laws by lobbying and conducting training sessions for all parliament members.

Final Note
One common theme among the participants was an eagerness: (i) for action related to living and acting more sustainably, and (ii) for seizing opportunities provided by the DESD to focus more on that. Several participants noted that many people have a hard time envisioning abstract ideas and success without actually seeing concrete models. Change agents need to directly establish those models for others to witness, based on values and coming from the communities of faith. The catalysing, convening role of the International Environment Forum demonstrated that participants unable to attend the 7th Annual IEF Conference in person appreciated this opportunity for electronic exchange prior to the conference.

Web Resources for Background and Further Investigation

1st Week Resources

UNESCO's "Framework for a Draft International Implementation Scheme" (outlines their thinking about the decade)
Chapter 36 of Agenda 21 "Promoting Education, Public Awareness and Training" (relevant text from the 1992 Rio Earth Summit which is still the basis for the WSSD process)
United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan's major speech "Towards a Sustainable Future" (concise and inspiring, given prior to the WSSD in Johannesburg)

2nd Week Resources

"Sustainable Development and the Human Spirit"
(Statement by the Bahá'í International Community prepared for 1992 Earth Summit)
IEF Position Papers prepared for seminars organised in conjunction with the WSSD:
- "Integrating Science in Local Communities"
- "Values for Sustainable Development"
- "Values and Education for Sustainable Development"
(scroll down to the relevant papers)
"Values as Foundation for Sustainable Behaviour"
(paper by Dr. Arthur Dahl presented at 5th IEF Conference)
"Education: Constraint or a Catalyst to Sustainable Development"
(paper by Victoria Thoresen presented at 5th IEF Conference)

Further Resources from the 2nd Week

"Prosperity of Humankind" (by the Bahá'í International Community, 1995)
"World Citizenship: A Global Ethic for Sustainable Development"
(Statement by the BIC to first meeting of the Commission on Sustainable Development, 1993)
Bahá'í Quotations on Environment and Sustainable Development

3rd Week Resources

International Environment Forum Statutes,
Annual Reports, and

Additional Websites

What is Sustainability? (UNESCO)
Notion of Sustainable Development (UNESCO)
Towards a Deeper Reflection on Sustainable Development (UNESCO)
What is education for sustainable development? (IUCN)
"The National Curriculum On-line"
(United Kingdom) (1) (2)
Education for Sustainable DevelopmentToolkit (addresses learning skills, perspectives, and values that guide/motivate people to seek sustainable livelihoods, participate in democratic society, and live in a sustainable manner) (definition and history of term "sustainable development," description of ESD, etc.)
(values and ethics, BIC quoted)

* The International Environment Forum is an international Bahá'í-inspired non-governmental organization that addresses environment and sustainable development. It was accredited to the UN World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002, in the category of scientific and technological organizations.

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Last updated 9 March 2004