Values-based education for environment and sustainable development

Submitted by Arthur Dahl on 9. March 2016 - 21:41
Dahl, Arthur Lyon

Values-based education for environment and sustainable development

Arthur Lyon Dahl
International Environment Forum
Geneva, Switzerland

Based on a briefing paper prepared for the United Nations Environment Programme, January 2016

The UN 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals have reaffirmed the desire of all countries and peoples to achieve a just and sustainable society. This ambition at the highest level now needs to be translated into action. Government efforts will be necessary but not sufficient. Everyone needs to share in this ambition, but how can this be achieved at the scale needed? Education must be a key part of this agenda.

Today environmental awareness is more widespread, and with the new technologies of information the access to environmental knowledge is potentially universal. However access to knowledge does not strengthen our connection to the natural environment. The environment continues to degrade. Knowledge of environmental problems does not necessarily lead to action to resolve them, in what is termed the knowledge-action gap. Too often, the need for environmental action conflicts with other economic or social needs, so another choice is made. To address this, the international community has decided on the more integrated approach of sustainable development. This paper discusses the new context, content and form of education for environment and sustainable development in shaping values, behaviour and lifestyles as they relate to the 2030 agenda.

The new context

With the adoption on 25 September 2015 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by the UN General Assembly Summit (UN 2015), the international community has redefined sustainable development for the first time since Agenda 21, and given it specific time-bound targets. This is an aspirational, integrated and coherent agenda, with the environment reflected across all the goals. Education is specifically included as Goal 4, but it also benefits all the other SDGs.

While the 2030 Agenda has been drafted and approved by governments at the United Nations, it was also an open and participatory effort, with civil society and millions of individuals also contributing. As the Summit declaration put it:

“It is “We the Peoples” who are embarking today on the road to 2030. Our journey will involve Governments as well as Parliaments, the UN system and other international institutions, local authorities, indigenous peoples, civil society, business and the private sector, the scientific and academic community – and all people.... It is an Agenda of the people, by the people, and for the people – and this, we believe, will ensure its success.” (UN 2015 §52)

It is only through education in all of its forms that the people, and particularly the emerging generations of the next 15 years, can be implicated in the fulfilment of the aspirations captured in the 2030 Agenda. New policies, institutional reforms and technical solutions will not be sufficient if they do not receive popular support, especially since the agenda calls for a fundamental transformation in society and the economy in implementation of the ethical responsibility to leave no one behind.

In particular, SDG target 4.7 states: “By 2030, ensure that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including, among others, through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture's contribution to sustainable development.”

The Paris Agreement adopted at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP21) in December 2015 includes Article 12 on education which was the first to be agreed in the negotiations, showing the priority that governments now attach to this issue: “Parties shall cooperate in taking measures, as appropriate, to enhance climate change education, training, public awareness, public participation and public access to information, recognizing the importance of these steps with respect to enhancing actions under this Agreement.”

There is also an increasingly urgent need for action. Humanity is reaching if not overshooting planetary boundaries, overexploiting natural resources, damaging ecosystem services, and consuming the environmental capital upon which future society must depend. The scientific evidence is clear that these unsustainable trends represent a serious danger for future society. Yet the world continues largely with business as usual, giving priority to short-term interests. Now with climate change accelerating, time is running out to avoid potential tipping points leading to destructive and irreversible change. We all need to ask what else is needed to initiate the fundamental transformation in human society called for in the 2030 Agenda and to implement the ambitious decisions on climate change and the rapid transition to a carbon-neutral economy taken at COP21 in Paris in December 2015.

Education, formal and informal, often in innovative forms and addressing all sectors of society and all age groups, will be an essential part of the agenda for transformation. Education is fundamental in building momentum for change. Leaders will only take courageous decisions and overcome the inertia and vested interests in the status quo if they have public understanding and support.

Education and values

The education required cannot be just business as usual, which has proven insufficient. Beyond a scientific understanding of the environment, it must motivate changes in behaviour, and that means operating at the level of ethics, values and lifestyles. Education with a strong focus on values can help to remove barriers to implementation across all the areas of action for sustainability.

Education must be seen as a tool for creating social, economic and environmental capital. Social capital is created when people learn how to consult together and make plans, act to carry out those plans, reflect on the results achieved, and decide on the next steps to move forward towards their objectives. This institutional capacity for adaptive management can be strengthened at all levels of social organization. Economic capital is not only money, but capacities for work and wealth creation that are inherent in each person and that can be cultivated through education. Other skills like entrepreneurship and innovation can amplify this potential. In a world where the environment has largely been seen as an endless pool of resources to be exploited, resulting in the widespread degradation of natural capital, the challenge today is to rebuild that capital base and to restore ecosystem services, raising the planet's carrying capacity rather than eroding it. Education in the skills of environmental management and restoration can support widespread efforts to create a sustainable resource base for future society.

With the theme of “Transforming Our World” at the heart of the 2030 Agenda, and the elements of transformation captured in the Sustainable Development Goals, it is important to consider just what that transformation means and how to achieve it. From the UN perspective and that of governments, transformation is generally considered in terms of policies and institutions, and these provide an essential framework that can facilitate or impede change. Where there are blockages, everything can grind to a halt.

But is this sufficient? Institutions are made up of people, and policies are made and applied by people. Many of the problems of today are problems with people. Corruption flourishes when people put their self-interest above the institutions they are supposed to serve. There is a generalized lack of trust. When people are untrustworthy, then heavy laws and bureaucracies must force them to behave. Governments are notoriously untrustworthy in respecting the international agreements they have signed when self-interest pulls them in other directions.

Transforming institutions must be accompanied by efforts to transform people, to create a culture of transformative change. United Nations processes are necessarily top-down. The 2030 Agenda, in calling for the participation of all people, requires a bottom-up process of change to complement its top-down goals and aspirations. Experience has shown the inadequacy of traditional scientific and environmental education to change behaviour. Knowing about a problem is seldom enough to change old habits, to try something new, to give up something that is comfortable, convenient, or an acquired dependency. This is often referred to as the knowledge-action gap. Knowledge needs to be linked in some way to emotional commitment, to build the motivation and commitment to change, and emotions are closely linked to values.

Values-based education for sustainability has been developing over the last several years to address this knowledge-action gap. In many places around the world, small-scale projects have been flourishing, supported by research on methodologies and networking to share experience. The UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development and its successor Global Plan of Action have been one catalyst; the Partnership for Education and Research about Responsible Living (PERL) has been another. Efforts to develop education based on concepts of global citizenship, sustainable lifestyles, and sustainable consumption have also contributed. Faith-based and inter-faith groups have also been active, along with groups focusing on ethics, both religious and secular. The Pope's recent encyclical, the Islamic Declaration on Climate Change, statements of the Bahá'í International Community, and others have shown a unanimity of thought when it comes to ethical responsibility for the environmental and social challenges facing the world today. All of this provides material for values-based education to advance rapidly.

Content of values-based education for sustainable development

Values-based education can draw from a number of sources, and that will be critical to its success. It needs to leave space for individual preferences and sensibilities, cultural differences, the variety of environmental and social contexts, the rationalist and the mystic. Some of the dimensions of values-based education are outlined here to map the terrain to be explored further.

At the heart are the moral and ethical foundations of society, of knowing and doing what is right. Moral values state what is good and of primary importance to human civilization. These are often articulated as ideals that define right from wrong. Ethical principles are the operational expression of moral values that provide guidance to decision-making and action. A capability of moral reasoning starts from abstract general ethical principles to resolve conflicts that arise from moral dilemmas and ethical problems (Anello 2008).

Values are the qualities on which worth, desirability, or utility depend. They are principles or rules generated by an ethical or spiritual framework. Values are what determine how humans relate to each other. They are the social equivalent of DNA, encoding the information through which society is structured.

Some of the values most relevant to sustainability are justice and equity, honesty and trustworthiness, integrity and altruism, respect for nature and the planet, and the golden rule of reciprocity. Where these are strong, a virtuous life becomes its own reward, and society becomes largely self-regulating. Where the ethical foundations are weak, society must fall back on laws and institutions for enforcement and punishment in a top-down regulation of society that is costly and inefficient. The stronger the ethical framework and its application, the less need for law and order; it is a more cost-effective, process-based solution to social organization.

Agenda 2030 is explicitly a values-driven agenda, reflecting principles of justice and equity throughout the Sustainable Development Goals, with the intention to leave no one behind and to protect the interests of future generations. In that sense it reflects a new global consensus on sustainability values. With reference to social justice, the SDGs for ending poverty and hunger, promoting human health and well-being, providing equitable education, achieving gender equality, reducing inequality and promoting peaceful and inclusive human settlements and societies all reflect basic human rights in a globalized world. The right to equitable economic opportunities and development are captured in an inclusive and sustainable economy and industrialization, decent work for all, and access to energy and resources. The present injustice of exploiting environmental resources for our immediate benefit while compromising our future is countered by the responsibility for sustainable management of water, the oceans and terrestrial ecosystems, biodiversity and resources.

The challenge is to go from stating ethical principles to implementing them. We have not been very effective in building ethical responsibility into our institutions. At the governmental level, the extensive work load of the Human Rights Council and other human rights bodies demonstrates the facility with which governments can ignore basic human rights. Corporations easily place profits above principles of ethics and social and environmental responsibility. The flourishing of corruption and the illegal economy largely overreaches the efforts to control them. Globalization has made it easy to escape from national legislation and taxation and to profit from the vacuum of international mechanisms for law and justice. While the UN system should logically address these issues, governments defending their national interests over the collective interest make progress difficult.

This leaves the implementation of ethical principles and sustainability values at the individual level as the field where progress can most easily be made. Often institutions are ethical not because it is an inherent obligation but because the responsible individuals within it adhere to certain basic values. Individual change motivated by values will inevitably precede structural change and help to catalyze it. This is the foundation for the fundamental transformation called for in the 2030 Agenda. How then do individuals acquire ethics and values and the motivation to live by them?

Values are first transmitted in the family, by parents and other close family members, consciously or unconsciously, by example and by word, including through traditional stories, tales and fables. Increasingly, however, values are also being transmitted through the media and advertising, often with aims that are commercial rather than in the collective interest. As children become integrated into community life, values are modelled and communicated in a larger circle reflecting the local culture, and perhaps a faith tradition. Then come schools, which may include curriculum on citizenship and civic behaviour. Peer groups begin to have more influence on values than parents. Children and youth may be enrolled in associations and community groups, one purpose of which may be to convey values of service, accomplishment or care for nature. Sports also exemplify certain values. In this complex process of education for values, it is not always clear who is responsible, and whether they are conscious of that responsibility. When there is a failure to transmit values necessary for the proper insertion of the child in society, who is responsible and how can the error be corrected? This is an increasing problem in societies where parents have rejected a traditional religion or culture, or where these have been lost through migration, and nothing is transmitted to children other than the superficial values of a materialistic society. Such children grow up with no sense of a higher meaning or purpose in life, and are left with self-interest as the highest value, if not a complete denial of any social norms. The costs for society can be very high.

Where there is a need for transformation in society, such as that called for in Agenda 2030, some new values, or at least an extension of some basic ethical principles to the global level, may need to be added to those traditionally transmitted in the home and community. A strategy for values-based education needs to consider where this can most appropriately be done.

Recent research has shown that making people and groups conscious of their values, and providing tools and indicators of how these values are expressed in their behaviour and lifestyles, can reinforce values-based education and transmission. By making the invisible visible, values can be encouraged and reinforced ( Contradictions between incompatible values can also be made conscious and resolved.

There is a natural tendency in young people to want to acquire values and to live by them, which is why this is referred to as the formative years. Given the unsustainability of the modern consumer culture, and its tendencies to peer pressure, dependencies and even addiction, a special effort is needed in the pre-adolescent years to “vaccinate” young people with higher values of environmental responsibility and social service, rather than the pursuit of hedonistic and materialistic but ephemeral pleasures. This process can be reinforced through education.

In a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious world, there are a multiplicity of values, many of which are quite appropriate to and compatible with a sustainable world. In some parts of the world, indigenous knowledge and values are still important, and often reflect higher levels of sustainability than is common in Western society. Cultural diversity is in itself a sustainability value, just as an ecosystem with higher biological diversity is generally more productive, efficient and resilient than a system with only a few species.

Secular and faith-based approaches all have their place in education, especially if they are presented showing the unity in all their diversity, while assuring to each individual the right to independent investigation of the truth as they see it. The values of sustainability have their resonance in all the major religions, and linking the two can benefit from the powerful leverage for transformation that this can provide for those within any particular religious tradition. Qualities espoused in most religions, like altruism, humility, simplicity, solidarity and respect for the creation, make it easy to see the importance of equity and sustainability, and provide a strong motivation for changes in lifestyle. In this context, moving away from consumerism is no longer giving up something desirable but acquiring other less tangible things that are better.

It is also important to include a gender perspective in sustainability values. In the SDGs, Goal 5 is already about gender equality and the empowerment of women. In some cultures, women produce most of the food for the family; in others it is women who do most of the shopping; in both cases most of the sustainability choices at the family level are made by women. Women are generally the first to transmit values to their children. Values-based education should be designed to target women's and girls' specific concerns and needs, as well as those of men and boys.

Action learning is particularly important for values-based education. Learning ethical principles in the abstract is not sufficient. Values are learned best when they are put into action, acted out and experienced. The satisfaction that comes from planning and carrying out an altruistic act, planting a tree, or cleaning up a neighbourhood or park, leaves its mark for a lifetime. With the SDGs, the high-level aspirations may seem too distant to be meaningful. In an educational context, the goals need to be translated into something relevant locally where the results are more concrete and seen to be within reach. Local indicators for the SDG targets would be an important support for education and public mobilization.

Since values include the rules of good conduct to support community life and social relations, an important component of sustainability education is the values important for building a sense of community and neighbourhood solidarity in villages, towns and cities. This is the most basic level at which the SDGs can find expression, and that expression is largely collective. Empowering local people to consult about their needs, to organize a response, to carry out their plans, to evaluate the result and to decide on further steps that may be needed, are skills that can be applied to many local sustainability challenges, whether social, economic or environmental. The aim should be a learning community that is open to change, essential to meet the challenges of the rapid transition to a more sustainable society that is now necessary.

Education for sustainability needs to include other dimensions to facilitate the necessary fundamental transformation in society. New occupations need to be created and old ones replaced. This creates a need for education for a culture of change, to overcome the natural resistance to change. Since the SDGs are integrated and indivisible, education needs to rise above its separate dimensions and specializations and teach the tools of integration and transdisciplinarity, so that depth and breadth are combined as necessary. Systems thinking will become a core component of education, as it will be of governance. The methods and tools of science: rational thought, experimentation, understanding cause and effect, should be generalized so that the scientific method is accessible to everyone, and science can become part of community life, monitoring the state of the local environment and innovating solutions to local problems. This is education for empowerment, providing the skills and knowledge necessary for transformation to occur at multiple levels as part of organic processes of change.

The economic transformation towards a green and equitable economy will require training for new jobs, and retraining those in unsustainable sectors that must be phased out. Here the values of justice and equity require adequate social security to accompany change, or the transition will be blocked by social resistance. Where ethical values are put forward and observed, the process of transformation can be accelerated because everyone is assured that they will not be left behind. From the environmental perspective, there will be a great need for education for environmental restoration to rebuild the natural carrying capacity of the planet. While urbanization has been the dominant trend in recent years with an abandonment of the countryside, new approaches to environmental resource use, together with decentralized renewable energy sources and social and intellectual integration through communications networks will encourage the restoration of rural communities and a more decentralized and human scale of communities in a more just and equitable social order.

Another specific area of focus will be climate change education. The transition will be driven largely by the urgency of preventing extreme climate change with all the damage this will bring to human society. The science and ethics of responding to climate change will be the strongest arguments to incite people to accept the imperative necessity of a rapid change in the economy and society, along with the necessary instruments of global governance for the planetary dimensions of sustainability. The IPCC included ethicists among the experts preparing its 5th assessment, recognizing that the moral argument was an essential complement to the scientific argument for action. One challenge will be education to counteract the widespread disinformation about climate change supported by powerful lobbies, extreme ideologies and effective marketing. The strongest evidence to counter this is the graphic documentation of the rapid changes taking place in the biosphere, which are easier for the public to visualize than scientific data, especially when linked to extreme events that they experience first hand.

Components of an education programme for sustainability

Education on the SDGs

With the incentive of the new 2030 Agenda, there is great scope for education and training in the implementation of the SDGs and their targets. Some of the SDGs require more technical solutions and actions by governments and scientists, but some will depend for their implementation on an educational component to involve all the stakeholders and the general public, and these are highlighted here.

There are of course those SDG targets that directly call for awareness raising, such as: 4.7 (education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles), 5.b (ICTs for women's empowerment), 6.b (local communities water/sanitation), 9.c (access to ICTs), 12.3 (consumer food waste), 12.8 (awareness for sustainable development and lifestyles), 13.3 (climate change education), 13.b (climate change and marginalized groups) and 16.10 (public access to information). Others focus on stakeholder engagement, such as SDG targets: 11.3 (human settlements planning), 17.16 (multi-stakeholder partnerships), and 17.17 (public, public-private, and civil society partnerships).

Across the social dimension of the SDGs, there are targets that link to environmental education, such as on human rights, gender and environment, with the relevant SDG targets: 5.5 (women's participation in decision-making), 5.a (women's rights to resources) and 16.10 (protect fundamental freedoms). Education for poverty eradication can be found in SDG targets: 1.4 (equal rights to resources), 15.9 (ecosystems and biodiversity), 15.c (combat poaching and trafficking in protected species with sustainable livelihoods) and 17.15 (poverty eradication). With environmental problems increasing the pressures for population displacements, this should be included in educating the public about migration (target 10.7).

Among the targets directly addressing the environment, there is a need for education that integrates ecosystem services and development, and teaches respect for nature, as covered in SDG targets: 2.4 (agricultural practices), 2.5 (genetic diversity), 6.1 (drinking water), 6.6 (water-related ecosystems), 11.4 (natural heritage), 12.2 (natural resources), 14.2 and 14.5 (marine and coastal ecosystems), 15.1 (terrestrial ecosystems), 15.2 (forests), 15.3 (land and soil), 15.4 (mountain ecosystems) and 15.5 (biodiversity).

Education for an inclusive green economy and sustainable consumption and production (SCP) and resource efficiency fit naturally with SDG targets: 7.1 (access to energy), 7.2 (renewable energy), 7.3 (energy efficiency), 7.a (clean energy technologies), 8.4 (resource efficiency and decoupling), 8.9 (sustainable tourism) and 17.6 (science, technology and innovation).

The urban environment is a special focus of the SDGs, and educating the urban population for more resource efficient and sustainable behaviour will be critical to making the urban transition towards sustainable cities, included in SDG targets: 11.2 (transport), 11.6 (reduce environmental impact of cities), 11.7 (access to green and public spaces), and 11.c (sustainable buildings in LDCs).

Many environmental and health problems result from public ignorance of good environmental practices, and significant waste problems result from consumer waste. Education for environmental health and sound waste management is covered in SDG targets: 3.2 (prevent infant mortality [from polluted water]), 3.3 (water-borne diseases), 6.2 (sanitation), 6.3 and 6.a (wastewater), 6.b (local participation), 11.6 (municipal waste management), 12.5 (waste reduction), and 14.1 (prevent marine pollution).

Environmental information can be packaged in forms that also educate the general public, as covered in SDG targets: 17.6 and 17.8 (science, technology and innovation, knowledge sharing), 17.18 (disaggregated data) and 17.19 (measurements of progress beyond GDP).


All governments are struggling with the challenge of integration across all the ministries and departments of government. It has often been the environmental dimension that has been hardest to integrate into the work of other ministries. Using the SDGs as an entry point, short courses in the SDGs are needed for ministry staff, as well as advice and issue briefs on approaches to more coherent government action on sustainability issues. While the initial focus will probably be national governments because SDG implementation and reporting is focused at that level, there is also the potential represented by local and municipal governments, which are often closer to sustainability issues and ahead of their national governments in experimenting with solutions.

More generally, training in the SDGs and the opportunities that they open up for integrating approaches and accelerating the transformation is urgently required. This could be targeted to different user groups: ministries of economy, development agencies and the private sector on the potentials in the green economy; municipal governments, urban planners and social enterprises on the urban transition; rural development specialists, agriculture and forestry, land-use planners, conservationists and civil society organizations on the rejuvenation of rural areas; maritime agencies, coastal planners and managers, fisheries, port authorities and tourism operators on sea level rise and coastal resource management; the finance sector, development banks, donors and project managers on reorienting finance in support of the SDGs; statisticians, GIS specialists, environmental monitoring agencies and scientists on indicators and assessment for the SDG targets; etc. For all of these, a values-based component should be included to link knowledge and motivation.

Partnerships for education

The UN system should develop a coherent approach to the environmental, economic and social dimensions of the SDGs, so that the UN becomes an example of the integrated approach that it is calling on governments to adopt. This should include a sharing of experience and best practices in values-based learning cutting across the different dimensions, since the ethical foundation for all dimensions is the same.

For the general publics of countries around the world, wide partnerships are needed to spread the messages of the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs. For example, faith-based groups would be interested in the ethical dimension of the sustainability challenge and care for the creation, but need collaboration with science-based organizations to help them to develop messages based both on science and values. Scientist also need to become more effective communicators to the public. Networks with the finance community, insurers, management of chemicals, protection of biodiversity, etc. could be used to develop information campaigns on the relevant SDGs. The point in these campaigns should not be that we know all the answers, but that we all need to work together to find the best directions towards sustainability.

Target groups

With a 15-year time frame, an investment in the education of young people will have an important payoff. The potential in non-formal education of children and youth is very great, and there are ample existing initiatives to build on. Neighbourhood children's classes are an excellent way to initiate values-based education. Programmes for groups of pre-adolescents, at an age where they are emerging from parental control and forming their own values and vision of life, to develop their own community service projects, can contribute to learning values through action. Education through contact with nature, such as in the scout movement, has been proven to have a lasting effect on a sense of environmental responsibility. All of these approaches can share knowledge, tools and values for local empowerment.

Thinking about the applications of the SDGs at the community level is only just beginning. A focus on community-based education, adapting the concept of the SDGs to the local context, and developing local targets, indicators and monitoring, could initiate a local dynamic of community transformation, with people integrated into, and living compatibly with, their local environment. In rural areas, education is needed that is adapted to rural living, when most school systems on the Western model prepare for urban life. The System for Tutorial Learning (SAT) developed in Colombia and now being used in a number of Latin American countries is an example of alternative education to build rural change agents (, Robinson 2015 ).

Many indigenous and rural populations have a unique understanding of and relationship with the natural environment incorporated in their culture, forming part of humanity's cultural capital linked to its natural capital. Just as our unsustainable society is driving species and ecosystems to extinction, so many local communities, cultures, languages and societies also face extinction. Preservation of the environmental knowledge in those cultures requires educational programmes that ensure the transmission of that knowledge even in the face of the social disruption that is inevitable with globalization, founded in an appreciation of the value of cultural diversity.

Another important emerging need is for specific education programmes for immigrants. Migrants are a potential resource that education can turn into a positive contribution to the receiving countries. They need specific educational approaches that can build on existing skills, teach entrepreneurship for self-employment in the green economy and environmental restoration, and share the values that can both reinforce their dignity and assist them to understand and integrate into their new communities. An environmental dimension to such education can help them to contribute to the solution of local environmental problems.

Information and communications technologies

Well-designed environmental content for information and communications technologies and social media could counteract their tendency to promote isolation and addiction, and open users to the natural world and the satisfaction of more sustainable lifestyles. The social media have great scope to communicate environmental messages, especially those linked to values. Social media will be more resonant to content with an ethical or values-based approach than to purely scientific information. Young people are looking for positive actions that they can take and causes that they can commit to, and linking ethical, social and environmental responsibility can be very attractive.

On-line education has great potential, so Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) should be developed on values-based education. Courses that combine scientific information, say on climate change, with their ethical or even spiritual implications have been shown to motivate and create lifelong commitment to changes in behaviour and lifestyle.

If the SDGs aim for a fundamental transformation in society, this also means changing the lives of each and every one of us. Social mobilization and behaviour change start at the individual level. People do not usually welcome change, which requires effort at a very fundamental level, the level of ethics, values and emotional, even spiritual commitment. Educational activities have a greater chance of success if they include building a culture of change based on values as a positive way forward.


Partnerships are an important theme in the 2030 Agenda. There are a number of potential partners for joint efforts in values-based education for sustainability. UNEP is responsible for the Global Framework of Programmes for Sustainable Consumption and Production, which includes a specific component on education for sustainable lifestyles, and it has an Environmental Education and Training Unit. The UNESCO Global Action Programme (GAP) on Education for Sustainable Development, following up the recent decade, has the following GAP Priority Action Areas: Advancing policy; Transforming learning and training environments; Building capacities of educators and trainers; Empowering and mobilizing youth; Accelerating sustainable solutions at local level. Ultimately, the whole UN system as one should collaborate in education, bringing the values dimension inherent in the UN charter, declarations and agreements into all of its programmes in education and public awareness.

When the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Committee on Environmental Policy mandated the preparation of the Eighth Environment for Europe (EfE) Ministerial Conference (Batumi, Georgia, 8–10 June 2016), it also agreed to hold a segment on education for sustainable development (ESD), in the form of a High-level Meeting of Education and Environment Ministries, with a view to assessing progress during the first 10 years of the ECE Strategy for ESD and to consider its future development. This should culminate in a separate Batumi Ministerial Statement on Education for Sustainable Development to be adopted during that segment of the Conference. (ECE/CEP/2015/8 of 18 August 2015…)

Among the many actors of civil society involved in environmental education, a number have explicitly been involved in exploring values-based learning. For example, the Partnership for Education and research about Responsible Living (PERL, involving over a hundred universities, curriculum development units, consumers organizations, researchers and educators including UNEP and UNESCO, has produced prototype values-based learning materials for environment and sustainable development and responsible living based on EU-funded research ( Other organizations like the Global Action Plan International ( that works on sustainable bahaviour change, and the Global Ethics Network for Applied Ethics ( have world-wide networks.

There is great potential in faith-based organizations that are increasingly becoming active on climate change and sustainability issues. These issues are reaching the mainstream in religious organizations, as evidenced by the Pope's recent encyclical, the Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change, a Buddhist declaration, the latest World Parliament of Religions, the long-standing work of the World Council of Churches, the environmental initiatives of the Ecumenical Patriarch of the Orthodox Church, the statements of the Baha'i International Community, and the collaboration of UNDP and the Alliance of Religions and Conservation ( producing religious action plans on climate change and declarations on the Sustainable Development Goals from all the major religions. These can both provide content for values-based education, and serve as channels for its diffusion.

One of the most significant issues to be explored is the involvement of both traditional and emerging media of communications. It is not easy to catch the attention of the traditional media of press, radio and television, even less so to involve them in coherent campaigns of public education; despite (or perhaps because of) their enormous power and influence, their incentives are elsewhere. Training of journalists would be one cost-effective contribution to opening this potential. It would be safe to assume that the Internet will continue to evolve new ways of communicating and educating, with openings to move quickly to profit from these opportunities to reach larger audiences in creative new ways.


The new 2030 Agenda for transformation, leaving no one behind, will stimulate many transformative actions, innovations, ideas, and best practices. There is a need to draw attention to and reward significant environmental innovations, institutional transformations, and educational efforts to close the knowledge-action gap.

Another need is to address what motivates people for transformative action, to invest in sustainable communities and cities, and to live more responsibly. This should be a specific focus for education and public information, supported by the necessary research and development of values-based educational tools and approaches.

A particular challenge is how to target the adults who are responsible for causing all the problems we have today. People and institutions are trapped in economic frameworks, cultural practices and ideologies that resist the necessary transformation towards sustainability, equity and environmental responsibility. Science has failed to convince them of the need for change. The failure to make adequate progress is producing forces for disintegration in society. To address the root causes of these problems, other approaches need to be explored.

Fortunately, there is increasing evidence of the strong correlation between effective and wide engagement of people and stakeholders and progress on sustainable development. Momentum is building for innovation and integration. We should showcase how sustainable development is truly possible and achievable through a worldwide shift of society towards transformed behaviour, production and consumption patterns.


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Robinson, Jenny Perlman. 2015. Getting millions to learn: An education revolution in rural communities of Central and South America. Brookings Blog Education plus Development, 11 March 2015.…

UN. 2015. Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Outcome document of the Summit for the adoption of the Post-2015 Development Agenda, New York, 25-27 September 2015. A/70/L.1. New York: United Nations.

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Last updated 9 March 2016