In 2014, at the end of the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development, UNESCO launched the Global Action Programme on Education for Sustainable Development (GAP ESD) and built a platform bringing together key players from all parts of the world in order to scale up action in what has now become
recognized as a transversal theme.
Today, Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) is included in the global agenda in Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG-4), target 4.7. This goal and target calls for “all learners to acquire knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development [by 2030].” It is not a standalone target but rather a horizontal one, key to achieving all the SDGs. GAP ESD is devoted to help address all goals by 2030.
The International Association of Universities (IAU) and a few other university networks represent higher education in GAP ESD. Yet, the role of higher education is often reduced to teacher training initiatives by governments and politicians who overlook its potential and work to address all SDGs through teaching, learning, research and campus initiatives, to name but a few actions.
Higher Education and Research for Sustainable Development (HESD) is a initiative that was started by IAU to stress the important tasks that universities and higher education institutions have taken on to achieve SD. Today it is adopted by IAU as one of the four key thematic priorities in its strategic plan. Through research, campus initiatives, student engagement and teaching, universities contribute to generate the change of mindset that is required to make sure that together, across the globe, we try and reach the Future We Want. IAU collects and analyzes initiatives developed by universities around the globe and shares them via the IAU Global HESD Portal, and in the near future through the global cluster it is developing.
While ESD and HESD are not exactly the same, they do complement each other. One example is provided by the University of Saskatchewan in Canada which hosts the Sustainability Education Research Institute (SERI). The institute facilitates research on ESD, creates partnerships for ESD, develops new approaches to energy, works with indigenous people to identify and foster traditional and new approaches to issues we face, and enhances the overall approach of the university towards sustainability.
Universities in the Arctic contribute to illustrating the diversity of approaches to ESD and HESD. A doctoral student from the University of Lapland and the University of Iceland conducted research about the potential of art in education for sustainability. Titled “Artistic Actions for Sustainability”, the research includes a too often forgotten dimension of actions undertaken to achieve SD – art.
Many universities in the far North are well connected and contribute to (Higher) Education for Sustainable Development on a global scale. For example, the Universities of Bergen and Oslo and the Norwegian University of Life Sciences are part of a project called SUSTAIN in which they partner with four universities in Southern Africa in order to encourage joint research and enhance sustainable science and technology education.
(Higher) Education for Sustainable Development is a very diverse area of work and can lead the way to achieving the Agenda 2030. Together, we can reach a sustainable future.