The United Nations Decade Of Education For Sustainable Development

Southern African Guidelines For Participation In The United Nations Decade Of Education For Sustainable Development

"Education for sustainable development is a life-wide and life-long learning endeavour which challenges individuals, institutions and societies to view tomorrow as a day that belongs to all of us, or it will not belong to anyone" (UNESCO, 2004:9)

From Agenda 21 to the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development

In 1992 the United Nations Conference of Environment and Development (the Rio Earth Summit), gave high priority in its Agenda 21 to the role of education in enabling sustainable development. The focus of Chapter 36 was on re-orienting education in order to foster the values and respect necessary for ensuring environmental sustainability and social justice. It also focussed on training and public awareness, and introduced the idea that education for sustainable development is needed in all sectors of society, and all walks of life. The importance of this agenda for poverty alleviation was re-iterated and re-emphasised at the World Summit on Sustainable Development. The Johannesburg Implementation Plan noted that a United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development should be declared to further strengthen the focus on, and role of education in ensuring sustainable development. A resolution to this effect was passed in the UN General Assembly in 2004, and the UN Decade of ESD was launched in March 2005, with the development of an Implementation Plan.


There is much synergy between the objectives of the UN Decade of ESD, the SADC Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan (RISDP) and NEPAD Plan of Implementation as these development plans all emphasise the importance of education in improving quality of life and sustainable development in African societies. The SADC RISDP and NEPAD Plan of Implementation emphasise environmental sustainability, health education, gender equity and food security as key issues that need to be addressed through education and other development initiatives. Education is also recognised as a key priority in the Millennium Development Goals, where health, gender and ecological sustainability are key areas of action contributing to poverty alleviation. The Education for Sustainable Development framework proposed for the forthcoming Decade aims to foster synergy across these development priority areas. This allows for a re-conceptualising of educational practice in a southern African and African context. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and UNESCO are currently working towards the establishment of a regional ESD strategy for Africa, which will incorporate the experience and priorities of the southern African region.

The UN Decade of ESD Implementation Plan

UNESCO, lead agent for the implementation of the UN Decade of ESD has, through an international collaboration process, developed an Implementation Plan. This plan provides broad guidance on priorities and strategies for action in the UN Decade. Its main focus is to encourage partnerships and actions at all levels of society and amongst all stakeholders with a responsibility for, or interest in education and sustainability.

It recommends the development of strategies and guidelines at regional, sub-regional, national and local levels. Stakeholders around the world are currently 'getting together' to develop these frameworks that are responsive to local cultures and needs, and which build on work already taking place to enable ESD. This includes environmental education groups, health education groups, gender education groups, ministries of education, environment and health (amongst others); literacy programmes and others with an interest in ESD. (For more insight consult the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development Implementation Plan on )

Guidelines for Southern African ESD Policy and Practice

Southern Africa has a wealth of experience in addressing sustainable development issues through education. There are many projects, programmes and networks active in this area (for example the SADC Regional EE Programme; the Environmental Education Association of southern Africa, Health promoting schools initiatives etc). The UN Decade of ESD provides a unique opportunity to strengthen, extend, and 'mainstream' this experience, through co-ordinated support and orientation. The Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Directorate, as lead agent responsible for ecological sustainability and food security can provide significant leadership in this process, which could also strengthen multi-sectoral involvement in re-orienting education towards southern Africa's development priorities.

Guidelines to strengthen and extend participation in the UN Decade on ESD would assist with providing a co-ordinated framework that is regionally appropriate for ESD policy work and practice in southern Africa. These guidelines would be aligned with the UNESCO Implementation Plan for the UN Decade.

Process Plan

Development of the guidelines involved a consultative process at three levels: local level consultations (involving the wide array of organisations involved in providing ESD); national level consultations (involving education and environment ministries, as well as other key national stakeholders); and international (including SADC level consultations). The consultation process took place in 2005, and the documents produced by the end of 2005.

The process was led by (and funded through) the SADC Regional Environmental Education Programme (a programme of the FANR Directorate), who have the experience necessary to guide such a process, given their national, sub-regional and international involvement in preparations for the UN Decade of ESD, and their participation in key international consultations on the UN Decade. The SADC REEP has established networks with relevant stakeholders in southern African countries.


2 regional documents:

  • Guidelines for participating in ESD policy work for the UN Decade on ESD
  • Guidelines for participating in ESD practice during the UN Decade on ESD

database and network of ESD stakeholders in southern Africa
Contributions to Africa-wide ESD strategy development
North-South links and collaboration on ESD implementation

SADC Regional Environmental Education Programme