Organizing partners: UNESCO (lead organizer) in association with the Interagency Committee for the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (composed of 20 UN entities); the Government of Sweden; Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology of Japan
As we live in a global society that faces unprecedented environmental challenges, it is our responsibility as leaders to provide younger generations with the necessary tools to ensure a sustainable future. The transition towards green economies and societies requires coupling political will with resources and visions to ensure sustainable development.
Professor Jeffrey Sachs at Columbia University provides a compelling analysis regarding how education is the essential element of the green economy in sustainable societies. By defining three main pillars as catalysts for social change: environment protection, socio-political processes and economic development – campaigning for the “Future We Want” will continue to leverage extraordinary opportunities and responsibilities.
As part as the Rio+20 Summit, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton states that as we are in the 21st century, “The only viable development is sustainable development . . . so while the outcome document adopted here contains many important principles and proposals, the most compelling products of this conference are the examples of new thinking that can lead to models for future action.”
Simply put, sustainable development without collaborative efforts and intergenerational dialogue is next to impossible. In a world where Sustainable Development Goals reflect the values of modern society and beyond, youth not only represent human capital but hold the key towards establishing knowledge economies and stimulating global prosperity.
As a steering committee member of the Major Group for Children and Youth at Rio+20, I am confident that my generation will create new paradigms of wealth and prosperity and embrace the values of sustainability, equity, justice and respect for human rights. The youth demographic is uniquely poised to address and discuss the critical issues facing our societies, as evidenced by ongoing demands for innovation and creativity. We recognize that material resources are finite, but human potential is not.
As a delegate on behalf of Columbia University Coalition on Sustainable Development, our team sponsored a Youth Blast event with the Rio+20 Major Group for Children and Youth entitled, “Finding Sustainability in Universities.” In an effort to promote awareness and increase the urgency for a call to action, panelist provided examples in which universities have been successful towards reducing their carbon footprint, highlighting the steps they took to get there.
Specifically, Professor Sachs believes, “We need a fundamental change in the way we think and act, calling for a revising curriculum in teaching objectives. As a global society, we need to establish new methods to motivate and empower others to change behaviors and become catalyst for sustainable development. We must link education more tightly with needs of economists and aspirations of societies.”
Education empowers women and men with new behaviors to find solutions towards the challenges of today and tomorrow. Initiatives require the understanding of science, social prospects, culture, human values and diversity. With this, Professor Sachs discusses the importance of investing in the role of women to ensure intergenerational dialogue in a broader society. He states, “We risk loosing a generation of children if we don’t understand the urgency of meeting the needs of the kids everywhere, especially the girls. We need to be present and help the girls. If the girls don’t get an education, the communities cannot survive.”
Furthermore, UNESCO discusses its new web-based Climate Change Education Clearinghouse, which aims to enhance literacy concerning global and earth system climate change from elementary grades to scholars to lifelong learners. Putting the model into action, Professor Sachs continues to explain, “How an utterly impoverished community can be completely part of the information age, and young children of the earliest days can be connected to quality curriculums.” Educators worldwide have the opportunity to promote awareness concerning globalization through the most direct, efficient, immediate, and powerful methods.
As western universities started the trend of globalization, it is no surprise that the Earth Institute at Columbia University has taken the initiative and established one of the nation’s first Sustainable Development PhD programs. In addition to creating nearly eight new Masters degree programs targeting climate change and society, Columbia College established an undergraduate major in Sustainable Development, which quickly rose to be one the most popular majors across campus.
Come what may, the energy and desire of young people across the globe is inspirational, and we must look towards the future with much excitement and determination. Opportunities for success are yet to be discovered and it is our job as global leaders to provide youth with a foundation to succeed amongst the greatest challenges in history.
The work begins now as UNESCO and the Rio+20 Outcome Document have provided the platform and base to move forward to create a sustainable planet for all.