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Written by Jane Rasbash, Gaia Education Board Member

“There is No Plan B as there is No Planet B.”

Looking back over 10 years of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) and heralding the follow up Global Action Programme (GAP) for ESD was the focus of the Conference, which took place in Aichi-Nagoya, Japan, from 11-12 November 2014. Irina Bokava, Director General of UNESCO welcomed participants saying,

“Building the foundations for lasting peace and sustainable development starts in the minds of women and men and this begins with Education.”

I was invited to attend in representation of Gaia Education, our Ecovillage Design Education Curriculum (EDE) being an official contribution to the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (UNDESD, 2005-2014). There was multi-levelled representation from local NGOs, INGOs, universities and governments.

ESD was first mooted as critical for sustainable development in 1992 during the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit. In Johannesburg (Rio+10) in 2002 a resolution was adopted to launch the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development, commencing in 2005, with Member States committing to integrate sustainable development into formal and informal education systems. .It is significant that it is the responsibility of all countries to join the movement for ESD regardless of how ‘developed’ they are.Synchronistically, it was around this time that Gaia Education was founded. Under the leadership of May East, our flagship curriculum, the Ecovillage Design Education Curriculum, became an official contribution to the decade.

The first day celebrated the decade; the second day focused on re-orientating education and accelerating action for ESD, the third day setting the agenda for ESD into the future. There were multiple workshops and side events. To strengthen GAP the Aichi-Nagoya Declaration on Education for Sustainable Development, celebrating the achievements of the ESD decade and calling for urgent action to further strengthen and scale up ESD, was finalised and endorsed during the conference.

The conference kicked off with formalities and a high-level round table with Ministerial representation from around the globe. Government representatives shared about increased commitment to sustainable development and education as a key factor in reaching it. ESD has become a multi-stakeholder enabler for sustainable development galvanising innovative learner centred pedagogies in all areas of education. A major success is awareness-raising of ESD related issues like climate change.

Key discussions and growing edges in ESD were how to:

  • create more effective links between sustainable development and education policy;
  • mobilise resources and capacity for implementing ESD;
  • create effective monitoring and evaluation systems to measure ESD
  • change attitudes and bring an ethical approach into ESD initiatives

Many people I spoke to found the Gaia Education approach impressive particularly the ‘world view’ aspect as it can contribute towards changing attitudes and incorporating ethics that appears to be missing in many ESD contributions.

There were many inspiring presenters doing amazing work.

Oscar Motomura from Earth Charter, Brazil spoke of ‘Deep Dialogue’ between business and Government representatives involving immersion sessions of 50 hours to find common ground and mutual appreciations. He opined ‘effective dialogue is a pathway to effective solutions’ and warned 20 minutes discussion is not a dialogue and ‘shallow dialogue leads to shallow solutions’. Oscar also mentioned the importance of contextualisation. I shared how Gaia Education has been adapted in diverse settings around the world and the certification process both allows and actively encourages courses to be informed by local cultural conditions.

Dr Kartika Sarabhai from the Centre for Environmental Education in India spoke of addressing community action quoting Ghandi ‘if we strip the world like locusts, like westerners the planet will not survive’ he went on to purport leapfrogging and increasing handprint, reducing footprint (see below).

Frans Lenglet from SWEDESD said ‘Good ecosystems are essential for human wellbeing without humans the planet would take care of itself’ reminding us that as human-beings we are at the root of many contemporary issues.

Some simple concepts to inspire change were:

  • Handprint Towards Sustainability - An ESD tool to increase handprint (hands on work) to reduce footprint (carbon use)
  • Leapfrogging – traditional communities moving directly towards sustainable development jumping over environmental, social and cultural degradation that plagues modern society
  • Japanese Manga Earth Charter - A pictorial comic book portraying the Earth Charter
  • Climatesmart Farming facilitating sustainable increase in agricultural production and incomes for small holders whilst building Climate Change resilience and reducing carbon emissions.

In the ‘Local Communities in Action’ thread we were tasked to discuss which SDGs were most important for community engagement. We decided all 17 have a community component and proposed a cross cutting approach applicable to both rural and urban communities. In summary –

  • 1. Develop trust between stakeholders and communities
  • 2. Peace, conflict resolution, mediation required to work with power/conflict/resource injustices
  • 3. Use Community structures already there e.g. families, spiritual traditions
  • 4. Re-evaluate local knowledge
  • 5. Develop leadership – get young people interested in sustainable solutions so they want to Leapfrog
  • 6. Forums and seminars to develop further


The notion of Global Citizenship was mooted referring to people, organisations and initiatives who identify with being part of an emerging world community whose actions contribute to building common values and practices. The GAP programme furthered this with a call for renewed commitment to: Reorient and strengthen education and learning so everyone can (i) acquire knowledge, skills, values and attitudes to contribute to sustainable development and (ii) do so through appropriate programmes and activities. GAP prioritises five areas Advancing Policy; Integrating Sustainability Practices into Education and Training; Increasing Capacity of Educators and Trainers; Empowering and Mobilizing Youth; Encouraging Local Communities and Municipal Authorities to Develop Community-based ESD Programmes.

Delegates left full with impressions, reflections and inspiration for continuing applications of ESD in the Global Action Programme embracing a collective identity as Global Citizens who care for our planet.