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Collection:
INTERAMER
Number: 67
Year: 1999
Author: Eloísa Trellez Solís and Gustavo Wilches Chaux
Title: Education for a Sustainable Future in the Americas

Moving toward the XXI Century

During the 1990s, general understanding of sustainable development has grown and commitments have broadened. The educational aspect of sustainability, however, continues to lack depth. Thus, the preliminary stages of the 1992 Summit on the Environment and Development, and the meeting itself, were important to the analysis and reconsideration of development and educational processes.

Nonetheless, the initial enthusiasm expressed by the heads of state who subscribed to the Rio Declaration in 1992, the Conventions on Biological Diversity and Climate Change, and who supported Agenda 21, has rarely resulted in implementation, although the signatories certainly recognize the importance of honoring their commitment. Although the concept of sustainable development has begun to appear in the daily discourse of the region’s various sectors, a lack of knowledge about the topic or how to approach it remains. Many experts and activists in Latin American and the Caribbean feel that after six years, there has been no significant advancement.

Certain meaningful steps, however, have been taken in the region, as evidenced by required assessment of environmental conditions. Additional achievements have been made in institution strengthening for environmental management and sustainable development (for example, the establishment of the Ministry of Sustainable Development, in Bolivia, the Environmental National System, in Colombia, and the National Environmental Council, in Peru, among others).

Agenda 21 has become a key document guiding the process toward worldwide sustainable development, though its expectations and thematic scope of action have not been fully carried out by the signatory states. The provisions of the document specified that such actions should be supported by the those states which identified themselves as “developed” when they signed the agreements and, hence, committed themselves to providing financial support to underdeveloped countries. The developed countries, however, operating through multilateral lending institutions, have not provided support sufficient to implement the provisions of Agenda 21. While some debt relief has been forthcoming from both public and private lenders, in the 1990s, the multilateral banks have continued to implement policies in Latin America and the Caribbean that promote extractive and agricultural exports in an effort to improve the region’s balance of payments. These policies require lifting restrictions on foreign and domestic investment, often with negative consequences for indigenous populations and local environments. In other cases, the political willingness stated when the agreements were made was forgotten when active participation in national level initiatives was required.

While the United Nations met in Rio de Janeiro, the Citizens Global Forum took place also, gathering thousands of people and non-governmental institutions from around the world. This Forum proposed an Agreement entitledEnvironmental Education for Sustainable Societies and Global Responsibility.” It included a series of axiological, political and methodological principles formulated to bring about values, attitudes and behaviors in harmony with the construction of a sustainable, equitable and environmentally balanced society. The Agreement’s basic proposal was set forth by the International Council for Adult Education (ICAE) and the Consejo de Educación de Adultos de América Latina (CEAAL-Latin American Adult Education Council). The introduction to the Agreement identifies significant issues concerning sustainable development and education:
The acceptance of necessary changes depends on the effective understanding of the systemic nature of the crisis threatening the future of the Planet. The primary causes of problems, such as the increase of poverty, human and environmental degradation, and violence, can be identified in the prevailing model of civilization, based on overproduction and over-consumption for some people and under-consumption and lack of adequate production conditions for most people (…) Environmental education should urgently generate changes in quality of life, greater awareness in regard to personal behavior and harmonious relations among human beings as well as between them and other life forms.6
Following the UNCED meeting and the Citizen’s Global Forum in Rio, a series of worldwide meetings and commitments on critical aspects of development enhanced the international context of the environmental debate. During the decade, the UN convened: The Cairo Meeting on Population, held in 1994; the Meeting on Social Development, held in Copenhagen, in 1995; the Meeting on Women, held in Beijing, in the same year; and the Meeting on Human Settlements, held in Istanbul, in 1996. Thus, the 1990s produced several world and regional action plans and proposals, but subsequent implementation has yet to be realized.

Commitment
  • To assess the impact of current commitments and declarations and to promote the political willingness necessary to translate these commitments into action.
  • To identify additional obstacles to reaching these goals
  • To strengthen, broaden and implement subregional proposals, linking them to regional agreements, on the basis of local realities and the political processes underway in each country and subregion.