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


In recent years, both the United Nations Education, Science and Culture Organization (UNESCO) and the Organization of American States (OAS) have received mandates from the highest levels of government to promote sustainable development and the educational processes that support it.

In 1992 at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro, UNESCO was named as task manager of Chapter 36 of Agenda 21. The chapter addresses the issue of education for sustainable development in all its forms: formal education, technical/vocational training, non-formal education, and public awareness initiatives.

Subsequently, at the 1996 Summit on Sustainable Development, convened by the OAS in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, delegates approved the “Action Plan for the Sustainable Development of the Americas.”  The Plan reasserted the commitment to implement the recommendations contained in Agenda 21, and adopted by UNCED, and  requested that the OAS  coordinate the execution of the decisions taken at the Santa Cruz Summit.

The work continued in Thessaloniki at the 1997 “International Conference on the Environment and Society: Education and Public Awareness for Sustainability,” held in coordination with the Government of Greece. There, UNESCO presented a document entitled “Education for a Sustainable Future: A Transdisciplinary Vision for Concerted Action,” to help orient further work at the regional level on this issue.

In April of 1998, at the Sixth Session of the Commission for Sustainable Development (CSD), UNESCO was called upon to continue its efforts to clarify and disseminate the key concept of education for sustainable development, stressing the support required to interpret and adapt the concept at regional and local levels.  That same month, the II Summit of the Americas, convened in Santiago, Chile, mandated the OAS to address the needs of its member States in the priority areas of education and sustainable development.

This paper represents the joint response of UNESCO and the OAS to the series of mandates and tasks set forth within the framework described.  The research and analysis presented contribute to the continuing implementation work of UNESCO as task manager of  Chapter 36 of Agenda 21, with a special focus on the Americas.   The document also examines the mandates assigned to the OAS through the Summit process.  Overall, the work represents an assessment of the state of education for sustainability in the Americas and seeks to identify fruitful approaches and solutions, as well as problems and obstacles.

We begin with an investigation of the progress made in the Hemisphere since the 1972 UN meeting in Stockholm on the Human Environment.  Many advances are identified, but we also conclude that increasing human activity continues to reduce the ability of the natural environment to organize and regulate itself in equilibrium. This tendency reduces biodiversity and increasingly endangers human populations.  In order to address the issue in an holistic and integrated manner, a new understanding of the natural environment and human culture as a single system is necessary.  Here, education has a central role to play in promoting a new way of thinking about the relationships between the social and natural worlds.  Because education is the process through which one generation transmits to the next its wisdom as well as its ignorance, together with its values and its ethics, teaching and learning acquire a special importance to questions of sustainability.

The obligation to bequeath to future generations a safe environment, a wealth of biodiversity, and a life of quality with dignity is now recognized worldwide.  It is the hope of both UNESCO and the OAS that this monograph can contribute to the growing body of thought and knowledge about the purpose and practice of education for sustainability.  This new approach to education must not only inform the next generation  about nature, science, culture, history, philosophy and human relations, but must impress upon the young the fragility and intricacy of life, and the seriousness of the obligation to leave behind an intact and livable world.

Benno Sander

Gustavo López Ospina