Mon, 07 Mar 2005

World needs to promote education for sustainable development

Warief Djajanto Basorie, Jakarta

Zabariah Haji Matali of Sarawak, Malaysia and Ian Ellis of Victoria, Australia, live in different situations but have a common concern. They want a sustainable future for their community and are doing something about it. They want a future in which tomorrow's children can still benefit from the proper use of the earth's resources.

In Sarawak, a state in Eastern Malaysia on Borneo island, the majority of the population is rural based: Farmers, fishers, livestock breeders, rural women and youth. Together they make up 26 different ethnic groups, many living in dense forest that is accessible only by a river or a long trek, Zabariah says.

Australia, on the other hand is a wealthy and developed country. However, its natural assets face serious decline. A 2.6- million hectare region in Southwestern Victoria, for instance, is now showing signs of degradation.

In Australia "people have become rampant consumers" and "companies are principally judged by profitability and returns for shareholders," says Ellis, CEO of Future Environment Fund, a Victoria-based, non-profit association that works to enhance corporate awareness and action in sustainable development.

Zabariah, general manager of Angkatan Zaman Mansang (AZAM), a community-based NGO, believes "changing culturally and socially entrenched mindsets is one of the greatest constraints" to bring the people of Sarawak to a sustainable future.

In achieving this, AZAM has facilitated community-based projects that protect the environment and generate people's income involving several parties. One project is replacing mangrove forest logging with crab culture. Ideally, the community abandons logging to sustain the mangrove system. As an alternative source of income, the community turns to raising crabs introduced by a private enterprise. Local rural women are also engaged in the food processing with government agency help.

Ellis, meanwhile, sees consciousness-raising on environmental issues as the key, so that behavior is changed as a major challenge. Another is to instill and improve environmental responsibility among Australian companies.

Multi-stakeholder cooperation already exists in Australia. Various indexes are maintained to record the environmental and social performance other than the financial track of corporations. The press reports these annual outcomes, particularly the firms that are under performing.

This triple bottom-line evaluation of companies encourages firms to be more environmentally responsible. Moreover, the Australian public is being educated increasingly to support responsible companies in terms of product purchase and investment in shares of a company, Ellis explains. The Future Environment Fund is working with local companies to develop their triple bottom-line rating in the financial, social and environmental areas.

Zabariah and Ellis shared their work experience and ideas at a February 2005 regional strategy workshop for the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (DESD) in Asia and the Pacific.

The workshop, convened in Bangkok by the UNESCO regional office for education, brought together people from Afghanistan to the South Pacific, from both developed and developing societies.

The 60-plus participants are active in government, UNESCO national commissions, international organizations, NGOs, the private sector, the community, the school system and the media.

The DESD, launched internationally in New York on March 1, seeks to empower people of all ages to assume responsibility for creating a sustainable future. It stresses the central role of education in implementing Agenda 21, the global blueprint for sustainable development, a major product of the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.

The Bangkok workshop reviewed the situational analysis of Asia and the Pacific undertaken by researchers from five parts of the region. It also discussed the 10 core ESD issues the researchers identified, covering areas from information, awareness, knowledge systems, environmental protection to cross-cutting issues like human rights, gender equality and governance.

One outcome of the workshop was separate lists of practical priority ESD projects by seven stakeholder groups. The NGO list, for instance, includes the training of trainers, scenario exercises and creating an expertise resource pool. The education stakeholder group, meanwhile, called for curriculum education and teacher development with a need at the start to be clear as to what ESD is about.

The five situational analyses, the 10 core issues, the lists of project ideas and other input like the need for partnerships, critical leadership and ownership of ESD by all, are to go into the DESD regional strategy, described as "an open living document" by Derek Elias, ESD coordinator at UNESCO Bangkok and the workshop chairperson. The UN General Assembly has designated UNESCO as the lead agency for the Decade.

Following the international launch in New York, an Asia- Pacific ministerial launch in Shanghai this September is under discussion. Meanwhile, individual countries have their national launches. For sure, UNESCO national commissions take the lead role in promoting ESD at the national level.

Can we achieve ESD? Akpezi Ogbuigwe put the rhetorical question to the workshop's plenary session. Ogbuigwe, head of environmental education at the UN Environment Program (UNEP) in Nairobi, answered the question herself.

"Yes we can, if we want ESD as badly as a woman who wants to have a baby badly and (is willing to) endure the pain."

The writer is journalism instructor at the Dr. Soetomo Press Institute, LPDS, in Jakarta. He attended the Bangkok workshop. He can be reached at