Between the 4th and 5th of October, UNESCO headquarters in Paris organized a meeting of UNESCO Chairs in Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), which was attended by Mirian Vilela, ECI Executive Director. Ms. Vilela is the coordinator of the UNESCO Chair on ESD with the Earth Charter (this chair is co-hosted by the University for Peace and the EC Center on Education for Sustainable Development). This was the first time such a meeting was organized to promote the exchange of experiences and knowledge among the ESD Chairs, explore ideas of how to forge collaboration, and discuss the process towards and post the end of the United Nations Decade on Education for Sustainable Development (UNDESD).

There are over 300 UNESCO Chairs around the world, which are focused on different areas of research and education practice. Among these, there are 18 UNESCO Chairs focused on Education for Sustainable Development, each with their own specific interest. Some research the linkages between ESD and Climate Change Education, others engage youth (such as the Young Masters Programme on Sustainable Development from Lund University in Sweden, an online programme for high school students), and still others specifically work on teacher training or in  ESD through distance education. The Earth Charter Chair is a collaborative project of interested institutions studying ways to bring the values and principles of sustainability, as articulated in the Earth Charter, into educational settings.

Other UNESCO Chairs on ESD come from Germany, Armenia, Sweden, Spain, Mexico, the Netherlands, Canada, and France, among others. Two of them are already working with the Earth Charter. The University of Crete just underwent a two-year process of developing a new Master programme on ESD and Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), which brings together seven other universities from Europe. This fully online programme, led by Vassilos Makarais, whose institution is also an ECI affiliate, has a course that is dedicated to the Earth Charter. It is expected to be launched in 2014. Also UNED in Spain, one of the biggest distance learning universities in Iberoamerica, has a Chair on Environment Education and ESD, and they have also being working with the Earth Charter in their courses and as part of their research.

Part of the agenda of this UNESCO chairs meeting was dedicated to addressing what still must happen in the next two years, before the end of the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (UNDESD). Some of the discussion topics were innovative projects that implement ESD in all dimensions of education (formal and non-formal spheres), how to assess them and capture good stories, and also how new global programme on ESD can be set up beyond 2014 as a follow-up to the Decade effort.

In November 2014, UNESCO and the Government of Japan will be organizing the UNESCO World Conference on Education for Sustainable Development - Learning Today for a Sustainable Future. This event will mark the end of the UNDESD and a number of projects to undertake assessment of this effort will be in place between 2013 and 2014. Given that the 2014 World Conference will take stock of the implementation of the UNDESD and celebrate the Decade’s achievements, from an Earth Charter Initiative perspective we would like to identify key examples, collect as many stories of good practices as possible from schools, universities, youth groups, businesses, and others that feature and make good use of the Earth Charter.

On the first day evening of the meeting, Mirian Vilela also took part in a panel that was open for other UNESCO staff and delegates on Higher Education for Sustainable Development: Rio+20 and beyond. This panel discussion was organized by the Swedish Permanent Delegation and UNESCO’s Education Sector and was opened by Mr Qian Tang, Assistant Director-General for Education and Mr Hans-Ake Öström, Deputy Permanent Delegate, Permanent Delegation of Sweden. The four panellists addressed the topic of the role of Higher Education for Sustainable Development: Rio+20 and beyond, the UNDESD, and had the opportunity to briefly introduce the work of their UNESCO chair.

More information about UNESCO’s work on ESD.

To read more about ECI's Greek affiliate, click here.