Education for all has always been an integral part of the sustainable development agenda. The World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in 2002 adopted the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation (JPOI) which in its Section X, reaffirmed both the Millennium Development Goal 2 in achieving universal primary education by 2015 and the goal of the Dakar Framework for Action on Education for All to eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education by 2005 and at all levels of education by 2015. The JPOI addressed the need to integrate sustainable development into formal education at all levels, as well as through informal and non-formal education opportunities.
There is growing international recognition of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) as an integral element of quality education and a key enabler for sustainable development. Both the Muscat Agreement adopted at the Global Education For All Meeting (GEM) in 2014 and the proposal for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) developed by the Open Working Group of the UN General Assembly on SDGs (OWG) include ESD in the proposed targets for the post- 2015 agenda. The proposed Sustainable Development Goal 4 reads "Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote life-long learning opportunities for all" and includes a set of associated targets.
ESD is closely tied into the international discussions on sustainable development, which have grown in scale and importance since, Our Common Future appeared in 1987, providing the first widely-used definition of sustainable development as the "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."
The crucial role of education in achieving sustainable development was also duly noted at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, through Chapter 36 of its outcome document - Agenda 21.
The importance of promoting education for sustainable development and integrating sustainable development actively into education was also emphasized in paragraph 233 of the Future We Want, the outcome of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio+20, in 2012.
In 2005, UNESCO launched the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development which reaffirmed the key role of education in shaping values that are supportive of sustainable development, and in consolidating sustainable societies. The final report of the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development, Shaping the Future We Want, was launched at the UNESCO World Conference on Education for Sustainable Development, held in November 2014, Nagoya, Japan.
On the same occasion, as a follow-up to the United Nations Decade of ESD (2005-2014), UNESCO launched the Global Action Programme (GAP) on ESD. The overall goal of the GAP is to generate and scale up actions in all levels and areas of education and learning to accelerate progress towards sustainable development.
GAP has identified five priority areas to advance to ESD agenda: policy support, whole-institution approaches, educators, youth, and local communities. UNESCO has established five Partner Networks, each corresponding to the five priority areas, as one of its main implementation mechanisms of GAP. The Partner Networks will create synergies for the activities of their members and catalyse actions by other stakeholders.
In the run-up to the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio+20, the Higher Education Sustainability Initiative (HESI) was created as a partnership of several sponsor UN entities (UNESCO, UN-DESA, UNEP, Global Compact, and UNU) aiming at galvanizing commitments from higher education institutions to teach and encourage research on sustainable development, greening campuses and support local sustainability efforts. With a membership of almost 300 universities worldwide, HESI accounts for more than one-third of all the voluntary commitments that came out of the Rio +20 Conference, providing higher education institutions with a unique interface between policy making and academia.
In 2015, the HESI partnership officially became a member of in priority area 2 of the GAP Partner Network: "Transforming learning and training environments".
Through its association with GAP, HESI will aim at helping institutions to develop sustainability plans in partnership with the broader community, and assist universities in incorporating sustainability into campus operations, governance, policy and administration.