Has anything changed since the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development, when world leaders gathered in Rio de Janeiro to thrash out a global policy on sustainable development for the next century?
This is the question facing delegates at Earth Summit II, a UN General Assembly special session, meeting on 16 to 27 June in New York, to assess progress since Rio.
Many southern nations believe the developed world has failed to honour the promises of Agenda 21, the plan agreed at Rio. And the prospects for Earth Summit II are not good. But efforts over the past two years to develop an international campaign, Education 21, to promote education, training and awareness on sustainable development, have been successful.
Before Rio, 30 member organisations of the Council of Environmental Education, the Development Education Association and other non-governmental organisations formed an Education for Sustainability Forum. During the past two years the forum has collaborated with UNED-UK, the UK branch of the UN Environment and Development network to develop the Education 21 campaign. It has also helped an alliance of organisations from around the world devise proposals for the Earth Summit II.
These highlight lifelong learning, interdisciplinary education, partnerships, multicultural education and empowerment. The text exhorts a wide range of institutions to address the idea of sustainable development.
Agenda 21 has been a major catalyst for thought, aspiration and, in some cases, action. It was a driving force behind the Government Strategy for Environmental Education in England, published in July 1996.
Prime Minister Tony Blair has promised to attend New York. It must be hoped that his Government will endorse the Government Strategy for Environmental Education and other initiatives to make education for sustainability a reality in the UK.
Tim Osborn Jones is director of the Council for Environmental Education