Our Changing World: UN Sustainable Development Goals, Learning for Sustainability and government policies

Our Changing World lecture by Prof Peter Higgins and Prof Charles Hopkins on 3rd November 2015; summary by Marlena Segar, 1st year student in Social and Economic History with Environmental Studies

When the United Nations was set up 70 years ago, according Professor Hopkins, the 20% of the population that were in ‘developed’ countries wanted to instigate forms of environmental protection, but the ‘developing’ 80%, wanted to further their economic development just as the 20% had previously done. From this, emerged the idea of Sustainable Development where the ‘needs of present generations could be met, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.’

Hopkins believes that finally 2015 is the year for optimism with global agreement on the recent 17 Sustainable Development Goals which encompass the newly adapted Millennium goals of People, Prosperity, Peace, Partnership and Planet. Hopkins and Higgins both argue that a complete repurposing of the global education system so that it is based around sustainable development, rather than simply including sustainable development education, is the answer to implementing this much needed, positive change.

There has already seen some developments geared towards a ‘Learning for Sustainability’ programme with the emergence, in Scotland, of a ministerial advisory group called One Planet Schools. OPS produced 31 recommendations on how to develop a whole school approach that is compatible with sustainable development. Astonishingly all 31 of their recommendations were accepted by the Scottish National Party. Not only have goals been introduced that all schools in Scotland should increase their emphasis on learning for sustainability, but all new schools must now template their curriculum so it is in line with sustainable development. There was some concern in the audience of this translating into indoctrination, but both Higgins and Hopkins assured that they were insisting on education for sustainable development as indoctrination wouldn’t work in the long term. They argued: we are only going to be ready to face future challenges if learning for sustainability is taken on board globally.