August 31, 2006


Creating the Future - Linking Individuals, Linking Asia Japan Council on the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD-J)

Keywords: Newsletter 

JFS Newsletter No.48 (August 2006)

The UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (UNDESD), a United Nations campaign to promote education, was launched in 2005. This initiative calls on all national governments to make efforts in the field of education aimed at realizing a sustainable society, and includes plans to steadily promote international cooperation for this purpose.

Suggestions by Japanese non-governmental organizations prompted the Japanese government to propose including this campaign in the draft implementation scheme of the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg, held from August to September 2002. The proposal was adopted unanimously. The final draft of the international implementation scheme drafted by UNESCO, the leading agency in the campaign, was adopted in September 2005. It emphasizes "community-based activities," "the importance of teacher training education," "an all-government effort to create a domestic implementation plan, not limited to only some ministries and agencies," and "creation of a forum that emphasizes the citizen participation process and gathers together a broad base of opinion."

Countries around the world are now developing their national implementation plans in response to the UNDESD. The U.K. and Sweden are already implementing the plan, based on their existing national strategies for sustainable development, and Asian countries such as South Korea and Indonesia are also advancing their efforts.

How is sustainable development, the object of this campaign, defined? In the final report of the World Commission on Environment and Development "Our Common Future" published in 1987, sustainable development is defined as "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." This concept has gained wide support around the world.

In order to proceed with sustainable development, all generations need to pay attention to the social and economic issues happening in the environment and the world, create opportunities to think and learn together, and search for solutions in broad time and space contexts. Education programs designed to create such mechanisms and develop human resources are now needed.

What is happening here in Japan, originator of the proposal?

ESD-J is a networking organization established in June 2003 by NGOs, NPOs and individuals. As of the end of March 2006, there were 104 member organizations and 233 individual members. ESD-J carries out various activities related to four main areas of ESD promotion, namely; (1) policy advocacy, (2) information sharing, (3) national networking and (4) international networking. Some local areas have begun acting on ESD: Here are some examples that clearly show its significance.

Japan Council on the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD-J)

Linking various ESD actors--ESD Toyonaka

In Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture, "ESD Toyonaka" was launched in February 2005 as a collective initiative of both citizens and government; revitalization of Toyonaka City is the central focus of the effort. Mayor Keiichiro Asari, who took office in May 2006, declared he would promote the ESD initiative in his initial policy speech.

Having an airport and highways, Toyonaka has some convenient starting points for citizen's initiatives on local issues, such as noise pollution. In 1999, it established two local agendas--"Basic Plan for the Environment" and "Toyonaka Agenda 21"--under the same principles and goals of the Johannesburg Summit. The municipal government and citizens collaborate in various fields.

Formerly, actors in different fields such as the environment, human rights or child-rearing did not mingle together, and because they did not know one another, they were not aware of the various activities taking place in the same town.

This was the status quo when, in June 2004, a member of the city's Environmental Policy Department learned of a seminar focusing on the UNDESD, and this occasion served as a venue where citizens and members of the Toyonaka government studied ESD together. One common concern for both government and citizens working in various fields was the difficulty of involving new members in their activities. Through their discussions, they realized that ESD could function as a keyword to link various initiatives in different fields. They understood that it is their responsibility to hand over the future of Toyonaka to the next generation, in agreement with one of the ESD's stated goals--"Education that creates the future."

Currently, government and citizens in Toyonaka are jointly creating new initiatives. They have undertaken and experienced various activities in fields such as the environment, social welfare, gender and child care, considering themselves a "loosely connected organization." In February and March 2006, they held a series of four lectures on the theme of "ESD Starting from Infancy." On March 19 of the same year, they invited Minoru Mori and Yoko Shinkai, directors of ESD-J, to hold s session. They launched a decade-long ESD project designed to progress step by step in a loosely connected way.

ESD linking Asia One of the projects that ESD-J plans to promote in 2006 is to build an ESD Network in Asia. In September 2005, 33 people from Japan and abroad including ESD-J members held a strategy meeting to promote ESD in the Asia-Pacific region, and agreed to establish a network, ESD-Asia Pacific (ESD-AP). Participants from Thailand, South Korea and Japan set up a preparatory committee and a list serve to share information. They drafted a charter to define ESD-AP, discussed an experimental joint project and exchanged information through the list.

A new project, "Asia Good ESD Practice Research Project (AGEPP)" was started in fiscal 2006; it is financed by the Toyota Environmental Activities Grant Program and designed to promote ESD in seven Asian nations including Japan. ESD-related organizations in South Korea, China, the Philippines, Indonesia, India and Nepal were screened and selected as partner organizations from a large number of applicants.

The AGEPP has been set up as a three-year project starting in 2006, with the aim of finding and analyzing cases of community-based good ESD practice in East, Southeast and South Asia. It will share the information on its website and through handbooks in seven languages, in collaboration with ESD-J members and partner organizations promoting ESD in the six Asian countries.

In addition to exploring about 30 cases of good practice, the AGEPP will also develop ESD indicators and criteria, create a scenario for successful community ES and, prepare and distribute teaching materials to Asian communities while building a network among key groups and researchers promoting ESD in each country. Here we give an example of ESD being practiced in Asia. In the summer of 2005, ESD-J visited Malasari, a remote village located in Gunung Halimun National Park in western Java, Indonesia, in order to study how ESD is being practiced in Asian countries. The Halimun area was settled about 100 years ago by coffee plantation workers, who divided the mountain area into three zones: a reserve of untouched natural forest, a plantation for food and oil, and a human settlement including farms. These early settlers lived and managed the land according to tradition.

In the 1970's, however, the mountain was designated as a national park by the government, making it illegal for the descendents of these settlers to live there. Furthermore, a government-managed forestry corporation reserved a part of the mountain as a forestry zone, prohibited entry by residents, and started logging in order to plant a pine plantation. Halimun is now an unstable area, with overlapping zones of interest, including the national park, the forestry and mining public corporations and local residents.

In 2003, an official of the forestry public corporation fired a warning shot to frighten a woman who was gathering fruit in the forest. Tension started to rise among residents, and the Indonesian Institute for Forest and Environment (RMI), a local environmental NGO, entered the region and helped local residents create a map showing their land use. The village people divided into groups of about 20, climbed the mountain with a global positioning system and made a map showing their patterns of land use in accordance with the traditional three zones, as well as local resources such as water sources and farms.

In answer to the government's insistence on limiting the residents' use of natural resources because the area is a national park, the residents proved that they are capable of managing its natural resources in a proper and sustainable manner, and finally they were able to open negotiations with the government. The government has not yet accepted the residents' proposal, so they intend to continue negotiating patiently with the government with support from the RMI, in order to protect their right to pursue their livelihood.

Chisato Murakami, Secretary General of ESD-J says, "Around the world, capable, passionate and sophisticated people have been working to realize ESD. Now, we would like to create a framework that does not depend on a few passionate people to keep it going." The system needs to connect people with people, activities with learning, and practices with systems at the global, national and local levels. The UNDESD has just begun. ESD-J aims to explore and build this framework with the help of various stakeholders.

UNESCO: Education for Sustainable Development

(Staff writer Kazuko Futakuchi)