This article first appeared on ESU’s website.
Sustainable development can be defined as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”(1). It is crucial to view sustainability holistically as encompassing not only a safe climate and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) but all different dimensions of sustainability. This includes aspects such as ecological thinking, sustainable communities, environmental and social justice as well as sustainability mainstreaming in politics, economics, production, consumption and education.
Science clearly shows that the current way of living is not sustainable. Climate change caused by human activity, over-consumption of natural resources, mass extinction of species, lasting damages caused by pollution and persisting social injustices are well documented. We must listen to the scientific community and act with the necessary urgency to respond to the crises we are facing.
It is clear by now that the current mode of production and consumption is not sustainable; without a radical transformation process, we will continue to compromise the prospects of future generations. Because the necessary transformation needs to be science-driven, education institutions play a crucial role. Young people and students make up almost half of the world’s population and we have a vital role to play in driving the transformation towards a sustainable society. ESU is aware of the necessity to take responsibility, but it can not solve the problems alone. Urgent action from education institutions, corporations and policymakers on all levels is needed.
When our educational institutions, corporations and governments avoid taking action on sustainability, they are not just avoiding the issue, but are in fact making a political decision to continue unsustainable development. Globally, less than 3% of people go to university, yet 80% of societal leaders have been to a university. Our educational spaces create future leaders, yet our institutions are not ensuring that all their graduates are equipped with the knowledge and competencies needed to be leaders for a sustainable and just future we want to see. Policymakers have the responsibility to think beyond the end of their own time in office and build a society that meets the needs of future generations. Education institutions have a responsibility to provide relevant research, communicate the results of their research to the general public free of charge and to fulfil the multiple purposes of education within society.