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Sustainability: Learning for Empowerment

[Geri Lavrov/Getty Images]

The United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 was a watershed moment, signifying the beginning of a new global engagement with the then emerging problems of environmental destruction and climate change.

Since 1992, however, the sense of global peril arising from our damage to the Earth's life support systems has continued to escalate. But we have also seen the birth of new hope as increasing numbers of people around the world, particularly youth, have stood up to demand and effect a change toward more sustainable ways of living.

The Rio Summit highlighted the crucial need for education and learning related to the natural environment. At the Rio+10 summit (World Summit on Sustainable Development--WSSD) in Johannesburg in 2002, the SGI supported the creation of a UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD). The Decade commenced in 2005 and has garnered efforts to promote ESD around the world.

There are concerns, however, that insufficient focus has been placed on nonformal education and lifelong learning to equip all people to be a part of the groundswell of change that is needed if we are to move forward together toward a more hope-filled and sustainable future. The Earth Charter, which grew out of Rio in 1992 and represents a shared statement of this hope and concern, articulates the key values at the heart of learning for sustainability.

In his proposal to the WSSD in Johannesburg, SGI President Daisaku Ikeda stressed three elements of the process of education for sustainability: to learn, to reflect and to empower. As we approach the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development, this issue of the SGI Quarterly looks at how learning, when it leads to a sense of positive empowerment and agency, can open up fresh possibilities for change.

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