How to understand and manage the interactional effects of having so many SDGs and targets?

The International Council on Science (ICSU) has published a report illustrating how researchers are documenting, visualising and evaluating the interactions between various sustainable development goals and targets, a simple scale for which is reproduced below. 

The scale and report offer a series of timely reminders to those facing competing demands on their priorities, efforts and understanding across a range of fronts.

First, there’s the usual concern that having multiple and many goals isn’t automatically good (particularly if you need not just fingers but toes to cover them all).

Second, each and every goal can’t easily be pursued simultaneously as if they were somehow isolated from each other or had no spill-over effects.

Third, as the report highlights, paying attention to interactions is crucial. A simple starting point is whether strategies and targets reinforce or undermine each other on a pair-wise basis. But the bigger challenge is facing up to the likelihood of complex chains of effects across multiple goals, where follow-on questions include the degree of uncertainty associated with modelling and understanding these, if not how important each and every scenario for these are (17 goals, 169 targets = how many possible interactions?).

So while a few circles and scales can get the conversation started, expect the 2030 Agenda to require more sophisticated and rigorous debate on what is possible to represent and understand here, for the experts and the public taking on the Sustainable Development Goals. Don’t be surprised if that requires further and new forms of learning, deliberation and inquiry in civil society and government – something that wasn’t quite what the authors of SDG4 had in mind as its remit or horizon?




Teaching Sustainable Development Goals in The Netherlands: a critical approach

Teaching Sustainable Development Goals in The Netherlands: a critical approach | Open Access

  • New EER Article Alert

Helen Kopnina

Pages: 1-16 | DOI: 10.1080/13504622.2017.1303819


One of the main outcomes of the Rio + 20 Conference was the agreement to set Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The most common terms in the17 goals are economic growth, resilience and inclusion, all of which are critically examined in this article. This article discusses how these goals are reflected within existing sustainability programs at a vocational college, and at the undergraduate and postgraduate university levels in The Netherlands. Within all three institutions the author has integrated lectures on sustainable development with specific emphasis on the SDGs. The aim was to engage students in critical discussion, allowing reflection on the issues and paradoxes that characterise the larger discourse of sustainability. The case studies illustrate how curriculum aimed at this awareness can be developed stimulating the students’ recognition of critique of economic development, inclusion and resilience. As a result of the courses, the students were able to develop a certain degree of critical, imaginative, and innovative thinking about sustainable development in general and the SDGs in particular. Cradle to cradle and circular economy approaches were named as more promising for current production systems. This article concludes with the recommendation as to how the SDGs can be critically taught.

Keywords: Economic growth, sustainable development, environmental education, resilience, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)


Weekend reading – “17 Seen Unseen”, a graphic novel about the SDGs

Weekend reading – “17 Seen Unseen”, a graphic novel about the SDGs

“Sometime in the not-so-distant future, the residents of Uno town are living in darkness. Stuck to their Glee patches – devices that feed them a constant stream of social media – they haven’t noticed that their world is full of dangerous monsters that thrive on ignorance and greed. …”

This book project for young adults was commissioned by UNESCO MGIEP, with Story and Graphics by Kavita Singh Kale and Santosh D. Kale. An exhibition of art work from the book is currently running at the Jor Bagh Metro station in New Delhi.

Find out more, including how to download the publication, at, and let us know what you think in the comments section.

The UK’s 25-year environment plan, and whether outdoor learning or environmental education have anything to offer


Follow the link for a thought piece by Associate Editor, Bill Scott, on the values, adequacies and limitations of outdoor learning and environmental education, as well as what might just be missing from what’s on offer in a new 25 year plan by Defra, i.e. the environment ministry in the UK Government.

Did anyone mention avoiding glib talk about ‘Vitamin N’ and having a curriculum that faces up to demonstrating commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals? What do you think?

Source: The UK’s 25-year environment plan – UK NAEE

PS Another of Bill’s postings, examining the idea of the SDGs as a radical curriculum alternative.

Pakistan targets youth education to boost sustainability

From UNEP Stories:

We could lift one hundred and seventy-one million people out of poverty with it, cut child deaths by half and maternal mortality by 66 per cent with it, and in a world where almost one billion people go hungry, prevent wastage of 1.3 billion tonnes of food each year with it.

“It” is education, a powerful tool to shift values and behaviour— including using our resources more efficiently. Without education, achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030 will be impossible.

This simple truth has led Pakistan to start work on aligning its education curriculum with the SDGs— the first country to do so since last year, when the world delivered a set of agreements to guide global development in the next 15 years and beyond.

“Achieving the SDGs requires behavioural change, which requires shifts in value systems,” said Mr. Muhammad Irfan Tariq, Director General of Environment and Climate Change at the Ministry of Climate Change of Pakistan (MoCC). “These shifts, in turn, can be achieved through educating our children.”

Education crucial to sound decisions by future leaders

UN Environment and MoCC have partnered with PIEDAR, a national non-governmental organization (NGO) with 25 years of experience in extending environmental education in Pakistan, and Aflatoun International, a global NGO that leads on education programs with over 3.9 million children and youth reached in 53,091 schools and non-formal education centres, and almost 200 partners spread across 116 countries.

“An understanding of challenges such as managing water scarcity and energy resources from a young age could also shape behaviour and generate important opportunities for innovation and green entrepreneurship,” said Mr. Simon Bailey, Head of Programmes and Research, Aflatoun International.

This is also a first for UN Environment: it’s the first time the organization is working directly with a government on environmental education policy and focusing on primary school education.

“In less than 15 years, today’s children will be tomorrow’s adults,” said Ms. Sara Castro-Hallgren, Programme Officer for the SWITCH-Asia Regional Programme at the UN Environment. “Education policies must ensure that our future leaders have the knowledge and skills to guide resource efficient development in their communities.”

#enviroed in Southern Africa

THEME Environment and Sustainability Education and Training to meet the Post 2015 Sustainable Development Goals

View the programme.

The Environmental Education Association of Southern Africa (EEASA) conference is a very important annual event for environmental learning and education for sustainable development in Southern Africa.

It has over the years proved to be a vital forum for practitioners, officials and funders from Africa and beyond to share ideas, reflect on their practices, extend their frameworks and networks, and strengthen environmental education initiatives within and between their respective countries.

The conference presents an ideal opportunity for all practitioners of environmental education to showcase and open up for discussion their projects, programmes and practices with regional and international partners, and highlight the importance of sustained support for this work to institutions and agencies in South Africa, including local, provincial and national government.

Source: 34th EEASA Conference

How to summarise GEM? Here’s one take – “Education – We the planet” …

In the 2016 Global Education Monitoring Report, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization alerts us that education “will not deliver its full potential unless participation rates increase and sustainable development guides education system reform.” The GEM Report also examines “the destructive impact that climate change, conflict, unsustainable consumption, and the increasing gap between rich and poor have on education.”

Despite its 535 pages of UNESCO jargon, the report is rich in evidence. It does, indeed, “provide readers with an authoritative source” of data to help them “argue for the value and importance of education at all levels of decision making.” And it starts with the very title: “Education for People and Planet: Creating Sustainable Futures for All.” At last, we, the people, are one and the same with Earth.

Here are paraphrased the report’s major findings:

— Between 2008 and 2014, 84 percent of the world’s youth completed upper secondary school in high-income countries, in contrast to 43 percent in upper-middle income, 38 percent in lower-middle income, and 14 percent in low-income nations. Across 76 countries, 20 percent of the 25- to 29-year-olds in the richest nations had finished at least four years of college/university, compared to less than 1 percent in the poorest. In 2014, 63 percent of countries achieved gender parity in primary education, but only 46 percent in lower-secondary, and 23 percent in upper-secondary schooling.

— Between 2005 and 2015, school facilities in 26 countries were used for military purposes. Among refugees, 50 percent of primary- and 75 percent of secondary-school-aged were out of school.

— From 2005 to 2014, 758 million adults — 114 million aged 15 to 24 — could not read or write a sentence; nearly two-thirds were women. In 2014, 82 percent of the teachers had minimum qualifications to teach in pre-primary, 93 percent in primary, and 91 percent in secondary schools.

— In at least 35 countries, governments spent less than 4 percent of their GDP and less than 15 percent of their total expenditure on education. UNESCO remarks that such investments need to increase at least sixfold to account for the $39 billion annual education finance gap, but in 2014, the levels were 8 percent lower than at their 2010 peak.

Under current trends, primary school completion for all people might be achieved in 2042, lower secondary school in 2059, and upper secondary school in 2084. Note that upper secondary schooling for women in sub-Saharan Africa by 2030 shall lead to 300,000 fewer child deaths per year in 2050. Not only that, upper secondary completion by 2030 in low-income nations shall increase per capita income by 75 percent by 2050, and accelerate poverty reduction — or its elimination — by 10 years.

Prosperous nations have their own problems: 1 in 10 countries in Europe and North America will not achieve universal upper secondary completion by 2030. Why does this matter? The GEM Report responds with cost-benefit projections: a 5 percent increase in male high-school-graduation rate in the United States would add $20 billion to the economy via reduced crime and higher input to the workforce.

And from a humanitarian perspective, providing universal upper secondary schooling to the world by 2030 would prevent 50,000 disaster-related fatalities per decade by 2040-2050. Yes, education saves lives.

For UNESCO, education is the most effective tool for reducing fertility rates. In Madagascar, for example, a single extra year of schooling extends the space between births by 0.5 years. Environmental education correlates with better “green knowledge” and sustainable lifestyles. However, only 73 percent of 78 countries’ curricula mention “sustainable development,” 55 percent “ecology,” and 47 percent “environmental education.” The latter is crucial for disaster preparedness: “If education progress is stalled, it could lead to a 20 percent increase in disaster-related fatalities per decade.”

Regarding citizenry involvement in public life, education encourages constructive political participation. In 106 countries, higher levels of education have correlated with peaceful protests (civil disobedience) rather than with chaotic violence. Interestingly, between 1996 and 2010, low literacy in 123 countries was associated with reduced tax revenue. Thus, education motivates civil responsibility.

“A sustainable future is about human dignity, social inclusion and environmental protection. It is a future where economic growth does not exacerbate inequalities but builds prosperity for all” writes Irina Bokova, Director General of UNESCO, in her introduction to the GEM Report. And I am with her: “if done right, education has the power to nurture empowered, reflective, engaged and skilled citizens who can chart the way toward a safer, greener and fairer planet.”

Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C. is co-director of New England Science Public. He lives in Bristol, R.I.

Source: Your View: Education – We the planet