Education for sustainable development: Links between the planet’s wellbeing and human health

The December edition of UNESCO’s online workshop series focused on the interconnectedness of the health of people and planet, as highlighted through the COVID-19 pandemic and the role of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) to assist in the reorientation of this relationship.

In her opening remarks Ms. Vibeke Jensen, Director of the Division for Peace and Sustainable Development at UNESCO, emphasized the importance of ESD to facilitate the transformation required for a more sustainable world and how the COVID-19 Pandemic lead to new global discussions on global health and sustainability.

The Speakers including Mr. David Nabarro (Special Envoy of the World Health Organization on COVID-19), Ms. Jeni Miller (Global Climate and Health Alliance) and Mr Zitouni Ould-Dada (Deputy Director of the Office of Climate Change, Biodiversity and Environment at the Food and Agriculture Organization) highlighted the role of education in addressing topics such as zoonosis, pollution, sustainable food, and emotional wellbeing.

Humans impact on the environment, a two-way interaction

The first round of discussions focused on the interlinkages between the health of the planet and people. Mr. David Nabarro, special envoy of the World Health Organization on COVID-19 and professor of global health, emphasized on the interdependences of all living beings. He explained how the decisions we make as human beings have a ripple effect, citing the current pandemic as an example.

“We’re learning the power of interdisciplinary and inter-agency cooperation […] so I’m optimistic that what we are learning through COVID will empower us to deal with other existential challenges including climate and the destruction of nature” David Nabarro.

Ms. Jeni Miller, executive director of the Global Climate and Health Alliance, stressed that human health depends on much more than healthcare. She noted that factors like clean air and safe water have a direct impact on human health and highlighted the need to educate health professionals on sustainability.

ESD contributes to human health: raising awareness and putting up action

The second round of panelists tackled ESD contributions to human health. Mr Zitouni Ould-Dada, Deputy Director of the Office of Climate Change, Biodiversity and Environment at the Food and Agriculture Organization, presented both the vulnerability and impact of food systems as they relate to the environment. He referred to education initiatives that inform about the danger of climate change on food safety and the impact that different diets have on natural resources sustainability.

Ms. Bharti Mishra, a science teacher working in New Delhi, shared her experience as an educator, taking ESD out of the classroom and how relevant it has been for her students, who have been affected by poor air quality. She emphasized the importance of teaching the young, saying “being a teacher I realized someone who can bring a change in the world are young minds.”

Mr. Shane O’Connor, Education lead at Life University, argued that people who equip themselves with tools of resilience, compassion and empathy are much more likely to be healthy and to play a role to keep our planet healthy as well.

ESD practices are useful to address the interdependence of people and the planet

Panelists responded to questions from the audience including how to translate knowledge into action and encourage critical thinking, mobilization of skills, values, and attitudes that ESD provides.

The online workshop was the fourth in a series on the transformational power of ESD in the world post-COVID-19, in the lead-up to the 2021 World Conference on Education for Sustainable Development.