The Regional Ministerial Meeting for the World Summit on Sustainable Development (24-25 September 2001, Geneva) called for initiatives in the area of education. Specifically, the Ministers "agreed to improve education systems and the design of learning programmes on sustainable development to increase the general understanding of how to implement and promote sustainable development in practice."
The World Summit on Sustainable Development (Johannesburg, South Africa, 2002) stressed the need to integrate sustainable development into education systems at all levels of education, from pre-school to higher education and non-formal education, in order to promote education as a key agent for change.
During the preparations for the fifth Ministerial Conference "Environment for Europe" (Kiev, 2003), both Governments and non-governmental organizations expressed their interest in improving environmental education. As a result, the Working Group of Senior Officials, at its third session, established a drafting group to develop a UNECE Strategy for Environment and Education. Pursuant to this decision, the drafting group has prepared draft Statement on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) and a background document on basic elements for the UNECE Strategy for ESD E F R
Recognizing that education is a fundamental tool for environmental protection and sustainable development and that environmental education has increasingly addressed a wide range of issues included in Agenda 21, the UNECE Environment Ministers endorsed the Statement on Education for Sustainable Development E F R by acclamation at their Conference in Kiev (21-23 May 2003). They invited all countries to integrate sustainable development into their education systems at all levels from pre-school to higher education and in non-formal as well as in informal education, in order to promote education as a key agent for change. They welcomed the proclamation by the United Nations General Assembly, at its fifty-seventh session (December 2002), of the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development starting in 2005, and agreed to take the lead in promoting it regionally.
The Ministers also invited UNECE to develop a strategy for education for sustainable development in close cooperation with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the Council of Europe and other relevant actors.
Pursuant to this decision, the Committee on Environmental Policy of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE CEP), at its tenth session (20-22 October 2003) discussed the proposal on the framework for work on education for sustainable development E F R and set up a Task Force on Education for Sustainable Development to develop the Strategy. Sweden and the Russian Federation volunteered to lead the process. This initiative was a substantial regional contribution to the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development.
The first meeting of the Task Force (19-20 February 2004) adopted its terms of reference and its work programme. It also provided comments on the draft strategy that had been prepared by the secretariat in consultation with the lead countries and set up a drafting group to help prepare the final draft of the document for the approval at its second meeting.
The drafting group met four times and has prepared a draft strategy taking into account comments provided by member States and stakeholders, including regional environmental centers, international and non-governmental organizations. The strategy was meant to serve as a flexible framework and its implementation could be adapted to each country’s priorities, specific needs and circumstances. Therefore, the document reflected the main considerations expressed by stakeholders and member States and is based on a general consensus.
At its second meeting (15-16 July 2004) the Task Force amended and approved the draft Strategy and submitted it to the Committee on Environmental Policy at its eleventh session for consideration.
The Task Force also discussed the practical aspects of implementing the strategy in the region and the proposal on joint high-level meeting of Environment Ministries and Education Ministries or equivalent State bodies responsible for education in UNECE member States that might be convened to adopt the strategy. There was a general support for holding such a meeting. The Task Force also endorsed the proposed date, candidatures for officers and the agenda of the meeting.
The drafting group has also prepared two background documents for information: one on past and ongoing international processes on education for sustainable development (E F R) and another to clarify some terms used in the strategy (E F R).
The eleventh session of the Committee on Environmental Policy (13 - 15 October 2004) discussed the draft Strategy and other documents on education for sustainable development prepared by the Task Force.
The UNECE Committee on Environmental Policy thanked the Task Force for finalizing its work in developing a draft UNECE Strategy for ESD (E F R), which was supported by most countries. It also agreed to amend the first sentence of the paragraph 8 of the draft Strategy.
The Committee also discussed the note on the High-Level meeting of Education and Environment Ministries (E F R). Thus, it decided to convene a High-Level Meeting of Environment and Education Ministries (or other equivalent national body responsible for education) as a follow-up of the fifth Ministerial Conference “Environment for Europe” (Kiev, 2003). The CEP decided to forward the draft UNECE Strategy and the proposal on Framework for its implementation (E F R) to the High-level meeting for final consideration.
Following this decision, In the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, on 17-18 March 2005, at their high-level meeting, UNECE Ministers, vice-ministers and other representatives of Environment and Education Ministries adopted by acclamation a UNECE Strategy for Education for Sustainable Development - a practical instrument to promote sustainable development through education. They also adopted the Vilnius Framework for Implementation setting up a Steering Committee and an expert group on indicators in order to facilitate coordination and review of Strategy’s implementation. Various stakeholders, including international organisations, business, non-governmental organisations, regional environmental centres and research institutions took part in the meeting and provided valuable contributions.