By Irina Bokova, Director-General of Unesco - Developing sustainably is one of the most important tasks we face today. Countries in the Gulf region understand this better than anyone. Diversifying economies beyond oil and gas is vital. The development of tourism and agriculture cannot be based on the poor use of limited resources. The International Conference on Education for Sustainable Development reflects the long-standing commitment of the Sultanate of Oman to these objectives.
Strong political commitment is needed to lead societies towards sustainability. But making this commitment starts with each of us, with our attitudes and behaviours. These can only happen through education. We need to educate today the chemists, engineers and manufacturers that the world needs for tomorrow. More fundamentally, we must educate today tomorrow’s responsible citizens and consumers.
Oman was one of the first countries of the Arab states to pursue sustainable development. The Omani government has worked for the last 40 years to transform lifestyles along new lines and principles. The success of this strategy was recognized by the 2010 UN Human Development Report.
Education for sustainable development figures prominently in this vision
In 2008, the Minister of Education created a national team to take forward education for sustainable development, together with the Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs and the Oman Environment Society. The values and principles of sustainable development have been integrated into the curricula of primary and secondary education, through such subjects as Life Skills, Science, or Social Studies.
Oman is active also at the international level. The Sultan Qaboos Prize for Environmental Preservation has been made possible by His Majesty Sultan Qaboos.
Unesco works closely with the Sultanate. Our Together We Build the Environment project illustrates this co-operation. Some of the solutions the world needs come from local know-how — both modern and traditional. This project has organised lectures on the practices of sustainable development throughout Oman. These lectures have explored the traditional Omani irrigation system (aflaj), inscribed on the World Heritage List, which reflects the fair management and effective sharing of water resources. Similarly, the Faculty of Agriculture and Marine Sciences has introduced themes of sustainable development into its undergraduate programmes. The subjects of water management and fisheries have pride of place here.
Sustainable development starts with education, but it must reach outside the classroom.
The private sector, non-governmental organisations along with wider civil society are all vital for raising awareness. Unesco is ready to support the Sultanate in forging deeper partnerships with these actors. Lifelong training is also vitally important, as most adults today were educated before climate change was an issue. To build economies and societies that are more resilient in the face of change, we have to make the most of all actors in society and draw on all sources of knowledge. In this respect, girls and women must be encouraged to enrol in higher education and assume core roles throughout all sectors of the economy.
Furthermore, education for sustainable development must not be limited to a mere force for ‘green’ economic growth. Sustainable development is a bigger picture, and needs for example to build on cultural and biological diversity. These are woven together through our languages, economic practices, social interactions and belief systems. Public policy must protect these linkages and build on them as sources of sustainability.
The emergence of new categories of World Heritage Sites — in the shape of cultural landscapes — illustrates the tight link between cultural and biodiversity and sustainable development. Unesco’s 564 biosphere reserves, spread across 109 countries, are real-world schools for learning to manage biological diversity in harmony with local communities.
The world faces increasingly complex problems that require equally multifaceted solutions. Education for sustainable development is a key answer to complexity. This is the guiding idea to the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005-2014), which Unesco is leading. Working with the Sultanate of Oman and Omani society, we will spare no effort to make this a reality for all.