How can education and lifelong learning help to ensure production and consumption patterns are sustainable, supply skills for the creation of green industry, orient higher education and research towards green innovation and can play a part in transforming key economic sectors, such as agriculture, upon which both rich and poor countries and households rely? Let’s unveil the linkages between SDG4 and SDG 7 (clean energy), SDG 8 (decent jobs), SDG 9 (industry) and SDG 12 (consumption).

1. Enabling scientific innovations in cleaner energy

One of the key goals of education is to prepare a population for its future, which includes enhancing knowledge and developing technological capabilities for sustainable development. It is an extremely urgent educational task, which must lead to producing sustainable energy services in developing countries, using their own resources.

Due to a critical shortage of skilled personnel to develop, design, finance, build, operate and maintain renewable energy projects, public higher education systems need to be strengthened to be able to provide adequate knowledge and services to move to low-carbon energy systems[1].

Clean energy education will empower students to understand how choices made at home, in school and within communities impact the environment. Addressing clean energy in the classroom can also introduce students to interesting innovations in the changing field of energy. Perhaps most importantly, studying clean energy will allow students to apply creative ideas to solve environmental challenges.

It is also necessary to improve non-formal education processes aiming to raise awareness in the general public about renewable energies and citizen responsibilities involved in their implementation.

2. Supporting economic growth and decent work

Human rights-based education systems cultivate the values that economic growth should not be considered an aspiration per se, as it does not always benefit impoverished populations and the wealth distribution is often inequitable. Growth should go hand in hand with quality of life and equal access to opportunities.

Although, education is valuable in itself, not only for finding a good job and contributing to economic growth, there is a need to reinforce the links between education, work and employment. Despite progress made to decrease unemployment rates worldwide, employment opportunities are still not open for all. In several regions of the world, opportunities to find a job are more related to gender, life stage, social, cultural, and ethnic background. Post-secondary and higher education can play an important role in developing the skills required amongst individuals and across economies for decent and productive work, thereby contributing to building more inclusive societies. Young people with post-secondary education living in middle and low-income countries have a much higher chance of finding a decent job than those with only secondary or primary education (ILO, 2014).

Additionally, economies are undergoing rapid change and disruptions driven by technological advances. This will increasingly demand education systems with robust technical and vocational education and training (TVET), tertiary education and lifelong learning to retrain and upskill individuals. A whole-sector approach should be taken in order to consider the pathways for mobility between basic education, TVET and higher education. Higher education, through its production of research and engagement with business and government, also performs a critical role in creating decent work through fostering innovation and strategies for sustainable economic growth.

3. Accelerating sustainable innovation

Education and research are vital to advancing industry, innovation and infrastructure. High-quality funded public research can bring about new ideas to develop further industrial processes, infrastructure, and transport systems making businesses more competitive and sustainable. The discovery of ecologically friendly materials, production techniques, and means of transportation, for example, would reduce impacts on the climate.

In terms of innovation, financing research, especially at public universities, could support states to develop key sectors of their economies, improve productivity and increase their participation in regional and global markets. Investments to improve production techniques would also result in an improvement of the working conditions, especially for works which may compromise the health and physical integrity of workers.

In activating this positive cycle of environmentally friendly production, commercialisation, and trade, governments should invest in public education, and particularly in developing a public research agenda aligned with the needs of local economies, including small and middle size entrepreneurships in both rural and urban areas. This is especially urgent in low and middle-income countries which are falling short in the research and development investment needed to make their economies fairer and stronger.

4. Promoting sustainable lifestyles

The wide range of goals proposed in SDG4.7 makes clear the non-reductive objective pursued by the sustainable development agenda in education. Sustainable lifestyles are a purpose related to the acquisition of values, skills and behaviours that allow the use of consumer goods in complete harmony with the sustainability of ecosystems and with cultures of peace and human rights. Environmental education encourages sustainable lifestyles, waste reduction, improved energy use, increased public transport use, support for pro-environment policies, and environmental activism. Some schools have adopted a ‘whole school’ approach to environmental education. Research shows improvements in the schools’ ethos and students’ health and learning, and reductions in the schools’ ecological footprints.

Education should question the utilitarian approaches that stimulate irrational consumption and should rather promote behavioural changes that comprise the adoption of social practices that will contribute to a low carbon, resource efficient, and sustainable society and economic growth without environmental degradation.

5. Contributing to food security

Education is vital for sustainable food production and food security. Education gives future farmers foundation skills as well as critical knowledge about sustainability challenges in agriculture. Vocational training and skills policies bridge the gap between farmers and new technology. Literacy and agricultural extension programmes can help farmers increase productivity, while agricultural research connected with tertiary education helps produce innovation leading to increased sustainability.

Authors: Luis Eduardo Perez Murcia, Vernor Munoz

Quoted Sources: EASG position papers

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The Global Campaign for Education (GCE) is a civil society movement that aims to end exclusion in education. Education is a basic human right, and our mission is to make sure that governments act now to deliver the right of everyone to a free, quality, public education.