First RCE Thematic Conference in Okayama Explores Three Themes Towards Achievement of the SDGs

Bringing together 35 RCEs from 22 countries, the ‘First RCE Thematic Conference: Towards Achieving the SDGs’ was held in Okayama, Japan from 5-7 December, 2017. Jointly hosted by RCE Okayama, Okayama University and UNU-IAS, the first Thematic Conference of its kind allowed for RCE members to meet, share ideas and explore Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) themes towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The themes covered were (i) Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, (ii) Climate Change, and (iii) Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP).

The conference allowed for RCEs to share their best practices and educational approaches via case studies relating to these themes, with workshops and capacity building sessions conducted alongside presentations on UN/international frameworks, providing both regional and international perspectives.

Participants were able to learn more about the initiatives being run by the host city, Okayama, including the Okayama ESD Project and the ESD Okayama Model to promote ESD, which uses a multi-stakeholder and community-based approach. In the Okayama session on SDGs, ways in which higher education institutions are making contributions towards the SDGs via research and education with multi-stakeholder partnerships were presented.

The plenary sessions covered the development of ESD towards achieving the SDGs in local, regional and international contexts, as well as how multi-stakeholder partnerships between industry and academia are working towards the goals. The implementation of ESD within communities, especially amongst youth and within local schools was highlighted, as well as the importance of involving stakeholders from all sections within the community. Examples and case studies presented demonstrated the many hands-on approaches taking place with youth of all ages, from elementary through to higher education, in order to connect their learning with global challenges.

The business sector’s growing recognition and commitment to the SDGs was also highlighted, with increasing interest and integration of the SDGs into business plans among the private sector. Key areas this sector is focusing on are human rights and how to leverage a smart society (Society 5.0).

The sessions also looked at how RCEs are contributing to SDG implementation and how their actions could be aligned with international platforms and processes. Sharing further best practices and case studies, stepping up in areas where focal points are absent, collaborating and participating in terms of expert assessments, and creating more partnerships were seen as opportunities for RCEs, whilst continuing challenges such as the need to engage with national governments were acknowledged.

In the parallel sessions, run by themes, the biodiversity theme covered ESD educational processes, implementation on the ground, analysis of policy support tools, and local assessments.

Discussions within the climate change theme looked at the knowledge available and what the barriers to behavioural changes are, what can be learned, as well as approaches that can be developed for ESD. Challenges in schools and education were raised, related to integration into curriculum and how to empower teachers.

Within the SCP theme, three mini panels dedicated towards the modification of learning processes and practices were conducted, with colleagues discussing situated learning for change, engagement across academia and communities (traditional and Indigenous), building knowledge and learning as an ongoing process.

Central to all themes discussed was how RCEs can accelerate any actions developed by engaging and working with local communities. The transformative abilities and innovative capabilities that RCEs possess mean they are well-equipped to link local actions with global agendas within their communities.

Following the two-day conference, participants were given an insight into the region’s sustainability initiatives, with trips to Okayama city and Maniwa conducted, including visits to a biodiesel plant, a biomass power generating plant, local kominkans, a brewery and a winery.

In what was a historic event for the network, the First RCE Thematic Conference further highlighted the role and impact that RCEs can play to accelerate, upscale and mainstream ESD actions towards the SDGs through the many case studies, presentations and active discussions. It is hoped future meetings will continue this important work, and make further strides in achieving the SDGs through ESD.

Further details and materials from the conference (programme, minutes, presentations, list of RCE Award recipients, field trips and photo gallery) can be found at the First RCE Thematic Conference website here.