Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
This most often used definition of sustainable development refers to the Brundtlandt report, which was published in 1987 by the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) under guidance of the former Norwegian prime minister Gro Harlem Brundtlandt. The report strongly influenced the international debate on development and environmental politics and led to positive long term developments for society and nature on a global scale.
At the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro (UNCED) in 1992 more than 170 governments created and agreed upon an action program for worldwide sustainable development – the Agenda 21. This document is the instrument for the implementation of the Brundtland report.
Ten years after Rio, another Earth summit took place in Johannesburg in 2002. As a result, the United Nations entitled the decade from 2005 to 2014 as the world decade for "Education for Sustainable Development" (ESD). The aim of this ten-year-period was to implement the idea of sustainability into all parts of education. The UN member states agreed to undertake special efforts to reach this goal. UNESCO – the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization – coordinated the decade on international level.
In the course of the UN Decade „Education for Sustainable Development“ (2005-2014), the Regional Centres of Expertise were launched. This initiative was designed to strengthen cooperation between local and regional actors regarding Education for Sustainable Development. The initiative also aimed to promote international exchange and utilize it for sustainability. The individual RCEs have different priorities and structures. This enables them to provide targeted support for the region-specific key issues of sustainable development.
At the end of the Decade „Education for Sustainable Development“, the United Nations adopted a more far-reaching agenda in 2015 under the title "Transforming our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development". All 193 member states of the United Nations have committed themselves to this. They are to implement the 2030 Agenda with its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at national, regional, and international level by the year 2030. It pursues a holistic development approach and gives equal weight to the three dimensions of economic, social, and ecological development and includes the protection of human rights, the rule of law, good governance, peace, and security.
In recent years, many ecological, social, economic and political crises have intensified. The focus on socio-ecological transformation responds to these dynamics. Sustainability is increasingly understood as a very profound transformation of all areas of society. It is about a sustainable transformation of society. Accordingly, in its „Roadmap for implementing the Global Action Programme on Education for Sustainable Development“ (2014), UNESCO now emphasises that education must aim at transforming society. Transformative education and transformative learning should fundamentally transform individuals and society towards social justice, peace, tolerance, inclusion, security and sustainability. Education for Sustainable Development, according to UNESCO, is therefore a „holistic and transformative education that addresses learning content and outcomes, pedagogy and contexts of learning. It achieves its goal by transforming society“ (Roadmap 2014, p. 12).