11/10/2014 09:14 am ET Updated Jan 10, 2015

Learning Today for a Sustainable Future

The international community has been striving to shape a safer and richer future for the world. This was the purpose of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) adopted by the United Nations in 2000 for the first 15 years of the new millennium. Great progress has been achieved since 2000: the number of people living on less than $1.25 a day has been halved; and for every 100 boys receiving primary education in the world, there are 97 girls in primary school, up from 92 in 1999. The number of Malaria deaths has been cut by 30 percent but much remains to be done, notably in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The UN General Assembly in September this year examined a new Post-2015 Development Agenda, which builds on what was accomplished by the MDGs. While the MDGs focused the challenges facing developing countries, chiefly the eradication of poverty, the Post-2015 Agenda tackles the truly global need to protect life on our planet by reconciling the needs of our societies and economies with those of the environment. This new development agenda will be built around a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) is an absolute priority if we are to achieve the SDGs. Focusing on technology and financial incentives will not suffice as we strive to meet the challenge of a growing population of seven billion in a world with finite natural resources. In addition to a strong and growing economy, the SDGs call for social equity and environmental protection so that people can realize their potential now and in the future.

Education has a major role to play in helping us apply the values, skills and knowledge of sustainable development to local, national and international development decisions, in order to solve the complex problems that we face.

Education can be transformative. Driven by this recognition, UNESCO, lead agency in the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005-2014), will host the World Conference on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), from 10 to 12 November in Nagoya.

Held in the presence of His Imperial Highness, the Crown Prince of Japan, the event will bring together 1,000 participants from more than 100 countries, including education ministers and vice ministers, as well as key stakeholders and youth representatives. They will take stock of progress achieved over the past decade under the banner of "Learning Today for a Sustainable Future."

The final report on the UN Decade of Sustainable Development will be presented at the conference. Based on questionnaires responded by 70 countries, it shows that two thirds of the countries concerned already have a national ESD strategy or plan in place, and that half have integrated ESD into relevant policies.

This indicates high expectations in countries. They believe in the transformative power of education, raise awareness, and mobilize support for policy changes and corporate support. And the report urges all players in education planning worldwide to recognize these global needs.

Japan has played a major and proactive role in promoting environmental issues leading notably to the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol on CO2 emissions, the Hyogo World Conference on Disaster Reduction (2005), and its follow up to be held next year in Sendai. I warmly thank the Government of Japan these initiatives and for its generous invitation to host the conference in Aichi-Nagoya, which is scheduled to determine and adopt the Aichi/Nagoya Declaration on Education for Sustainable Development and a Global Action Program for its implementation.

On behalf of UNESCO, I wish this conference success in building the strong partnerships we all need to unlock the full potential of Education for Sustainable Development and shape a sustainable tomorrow -- today.