The phase of life between the ages of 15 and 25 marks the end of childhood and the beginning of adulthood. Vocational education and training or academic study, moving away from home, gaining financial independence having found our first job – this is the transitional period during which the paths of personal futures are paved. Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) empowers learners to take informed decisions and responsible actions for environmental integrity, economic viability and a just society, for present and future generations, while respecting cultural diversity.

Why is Education for Sustainable Development so important for today’s youth?

According to the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, young women in Germany who are now aged 20 will live on average for another 71 years and young men for another 66. So how might the future they live in look? That will be determined by the action taken today – which is why it’s important that young people in particular help to shape the future now.

It’s often difficult to assess how people’s behaviour today will affect future generations and people living in other parts of the world. Or to see which global mechanisms will lead to conflict, terror and flight. ESD enables each and every individual to understand the impact their own behaviour has on the world and take responsible decisions as a result.

Environment protection, global equity and future-focused economic growth are the underlying principles of sustainable development that inspire many young people and lead them to act. UNESCO describes the need to empower and mobilise young people as one of five priority action areas in the Roadmap for Implementing the Global Action Programme on ESD (2015 to 2019).

GAP implementation structures in Germany

How can young people engage with implementing Education for Sustainable Development?

To implement the UNESCO Global Action Programme on ESD in Germany, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMFB) established the National Platform on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), a body in which young people are also represented. The platform is supported by six expert forums that cover the various education sectors and the local authority level. The National Platform on ESD adopted a National Action Plan on ESD in summer 2017. The Plan’s 130 goals and 349 concrete recommendations for action are designed to ensure that ESD becomes an integral feature of the educational landscape in Germany.

In implementing the National Action Plan on ESD, young people are far more involved and are seen as key agents of change. The youboX – a BMBF-funded Beteiligungsbüro (Participation Office) run by Stiftung Bildung (Foundation for Education) – held its first summer camp, the youcoN Youth Conference, in September 2017. The youpaN Youth Forum was founded at the youcoN conference.

The youcoN Youth Conference and the youpaN Youth Forum

The second youcoN Youth Conference was held in the city of Wolfsburg, northern Germany, from 4 to 7 October 2018. At more than 40 workshops, presentations and talks, some 130 young people discussed how Education for Sustainable Development can be better promoted in early childhood care and education institutions, schools and universities. Participants discussed the focal topics of global responsibility, greater youth participation, digital education and taking action together – both among themselves and with representatives from policymaking, industry and science. They developed a wide range of ideas, such as how sustainable learning can be learned and taught. Impressions from the youcoN conference have been summarised in a video.

At the first youcoN in September 2017, the conference participants founded the National ESD Youth Forum, youpaN. This has 20 members and provides input concerning young people’s ideas in implementing the National Action Plan on Education for Sustainable Development. A video records impressions of the first-ever youcoN held.

The youpaN conference is supported by youboX, the Youth Participation Office run by Stiftung Bildung and funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). youpaN members work in the ESD expert forums and also send a representative to work as part of the National Platform on ESD. The Youth Forum also participates in ESD events, organises its own events and carries out ESD projects. The aim is to make other young people aware of the importance of ESD and create local-level space to enable ESD-related engagement and debate.

Young people aged between 14 and 27 who have an idea for a sustainable world can now receive support from the youpaN Youth Forum. These so-called youprO projects receive funding for a period of two years. The Youth Forum provides funding in amounts ranging from €500 to €5,000 and makes the projects known to a broad public. A constantly-growing overview of the youprO projects can be viewed on the map below.