Youth and education for sustainable development – the opportunity of a lifetime

The phase of life between the ages of 15 and 27 marks the end of childhood and the beginning of adulthood. ESD enables youth to actively shape this future in a way that compatible with the realities of future generations and people all around the globe.

Why is education for sustainable development (ESD) so important for young people?

What will the future bring? What will tomorrow’s world look like? What choices can be made today to make the future liveable? We need to ask these questions to people who will experience the future: Today’s youth, with their values and needs. They must have a say in the decisions shaping their lives.

Our world is changing faster than ever before. The future is not predictable and young people are aware of this – especially in the face of a pandemic of unprecedented proportions and the increasingly tangible consequences of climate change. Their ideas are of demand when it comes to dealing with the challenges of tomorrow.

Young people are willing to tackle these challenges: Environmental protection, global justice and a sustainable economy are just some of the issues in which they want to set a course. In order for this to happen, education for sustainable development (ESD) is needed. Because ESD empowers key qualities needed to take action: knowledge and courage.

ESD is a process that through experience creates an awareness for the future, for the impact of decisions and action today have for tomorrow. In the Global Action program ESD (2015-2019), UNESCO already named empowering and mobilizing youth as one of five priority action areas. ESD for 2030 as the continuation of GAP ESD pushes further. ESD holds the opportunity to reach it – sustainably, participatory and dynamically.

ESD for 2030 invites society to recognize young people as innovative force shaping their environment. It asks us to realize, that without them sustainable development is not feasible. They have unique and creative ideas to achieve the UN‘s 17 goals of sustainable development. In order for youth to make their ideas heard, they should be supported: in developing their skills, knowledge and values.

Creating occasions for mutual empowerment and eye-to-eye learning experiences play just as much a role in this as expanding networking and engagement opportunities in the ESD field and ensuring young people have a say in decisions made by all relevant institutions. ESD 2030 thus addresses adult decision-makers as well as young people themselves, their families and youth organizations. They can all become active in mobilizing and empowering young people.

ESD for 2030 thus addresses adult decision-makers as well as young people themselves, their families and youth organisations. They can all take action to mobilize and empower young people.

youpaN 2021

youpaN 2021 – Stiftung Bildung

Young people as change agents

The role of youth as change agents as well as their effective participation is established as a goal of the German National Action Plan on ESD (NAP BNE):

Participation of all social groups is a foundation of sustainable development and is therefore integral to ESD. Children and adolescents must be involved so that the younger generation has an active part in shaping the present and the future. School democracy is pivotal in enabling young people to experience self-efficacy through participation in school and the community.

School - Action Area V: Participation and ESD

The process of youth participation is accompanied by the youth participation team at Stiftung Bildung and funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). The process consists of different formats such as the youth panel youpaN and the youth conference youcoN.

Youth panel youpaN

youpaN is a youth panel made up of 30 young people aged 16 to 27 who participate in the implementation of the German National Action Plan on ESD. Its members have various backgrounds and are determined by a youth jury. Everybody permanently living in Germany can apply. As experts on youth perspectives, they engage in manifold ways:

  • The members of youpaN participate in all six national ESD-fora
  • youpaN sends one representative to the National Platform ESD, the highest steering committee of the implementation of the UNESCO-programme on ESD. It is entitled to speak and vote there.
  • youpaN develops its own demands and statements. Click here for its demands for more youth participation and goal-oriented education for sustainable development.
  • The youth forum holds lectures and workshops at events. In addition, youpaN organizes its own events such as a conference for young ESD and youth participation experts and the youcoN-conference open for everyone. The aim is to make other young people aware of ESD and youth participation, to motivate them to do so, and to open up space for thematic engagement and discussion on the ground. Every year, people can apply for free
  • - The youpaN meets decision-makers from politics and science to raise awareness of ESD.
  • - ESD youth participation through youpaN takes a pioneering role in the international context for successful youth participation of the UNESCO program "Education for Sustainable Development: Towards achieving the SDGs".
  • More information about the Youth Forum can be found on the youpaN‘s website.

The youcoN youth conference

The youcoN is a youth conference that, under the motto "Wir l(i)eben Zukunft!" (= We love/live future) brings together more than 150 young people from different contexts every year. In workshops, bar camps and lectures, they spend several days learning about ESD and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. They discuss how they can implement ESD in their living environment and initiate projects together.

So far, youcoN has taken place five times: 

  • In 2017, the youth forum youpaN was founded at youcoN in Bielefeld.
  • In 2018, youcoN took place in the Autostadt Wolfsburg. Along the themes of "Global Responsibility," "Strengthening Youth Participation" and "Digital Education," the participants discussed with representatives from business and science. In the process, they developed ideas on how sustainable learning can be learned and taught.
  • In 2019, youcoN was a guest on the island of Rügen. In the environmental youth hostel Prora and in the festival camp, ideas and concepts for more ESD in teaching at schools and universities were the topic.
  • In 2020, the youcoN took place in the living rooms of the participants matching the topic "Just & digital? Education for future for everybody!“. In addition to a diverse program, a hackathon on the topic of education of the future took place.
  • For the expert conference youcoN young people from various organisations gathered online in May 2021 to discuss the pandemic’s effects on youth participation and ESD.
T-shirt BNE

Stiftung Bildung

youprOs - microprojects for a better world

Between 2017-2019, the youpaN supported projects of young people with up to 5,000 euros. 30 projects were implemented as youprOs. They made topics such as climate change, alternative ways of learning or sustainable consumer behaviour in everyday life tangible for other young people. At the same time, the youprOs anchored education for sustainable development with the project partners on site. This map shows the youprOs and invites young people to follow suit. A project reader was developed for young people looking for ideas for a sustainable future and methods for project implementation. The english version of it is available for download here [PDF | 18,2 MB].

The Youth Participation Team of Stiftung Bildung

The donor-funded Stiftung Bildung strengthens nationwide civic engagement in education, starting with daycare and school development associations. With funding from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, Stiftung Bildung is realizing youth participation in the implementation of the National Action Plan on ESD with the youpaN project.

For more information, voices and pictures from the ESD youth participation project, visit the youpaN’s website and Stiftung Bildung’s website.