Education revolution: introducing sustainability in modern political economy (part III-I)

Among education policies’ vital challenges are those of introduction in schools and universities new programs concerning practical implementation of the UN Sustainability Goals (SDGs), which are presently form a compulsory part in national agendas in all modern states. Present EU political economy’s paradigm in the socio-economic integration is already adapting legal and managerial tools to the complex SDG’s involvement in national growth and modernized education policies. 

The third article deals with the most important global and European challenge concerning sustainable development’s inclusion into national political economies. The UN Agenda-2030 for sustainable growth has set out the global and national framework for achieving sustainable development, which includes a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (known as SDGs, with numerous specifying objectives), formally adopted at the UN Summit at the end of 2015.
This “framework” towards implementing SDGs in the European Union, has turned into the national long-term sustainability’s, leading to formulating both the national re-designed economic policies and the states’ education policies in their “reaction” to the sustainability challenges. Thus, e.g. the necessary priorities in the re-designed political economies include: developing circular economy directions, creating sustainable food manufacturing system, energy and transport systems, “green and digital” transitions, renewable energy, new directions in town and city planning (so-called “mobility and built environment”), and last but not least, gearing all national horizontal policy tools including finances and taxation, towards the wide-spread SDGs implementation. In accordance with these priorities, the national education policies are deemed to be re-formulated, adequately reacting to new priorities in education and training.
Therefore, due to complex character of the SDGs implementation in the member states, part III is divided into two sectors: part III-I is devoted to the SDG-triangle, i.e. political, socio-economic, as well as environmental implementation’s complexities in national growth patterns; whereas part III-II is dealing with the process of fundamental changes in national education policies, often including “purely technical” issues of “teaching sustainability” and other learning concepts. This complex approach is based on: a) united political-economy’s transformations instigated by SDGs and b) inclusion of re-designed education policies “servicing” new national priorities.

Two previous articles in: https://www.integrin.dk/2022/02/03/european-education-revolution-facing-challenges-and-finding-solutions/; and in: https://www.integrin.dk/2022/02/06/education-revolution-learning-and-teaching-for-the-eus-twin-transition-part-ii/.

Sustainable agenda in the EU and the member states
Already in November 2016, just a year after the UN-2030 Agenda for sustainability was adopted, the EU published a new strategic SDG-approach in the EU member states’ development, which included the following initial steps:
1. establishing two working groups: one, for the inclusion of some of the most pertinent SDGs into the European socio-political framework and into Commission priorities; the second, to create a governance reflection campaign on the development of the EU’s longer term vision on sectoral policies after 2020.
2. launching a multi-stakeholder platform with the aim of the SDGs implementation’s follow-up and exchange of best practices on SDG in the states’ economic sectors.
3. providing regular reporting of the EU’s progress towards the implementation of the UN-2030 Agenda and launching a reflection work on developing a longer term vision with a post-2020 perspective.
4. suggesting a new European Consensus on Development reflecting a paradigm-shift in the socio-economic development in the states concerning the UN-2030 Agenda, responding to the more complex and interconnected challenges in Europe and the world.
More in: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/IP_16_3883.

Following the EU-wide sustainable strategy, the Eurostat published in 2016 the SDGs implementation account, with some sustainability’s indicators which have been relevant for the member states in capturing the broader EU’s ambition for each SDG. In total, 51 indicators have been chosen; for each indicator the publication presents data for these available on a yearly basis with the post-2000 trends. Source: https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/en/web/products-statistical-books/-/ks-02-16-996.

It is to be noted that European Commission from the start has chosen a comprehensive or so-called “whole of government” approach (later called “governance”) to implement the SDGs. This approach included several directions valid presently, such as the “green deal” (which strategically represents new growth transformations in the EU-27 towards fair, inclusive and welfare communities with knowledge-driven, resource-efficient and competitive economies oriented to: zero-GHG-emissions by 2050, digitalisation; protection, conservation and enhancing the nature and environment, as well as protecting public health and general well-being. Then, on the basis of annual sustainable growth strategies, the EU forcefully preceded with the European Semester, as an executive instrument for surveillance of administration and management tools in integrating the SDGs in the states’ governance. Besides, recently adopted “twin transition”, i.e. green and digital, goes hand-in-hand with the skills agenda, investment and innovation programs; all serving as additional key instruments in SDGs inclusion governance.
Source: https://ec.europa.eu/info/strategy/international-strategies/sustainable-development-goals/eu-holistic-approach-sustainable-development_en.

SDGs in the European socio-economic models
The connections between the EU-wide and the member states development in implementing SDGs are covering education and training programs; the EU’s specific strategy in these aspects is aimed in the coming decades at active actions in the following SDGs’ spheres:
= reducing total greenhouse gas emission and enhancements of their removals by most radical and progressive means;
= emission reductions (supported by enhancements of removals) in specific production sectors, incl. electricity, industry, transport, heating and cooling systems, and in buildings sector (residential and tertiary), agriculture, waste management, land use and forestry changes;
= increasing available and expected measures in national twin transition, incl. low greenhouse gas emission economy, in general, and greenhouse gas intensity, in particular (with a reduction of CO2 share in national GDP), increasing long-term investment in related science, research and innovation;
= formulating new political-economy’s paradigm, analysing expected socio-economic effect of the decarbonisation measures, including, inter alia, various aspects in macro-economic and social development, in health risks as well as in associated environmental protection measures;
= analysing reformed national long-term objectives in connection to various planning measures concerning implementation of SDGs in prioritized socio-economic sectors.

The 17 SDGs can be divided into two big groups, i.e. general and sectoral: in the general group, there are about nine SDGs, e.g. sustainable economic growth (SDG-8), sustainable infrastructure and innovation (SDG-9), sustainable consumption and production (SDG-12), climate change (SDG-13), oceans and marine resources (SDG-14), terrestrial ecosystems and biodiversity (SDG-15), gender equality (SDG-5), and inclusive societies (SDG-16).
In the “sectoral group”, there could be included the following SDGs: sustainable agriculture (nr. 2), quality education (nr, 4), water management (nr. 6), as well as sustainable energy and cities (nr. 7 and nr. 11), and promoting health and well being (nr. 3).
This SDGs “division” is purely theoretical and is based on SDGs’ “generic importance” with a view to design some specific socio-economic, political, research and education areas in the member states concerning the SDGs implementation.
Thus, the SDG-2019 international conference (the last one open to the public and taking place before the covid-pandemic) has widely discussed numerous vital topics concerning education for SDGs and higher education’s role in accelerating SDGs implementation in the transformed national political economies. More in: http://ic-sd.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2019/08/190812-Parallel-Sessions_web-copy.pdf

SDG in energy, climate measures and education
The European Commission actively supports the member states efforts both in preparing their long-term SDGs strategies and providing necessary information on energy sectors’ development by: a) the available and modern scientific knowledge in energy sector’s transition, and b) providing best practices and shared knowledge to support progressive measures in the member states’ energy efficiency.
The states’ energy and education departments have to combine forces in preparing specialists in such fields as reducing all sorts of emissions, creating resilience policies to adverse effects of climate change and in promotion regional and international energy cooperation.
Source: https://ec.europa.eu/info/energy-climate-change-environment/implementation-eu-countries/energy-and-climate-governance-and-reporting/national-long-term-strategies_en

Different national economy sectors’ strategies are directly connected to specific education sectors as well: thus, the EU energy union (being closely connected to climate actions and SDGs) provide rules for the member states sectoral energy policies, which (in their turn) are “forcing” the education platform to fill-in the required deficit in qualified labour force and trained specialists. Among the latter, according to the EU’s priorities, are the following: preparing public sectors’ specialists in energy efficiency and renewable energy resources, efficient use of fossil fuels, as well as in energy infrastructures, in low-carbon and clean energy technologies, in nuclear energy, etc. These specialists shall be prepared in universities and/or re-skilled in vocational training, depending on national energy strategy and socio-economic priorities.
Historically, it was the EU regulation on “energy governance” in the states and European “energy union”, adopted at the end of 2018, which set out a process for the states to prepare the necessary strategies and new approaches to energy on a 10-year basis; besides, national long-term strategies should be consistent with the EU complex energy and climate plans for 2021-30. Numerous EU regulations are provides the necessary legislative foundation for a reliable, inclusive, cost-efficient, transparent and predictable national governance in the “energy union and climate actions” (so-called, governance mechanism), which ensure the achievement of the EU-2030 energy union and long-term objectives (in line with the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change). It formed a set of complementary, coherent and ambitious efforts by the EU institutions and the member states governance in limiting administrative complexity. Besides, the European “energy union” is covering the following five basic “dimensions”: energy security; the internal energy market; energy efficiency; decarbonisation; as well as research, innovation and competitiveness.
Note: see the link to Regulation on the “governance of the energy union and climate action”: https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=uriserv:OJ.L_.2018.328.01.0001.01.ENG.

Thus, the member states were forced to establish 10-year integrated national energy and climate plans (NECP) for up to 2030, in which they outlined the strategies to address such vital issues as: energy efficiency and renewables, greenhouse gas emissions reductions and energy’s interconnections, as well as research and innovation in the energy sector. This EU-states’ cooperation requires not only a coordination of energy strategies among sectoral government bodies but also closer connection with the education policy in preparing needed specialists; i.e. it provides for a planning structures that will ease public and private investment in preparing the needed specialists to increase efficiency gains. More on NECPs in: https://energy.ec.europa.eu/topics/energy-strategy/national-energy-and-climate-plans-necps_en

The European Commission has been assessing the NECPs in all EU states by providing necessary comments for the best implementation model, e.g. Commission issued such an assessment in June 2019 on the Danish draft of National Energy and Climate Plan covering the period 2021-2030, before in turned into a final plan, included a set of recommendation and suggestions on the plan’s most optimal fulfillment. See e.g. the Danish climate-energy strategy in: https://en.kefm.dk/ and https://kefm.dk/energi-og-raastoffer/energiunionen/.

Note. Such recommendations for other EU member states’ plans are available at: https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?qid=1576057831926&uri=CELEX:32019H0903(04)
Additional references to: https://ec.europa.eu/info/energy-climate-change-environment/implementation-eu-countries/energy-and-climate-governance-and-reporting_en.

Most vital for the SDGs implementation in the states is the so-called European “green deal”, which is aimed at practically transforming the member states’ economies and societies along efficient energy and climate policies; the EU-27 are committed to turn to the climate-neutral growth models by 2050 and to reduce emissions by at least 55% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels. These targets will create new opportunities for the education sector in innovation and investment to prepare the needed workforce with knowledge and abilities to reduce emissions, create new type of growth models, address energy poverty, as well as reduce external energy dependency and improving peoples’ health and wellbeing. General web-link at: https://ec.europa.eu/info/strategy/priorities-2019-2024/european-green-deal/delivering-european-green-deal_en

SDGs’ governance in the EU
The EU institutions insisted that the member states adopted national SDGs strategies and provided for an EU-wide management tools for managing sustainability; one of the tools has been “high level political forums”: i.e. one of the latest took place in July 2020 under the auspices of the EU’s advisory body, the Economic and Social Council. The Forum-2020 underlined the need of “accelerated action and transformative pathways in realizing the decade of action and delivery for sustainable development”, in particular urgent measures in the post-pandemic period and controlling achievements in the SDGs implementation in the member states and accelerated progress.
The Forum-2020 also reflected the ways the European states could deliver for an optimal sustainable development and initiated the “SDG moment-program” and the “Decade of Action”; both had been held virtually in mid-September 2020.
However, the forum noted that with less than a decade left for achieving the UN-2030 Agenda, the global and European communities were “not on track”, and that the COVID-pandemic “exacerbated existing inequalities even further, sometimes reversing the progress made on certain goals”. The most pressing SDGs issues, such as climate change, gender inequality and poverty are still the most pressing issues around the world; hence, political will and increased ambition would be needed in order to a better recovery and the SDG’s inclusion.

Source: https://ec.europa.eu/info/strategy/international-strategies/sustainable-development-goals/eu-and-united-nations-common-goals-sustainable-future_en

The Commission has continued a follow-up process for the states’ SDGs implementation: the latest Monitoring Report-2021 (prepared by the Eurostat) includes information on most vital cross-cutting issues in the member states, and addressing problems affecting some of the SDGs. Among the latter are: the post-pandemic’s impact on the states’ progress in SDGs, the interlinkages (synergies and trade-offs) existing among the SDGs implementation in the states, the development of experimental indicators for estimating positive and negative impacts of consumption in the EU, as well as “spillovers” in relation to achieving the 2030 Agenda.
On the European SDG strategy in:https://ec.europa.eu/info/strategy/international-strategies/sustainable-development-goals/monitoring-and-reporting-sdgs-eu-context_en; On the 2021 edition of the SDG monitoring report in: https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/web/products-statistical-books/-/KS-03-21-096.

Quality education and new skills
For example, in issues concerning the monitoring of the SDG-4 (quality education), the EU Report-2021 focused on basic and tertiary education, on adult learning and on digital skills; the report also indicated that the member states made significant progress in increasing participation in early childhood, in basic and tertiary education. However, it noted that over the past few years, progress towards the targets for participation in adult learning and for adults with at least basic digital skills had stalled, and the percentage of underachievers in the PISA test further deteriorated.
Reference to: https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php?title=SDG_4_-_Quality_education

Thus, modern governance is facing a life-saving task of fundamental transformations in economics, politics and societal agendas influenced by the sustainability’s challenges. Although post-pandemic’s consequences still represent a headache for governance in defining policy priorities, in most states the issues of decarbonization, digitalisation and sustainability have become already the integral part of the present “transformative agenda”.
With some other issues of importance for national governance and modern growth concepts, like cultural divides and modernizing working/living styles, etc. the coming years will be the beginning of a “new thinking-period” in political economy instigated by the SDGs implementation. Most important is that these challenges are going to change the states’ education and training policies towards new skills and re-skilling for dealing with employment needs.

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