The implementation of the concept of Sustainable Development seems to be a “sine qua non” condition for the survival and further progress of the Mediterranean region due to its special natural and socio-economic characteristics. The former include the impacts of climate change, the scarcity of natural resources (particularly water), the erosion and desertification of land and the semi-closed character of the basin, which makes it also vulnerable to pollution. The latter include rapid population growth in the south, the intense urbanisation of coastal areas, the prevailing over-consumption patterns, the widening of the gap between rich and poor, mass tourism and intensive agriculture. Both tourism and agriculture are vital economic sectors for the region.
Approaching sustainable development in the Mediterranean region would imply addressing all these issues in an integrated and balanced way. Indeed, sustainable development requires a change of mindset and behaviours. Even the wisest policies cannot be implemented if citizens are not aware and prepared to contribute and adjust their lifestyles in innovative and efficient ways to the new conditions. That’s where education comes into play, formal, non-formal and in-formal.
Already since the UN Conference on the Human Environment, in Stockholm, in 1972 education was emphasized as a way to address human-environment problems. This was recognised in milestone-conferences and declarations that followed (Tbilisi, 1977; Moscow, 1987, etc). Agenda 21, the document adopted at the Rio Summit in 1992, emphasized the need to promote education, public awareness and training: "Education is critical for promoting Sustainable Development and improving the capacity of the people to address environment and development issues”(Chapter 36 of Agenda 21). The Johannesburg World Summit in 2002 reaffirmed this commitment and soon after, the UN declared the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (DESD 2005-2014), which clearly recognizes the need to integrate sustainable development into education schemes. Actually, the MEdIES initiative was also launched in Johannesburg by the Greek Government.
With the launching of the UN Decade on ESD, Member States thus committed themselves to intensify efforts to integrate the principles, values and practices of sustainable development into education and learning. UNESCO has been designated as lead agency to monitor the Decade, and two important reference documents have been prepared, namely the “Strategy on ESD” (UNECE, 2005) and the “International Implementation Scheme for the DESD” (UNESCO, 2005).
In this context, while education clearly is not a sufficient condition in itself for achieving sustainable development, it is certainly a necessary condition. Without accelerated progress in the education sector, national and internationally agreed targets for sustainable development and poverty reduction will be missed and inequalities between countries and within societies will widen.
At the same time, youth comprise around 30% of today’s’ world population. The involvement of young people in environment and development decision-making is critical to the long-term success of ambitious goals as those set by Agenda 21, MDGs, etc. It is generally accepted that ESD enables learners to develop knowledge, values and skills to participate, inter allia, in decisions about their livelihoods, change their consumption patterns, deal with globalization and the global economic crisis, combat the risks of climate change, and contribute to the eradication of poverty as well as improvement of their health.
There are several chapters of Agenda 21 as well as the Millennium Declaration that are being addressed through MEdIES activities, as it strives to contribute to the implementation of the UN DESD. Actually, in 2008 it has been reported as an ESD good practice example.