Education for environmental sustainability

Education and training policies and investments geared towards inclusive, green and digital transitions hold the key to Europe’s future resilience and prosperity.

To boost policy cooperation and exchange between European Union (EU) Member States on education and training for the green transition, the European Commission will in 2021: 

  • put forward a proposal for a Council Recommendation on education for environmental sustainability 
  • develop a European competence framework on climate change and sustainable development

Both the Recommendation and the new framework aim to support EU Member States in their efforts to:

  • equip learners and educators with the knowledge, skills and attitudes needed to live, work and act to contribute to achieving environmental sustainability
  • support education and training institutions to integrate sustainability into teaching and learning and across all aspects of their operations 
  • embed education for environmental sustainability throughout the education and training system as a whole

The Recommendation, an initiative of the European Education Area and the EU Biodiversity Strategy, can serve as a reference point for Member States on how education and training can contribute to a greener future. 

The Commission’s work will align with work underway by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on education for sustainable development and the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals more widely.  

Early analysis points to a number of key areas that the Recommendation could address:

  • lifelong learning is crucial for the multidisciplinary and rapidly evolving field of education for environmental sustainability, which seeks to empower and mobilise all citizens. Developing a lifelong learning approach to education for environmental sustainability and fostering collaboration across education and training sectors is, therefore, essential. 
  • for learners to develop the necessary competences for sustainability, interdisciplinary and participatory learning and teaching, collaboration and cooperation are required.
  • linking teaching and learning, the physical (learning) environment, partnerships and community effectively supports education for environmental sustainability by ‘living what we learn’. Going beyond the classroom context to a whole-school approach is already practised in some Member States, but is not yet widespread. 

Competence framework  

The goal of the competence framework on climate change and sustainable development is to establish a shared understanding and a conceptual model of the competences to be developed by learners. 

For each competence area, levels will be provided – ranging from awareness to understanding and action. 

The common definitions and practical guidelines to accompany the framework can support education stakeholders in Member States to engage students and the wider community to contribute to the changes needed for a successful transition to climate neutrality and sustainable development. 

The Commission’s Joint Research Centre has conducted a literature review on sustainability competences to support the preparation of the framework. 

Timeframe 

Work is now underway to prepare the proposal for a Council Recommendation. A public consultation will be run (starting June 2021) to gather input and hear the views of interested individuals and organisations. 

A series of consultation events with organisations active in the field of education and the environment will also be organised. 

The proposal for a Council Recommendation will be adopted by the Commission towards the end of 2021 and the competence framework will be released late in 2021 or in early 2022. 

Once the proposal is adopted by the Commission, it passes to the Member States where it will be discussed and finally adopted by EU ministers of education in the Council of the European Union

Erasmus+ supporting green education 

Sustainability, environmental and climate goals are also central to the new Erasmus+ programme with the integration of green practices present in all projects, as well as increased support for the development of green skills and competences.