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Asia-Pacific environmental educators, activists unite on global warming
Lisa Ito-Tapang

Environmental educators and representatives of non-government and peoples organizations from the Philippines, Australia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, South Korea, Japan, and Uzbekistan gathered in Manila for the first Forum on Climate Change and Environmental Education in Asia-Pacific: Building Capacities for Sustainable People's Development in the Region from December 14 to 15, 2010 at the Bayview Park Hotel, Manila.

The event was organized by the Climate Change Learning Initiative Mobilizing Action for Transforming Environments in the Asia-Pacific (CLIMATE Asia-Pacific) and hosted by the Center for Environmental Concerns-Philippines (CEC-Phils), with the support of DVV International. The conference also included an exhibition of environmental education materials and solidarity night among participants.

The forum emphasized the relevance and urgency of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) in the context of addressing the challenges and impacts of global warming, particularly on the poor and marginalized sectors in the Asia-Pacific region. In December 2002, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly declared the years 2005 to 2014 as the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development, designating UNESCO as the lead agency.

ESD in a 'climate-changed world'

CEC-Phils Executive Director Frances Quimpo introduced the CLIMATE Asia-Pacific network as a platform for solidarity and sharing of learning resources among educators and grassroots organizations across the region.

Dr. Jose Roberto Guevara, President of the Asia-South Pacific Association for Basic and Adult Education, and former Executive Director of CEC, stressed the need to advocate for a “different education in a 'climate changed' world.”

“Literacy is not just reading, writing, and so on. We now should be able read the new world: the climate changed world. It is understanding the complexity of climate change, beyond the technical and scientific focus, beyond adaptation and mitigation. It is to understand the need for justice and political focus that informs our action and empowers us to act,” Guevara said.

“Transformation is the end goal: not just of the self but of the society and the system that has brought us to this situation. We must not be victims, forced to adapt to climate change. We must understand and challenge the root causes of climate change and demand just responses,” Guevara concluded.

“It's the urgency that's new,” Guevara stressed, “We have a decade to focus on ESD, but do we have a decade to act?”

Evolving definition of ESD and development

The conference's keynote speaker, ACT Teachers Partylist Representative Antonio Tinio, also emphasized the role of education in the current environmental crisis. Tinio and Guevara both acknowledged the changing definitions of ESD and sustainable development, considering these as a tool that could work for or against the people's welfare.

Tinio cautioned that powerful multilateral organizations have historically played a major role in appropriating the term 'sustainable development' and aligning it with neoliberal policy agendas. These, he said, were reflected in the country's privatization of the educational system and the liberalization of investments that have severely depleted natural resources.

“We educators should critically address the concept of sustainable development: who sustains it? What kind of development? Development for whom?” Tinio said.

Global context of climate change policies

The morning of the conference featured a panel on updates in environmental situations and contexts. Dr. Giovanni Tapang, AGHAM Chairperson, highlighted the impacts of global warming in the Asia-Pacific region, stressing that it has worsened the existing impacts of globalization, especially among the most vulnerable or marginalized segments of the population.

Atty. Elpidio Peria, legal consultant for the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, shared updates and agendas related to the Convention on Biodiversity, a non-binding treaty ongoing since 1993 which, like the Kyoto Protocal, has yet to be signed by the United States. Elenita Dano, Program Manager of the Erosion Technology and Conservation Group, presented updates on the climate negotiations in Cancun, Mexico, summarizing the developments as a continuation of Copenhagen, which provided the foundation for the current climate regime.

Common Threads

The afternoon panel focused on ESD case studies and the regional challenges of these efforts. Yuka Ozawa, Program Officer of the Education Cooperation Division of the Asia-Pacific Cultural Center for UNESCO in Japan, shared their experiences in coming up with the Tokyo Declaration of Hope and the “HOPE” (holistic, ownership-based, participatory, and empowering) evaluation approach as a learning process.

Teresita Vistro of the Asia Peasant Women's Network focused on agriculture and ESD, discussing the impacts of climate change on regional agriculture and rural populations, especially women. She articulated their education agenda as supporting farmers knowledge, sustainable adaptation and mitigation practices, the need to address destructive farming practices, building resilience of communities, and integration with broader issues of human rights and social justice. Dominic D' Souza, Associate Director of Laya in Vishakhapatnam, India, discussed forestry and ESD, spanning fundamental concerns related to science, political economy, ethics, and action.

Experience Sharing

The second day of the conference featured two simultaneous panel sessions on case studies on environmental education programs.

Jung Kyung Il from the Korea Environmental Education Center, established in February 2000 to develop education programs, researches, and training for teachers and NGO activists, shared their initiatives to forge partnerships between local government, NGOs, and community residents. CEC's Training and Community Services Coordinator Ricarido Saturay shared the center's two-decade experiences in creating and developing its core education module, the Restoration Ecology Workshop since 1990.

Some panelists focused on the links between education and advocacy work. Clemente Bautista, Jr. of Kalikasan People's Network for the Environment (KPNE), a national campaign network, shared their experience in strengthening Filipino environmental mass movements and promoting sustainable development from the point of view of people's organizations. Aleksandra Povarich of the Uzbekistan Youth Environment Network, a union of more than 180 youth and environmental organizations, shared their various programs and projects. Jane Yap-eo of the Center for Development Program Networks in the Cordillera, a network of 12 NGOs based in the northern Philipppines, shared the contexts of their education practices among indigenous peoples and their struggle for defense of land, life, and resources.

Other panelists shared their experiences in community-based conservation programs. Ricky Nunez of Conservation International shared the center's experience in using education to promote the protection and conservation of the Verde Island passage off the coast of Luzon. The area contains among the country's richest fishing grounds and is considered as the “center of the center of marine shorefish biodiversity” worldwide.

Hasan Masum of the Coastal Development Partnership in Bangladesh focused on the challenges on ESD and climate change education among coastal populations, stressing the potential of converting traditional community knowledge and practices into appropriate and relevant information for climate change policy and planning. Paul Santos shared the story of the Kalingap Marikina Watershed, a Church-initiated community-based project in Bgy. San Jose, Antipolo City integrating watershed rehabilitation and protection with sustainable farming systems and sloping agroforest land technologies.

Building solidarity
The conference was capped by the presentation and plenary discussion of the conference statement and a ritual of affirmation and solidarity among participants.

“Our educators in the climate change advocacy network and social movements gave us significant insights and political agitation by telling the world of their accomplishments and breakthroughs in environmental education work and inspire many to work hard for the cause of the people and the environment,” concluded KPNE Chairperson and national fisherfolk leader Fernando L. Hicap in his closing remarks.

Hicap expressed optimism that CLIMATE Asia-Pacific would help “set the stage for more dynamic and active participation of the people and social movements in the region to struggle and advocate for a better and free world for the majority of the poor people across the globe.”