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Home > Special Topics > Colloquium Last Updated: 15:15 03/09/2007
Colloquium #34: June 23, 2003

Environmental Education: Part 3
– Environmental Education in General

Jack Hiroki Iguchi (Professor, Graduate School of Environmental Sciences, Aomori University, Japan)

This section will discuss environmental education in general from a variety of important angles. First, I will examine the definition and objectives of environmental education. Second, look at the development of environmental education as a global trend, not least through the consideration of international conferences. Third, I discuss some approaches to environmental education, including both formal school education and adult education. Fourth, I survey environmental education in some countries, both developed and developing. Finally, I discuss some useful example of environmental education from the UK and the USA.

Definition of Environmental Education

During the past three decades, many attempts have been made to define the term "environmental education". In 1970, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources called a Conference of Environmental Education in Nevada and defined "environmental education". This definition is now accepted by many organisations throughout the world. This definition states that:

"Environmental education is the process of recognizing values and clarifying concepts in order to develop skills and attitudes necessary to understand and appreciate the inter-relatedness among man, his culture and his biophysical surroundings. Environmental education also entails practice in decision making and self-formulation of a code of behavior about issues concerning environmental quality".
(Neal P. & Palmer J. editors, 1990:2)

Five years later in1975, UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) at the Belgrade Workshop in Yugoslavia defined the objectives for environmental education following the definition of environmental education developed in Nevada in the USA. These are summarized as follows:

1)To foster clear awareness of and concern about economic, social, political and ecological inter-dependence in urban and rural areas.
2) To provide every person with opportunities to acquire the knowledge, values, attitudes, commitment and skills needed to protect and improve the environment.
3)To create new patterns of behavior of individuals, groups and society as a whole towards the environment". (Ibid: 5)

These objectives include three particularly important words: "awareness", "provide" and "behaviour". Lack of "awareness" of environmental issues can cause many new serious problems, for example people might create rubbish everywhere or might not cooperate with campaigns for the protection of natural environments.

Also, every person needs to be "provided" sufficient environmental knowledge to help reduce environmental damage. Finally, every person must "behave" in a way that conserves nature using environmental knowledge effectively. Such behavior is the ultimate purpose of environmental education.

Development of Environmental Education

(a) In General
Environmental education is presumably as old as human civilization. Through the centuries, people have learned to survive in their surrounding environments and at the same time have learned how to make use of their environments. However, it is no exaggeration to suggest that people have not learned how to coexist with their environments.

The initial impetus for the worldwide interest in environmental education was given by the United Nations Conference on Human Environment in Stockholm in 1972. The conference designated the 5th of June as World Environment Day by organising activities aimed at promoting environmental protection. Every year the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) chooses a theme for the day. The theme for 1990, for example, was "Children and the Environment" (Vinke J. 1993: 41).

In spite of the existence of only very few NGOs (Non Governmental Organisations), the Malayan Nature Society was already established by 1940 with the aim of promoting an interest in the conservation of wildlife and natural resources in Malaysia. The Wildlife Club of Kenya was also founded in 1968. In addition, India is one of the front-runners in environmental education in schools since it began in the 1960s, partly due to the philosophies of Buddhism and Hinduism both fostering the conservation of plants and wildlife (Ibid: 42).

From the 1980s environmental education has become more vital as environmental issues have become more prominent. The World Conservation Strategy (1980) suggested serious and fundamental issues that needed attention. In November 1987, Norway's Prime Minister, Gro Harlem Brundtland published her United Nations World Commission for the Environment Report titled "Our Common Future", which argued for sustainable development in the world (Neal P. & Palmer T. editors, 1990: Xi).

(b) The UK
The May 1988 Meeting of the Council of the European Community motivated the UK government to take a more positive attitude toward environmental education. The meeting agreed with the following objectives and guiding principles:

"To increase the public awareness of the problems in this field, as well as possible solutions, and to lay the foundations for a fully informed and active participation of the individual in the protection of the environment and the prudent and rational use of natural resources" (Ibid: Xii).

Guiding Principles
1)The environment as the common heritage of mankind.
2)The common duty of maintaining, protecting and improving the quality of the environment, as a contribution to the protection of human health and the safeguarding of the ecological balance.
3)The need for a prudent and rational utilization of natural resources.
4)The way in which each individual can contribute to the protection of the environment. (Ibid).

Also, The National Curriculum Council for England and Wales was asked by the Secretary of State for Education to consider and advise him by March 1989 on cross-curricular issues, including environmental education (DES, 1989: V).

Furthermore, the movement of countryside conservation can be closely linked to environmental education. The Countryside Commission was established by the Countryside Act of 1968. Its responsibilities are for the conservation of natural beauty in England and Wales, and encouraging the provision and improvement of facilities for enjoyment of the countryside and access for open air recreation (Countryside Commission ND: cover page). A broad review of countryside policies was carried out in 1990, and the results were presented in the Environment White Paper titled "This Common Inheritance" and "In the First Year Report" (Department of the Environment 1992: 3). Also, the Department of the Environment published "Green Rights and Responsibilities – A Citizen's Guide to the Environment" in the 1990s. It includes sections titled "Local Environment"; "The Green Consumer"; and "Pollution Control". The last section, which discusses "visiting the countryside", asserts that:

The Department of the Environment is responsible for policy on the protection and the development of the countryside. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is responsible for agricultural policy including its environmental effects. The Forestry Commission is responsible for forestry policy and managing the public forests. The Countryside Commission advises the Government on conservation. It works with your local council, voluntary groups and individuals to protect the landscape and to improve access and recreation facilities. England Nature promotes the conservation of England's wildlife and its habitats. The National Park Authorities have special powers to protect some of our most beautiful landscape areas. Your council must take into account the protection of local habitats and landscapes when taking planning decisions". (Department of the Environment, ND)

This book is one of the most useful resources for enhancing people's concern about environmental questions and crises.

Finally, in the twenty century, the most notable conference concerning environmental education might be the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio De Janeiro, 1992, called Earth Summit '92. Some of the major achievements of the Earth Summit are:
1)Agenda 21: a comprehensive blueprint for global actions leading to sustainable development.
2)A set of principles to support the sustainable management of forestry.
3)Two legally binding conventions one aiming to prevent global climate change and the other to prevent eradication of biologically diverse species, were signed by representatives of more than 150 countries. (Strong M. editor, 1992: 9)

"both formal and non-formal education are indispensable to changing people's attitudes so that they have the capacity to assess and address their sustainable development concerns…To be effective, environmental and development education should deal with the dynamics of both the physical, biological and socio-economic environment and human (which may include spiritual) development should be integrated in all disciplines…" (Earth Summit '92: 221)

A statement about the development of "human spirituality" is especially very important, since environmental damage can result from a particular morality.

In the next article, the strategies for environmental education from philosophical view points will be discussed.


Countryside Commission, ND. Our Programme for the Countryside 1983-88, Countryside Commission: cover page.

Department of the Environment, 1992. Action for the Countryside, Central Office of Information (UK): 3.

Department of the Environment, ND. Green Rights and Responsibilities – A Citizen's Guide to the Environment.

DES (Department of Education and Science), 1989. Environmental Education from 5 to 16, Her Majesty's Stationery Office: V, 16.

Earth Summit'92, 1992. Earth Summit' 92, The Regency Press Cooperation: 221.

Neal P. & Palmer J. editors, 1990. Environmental Education in the Primary School, Blackwell: Xi, Xii, 2, 5.

Strong M., 1992. Forward, Earth Summit' 92, The Regency Press: 9.

Vinke J., 1993. Actors and Approaches in Environmental Education in Developing Countries, Development Centre Documents – Environmental Education, OECD: 41, 42.

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