European RCEs Gather in Greece to Discuss Climate Change, Sustainable Agriculture, and Government Engagement

Under the theme of 'Climate Change, Sustainable Agriculture, and Food Security', twelve RCEs from ten countries gathered in Heraklion, Greece for the European Regional RCE Meeting 2019, held from 13-14 September, 2019.

Hosted by RCE Crete with the support of the United Nations University Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability (UNU-IAS), this year's regional meeting was held in conjunction with the final project meeting of RCE Crete’s Erasmus project – Climate Change, Sustainable Agriculture, and Food Security (CCSAFS) – a Master's course development project initiated by RCE Crete and piloted by universities in Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon. This meeting marked the first occasion where an RCE Regional Meeting has been held in conjunction with a project meeting from an EU-funded RCE project.

RCEs in attendance presented their work over the last year, displaying the depth and breadth of activities across the region. Three of the attending RCEs reported working with national level government policies on ESD, including RCE Belarus, RCE Czechia, and RCE Scotland. RCE Nizhny Novgorod, RCE Severn, and RCE Warsaw Metropolitan reported on working with local level policies for ESD, focusing on learning for sustainable agriculture, learning on sustainable consumption and production, and learning on biodiversity conservation, respectively. Presentations were also given by RCE Stettiner Haff on their work with organic farms and startups regionally in the area of food production, RCE Brittany on research conducted into RCE contributions towards the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, and RCE Oldenburger-Münsterland on implementing ESD into municipalities.   

The hosts, RCE Crete, presented on their ESD actions, projects, and focus on transferring local knowledge, including their work on eco-cultural tourism and integrating the circular economy into secondary schools and business curricula. Their university partners from Egypt (Suez Canal University and Heliopolis University) and Jordan (University of Jordan and Jerash University) who had piloted the aforementioned CCSAFS Master's course, shared the challenges and outcomes of creating a trans-disciplinary graduate programme to teach about sustainable agriculture in universities across the Mediterranean basin, from the perspectives of programme countries and partners. The programme has enabled the development of collaborative partnerships with partners, students and staff, which opens up the possibility of exchange students among partners for research and practice. RCE Crete and RCE Cairo also shared the outcomes of their curriculum creation project, which was in its final stages before the closing of the grant period.

In addition to annual regional meetings, RCE London reported on a gathering of the eight RCEs in the United Kingdom this past June, outlining their plans to launch a magazine to disseminate ESD research article findings to the public, and their call for RCEs to adopt a Twitter hashtag developed by the British RCEs (#RCEsTogether) on social media platforms. RCE Oldenburger Münsterland and RCE Stettiner Haff also reported on a meeting attended by seven of the German RCEs and both Austrian RCEs this past May, as they work towards approaching the German federal and state governments to propose RCEs as a mechanism for implementing the ESD 2030 strategy in Germany. Those in attendance visited partner projects, young startups, an agricultural initiative, and dialogued with experts on further developments and working with the SDGs. 

UNU-IAS gave two presentations – one on developments within UNU-IAS and UNESCO in relation to the end of the Global Action Programme (GAP) on ESD and next steps for strategic directions within the European RCE Network, and one on communications within the Global RCE Network.

Two workshops were held within the two-day meeting: one on how to focus RCE activities on climate action (facilitated by Dr. Jenneth Parker, Research Director of the Schumacher Institute and member of London RCE, and Professor Ros Wade, London South Bank, RCE London), and another on non-formal approaches to ESD through public information campaigns (PICs), and how universities can collaborate and engage with local government partners to create education campaigns related to sustainable development (facilitated by Philip Vaughter, UNU-IAS).

The first workshop from RCE London, 'Systems Learning and the Climate Emergency: Making the Links with Sustainable Economy' engaged participants with tools and approaches from systems thinking that can be useful to deal with the complexity of a changing climate and the challenges posed. Participants discussed the climate emergency in the context of their own countries, key concerns, and generated ideas as to how RCEs, both individually and as part of the network, can play a role in addressing these by bringing climate issues into their current work.

All of the RCEs in attendance were very focused around the issue of climate change, particularly in relation to the Climate Strike movements championed by school students and unions within Europe. One of the outcomes of the workshop on climate action was to establish a working group on ESD for climate change actions among the European RCEs. RCEs London, RCE Belarus, RCE Scotland, and RCE Czechia all volunteered to help coordinate the working group, and UNU-IAS will follow up with the rest of the European RCE community not in attendance to see if other RCEs are interested in joining. The target over the next year is to assemble a comprehensive toolkit of ESD material for educators working on the topic of climate change in a number of European languages.

The second workshop facilitated by Philip Vaughter, UNU-IAS, 'Engaging Local and Regional Governments for ESD', aimed to uncover best practices for engaging with local government actors. Participants discussed various PICs and reflected on how effective they have been in shaping attitudes, values, and behaviours. Barriers to working with local community partners and governments were also discussed, such as scale and access, as was the importance of timing and the use of influencers in garnering success.

Communication was also a major consideration of this year’s meeting, with the RCEs committing to creating a social media page for the region on Facebook to better enhance communication amongst each other.

Enthusiasm for future collaborations on themes was also expressed, as well as ways for RCEs to work together across regions and language groups. RCEs also showed interest in potential future publications for the region, such as a national publication of RCE case studies as piloted by Japanese RCEs.

The final day of the meeting enabled participants to gain insights into the history of Heraklion, with a guided visit to the Heraklion Archaeological Museum, displaying Minoan art and artefacts from all over Crete, followed by a tour of the historic old town of the city.

The Global RCE Service Centre wishes to thank RCE Crete for its superb organisation, coordination and hospitality in hosting the European Regional RCE Meeting 2019, and for the participants for their active involvement and contributions in making the meeting a great success. 

Outcomes from the meeting can be found here.

Photo credits: UNU-IAS, Jiří Dlouhý (top right)