RCEs in the Americas Explore Health, the Environment, and Education for Sustainable Futures

Over 350 participants attended the 8th Americas RCE Meeting in Burlington, Vermont, USA from 23-25 September, 2019, the largest meeting of the RCEs in the Americas to date. Under the theme 'Human Health and the Environment', with special attention to how human health relates to climate change, the regional meeting was held concurrently with the Climate Action Summit that was occurring in New York City the same week.

Hosted by RCE Greater Burlington and organised in conjunction with Shelburne Farms, the University of Vermont, and the City of Burlington with the support of the United Nations University Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability (UNU-IAS), the meeting reinforced the fundamental role that education plays in achieving a sustainable future in the region. Not only did it showcase a range of innovative sustainability initiatives, such as sustainable food systems during the harvest season, it highlighted the intersection of SDG 3 (Good Health and Well-Being), SDG 4 (Quality Education), SDG 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation), and SDG 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities) and featured Burlington’s commitment to becoming a sustainable city.

Across the three days, participants from eleven RCEs across five countries, along with a diverse mixture of students, faculty, educators, public officials, indigenous leaders, and many other members of the community, enjoyed a programme complete with panel discussions, walking tours, school visits, academic presentations, workshops, and press conferences.

The meeting began with an address from Burlington’s Mayor Miro Weinberger, which was followed by a welcome to the region and an introduction to its 10,000 years of Abenaki history and heritage from Judy Dow. 

RCEs in attendance showcased their ESD projects and initiatives worked on over the past year, whilst the Global RCE Service Centre provided updates on UNESCO’s ESD for 2030 initiative, a review of GAP, and the RCE Global Network’s activities since the last regional meeting.

The comprehensive programme included discussions on the intersections between education for sustainable development (ESD) and other disciplines of academic study, as well as how working with partners from other sectors (NGOs, government, business) enhances learning.

RCE Burlington facilitated learning tours of Shelburne Farms – a non-profit organisation which work to educate students on a sustainable future through its campus, which is a working farm, forest, and national historic landmark, as well as its Burlington City and Lake Semester – an immersive program for high school students that works on applied learning in the city itself to explore problems of and solutions for sustainability within the students’ own community. Each tour presented the RCEs with a fantastic example of applied learning in formal and non-formal settings alike.

An update was provided on the creation of an RCE Youth Network in the region, an initiative discussed in the meeting held the previous year. RCE Greater Atlanta and RCE Borderlands México-USA reported they co-hosted the first regional Youth Network event earlier in the year, and were working on other events to be conducted in both English and Spanish.

Other initiatives discussed included agreement by the RCEs in attendance to move forward on a publication of an ESD resource book highlighting RCE projects, that could be created in conjunction with UNU-IAS, in both English and Spanish. RCE Greater Burlington proposed a joint effort for assisting communities in the Bahamas with ESD for resilient food systems, to create more communities among the islands who are resilient to climate disruptions.

The Global RCE Service Centre would like to thank the team at RCE Greater Burlington, Shelburne Farms, the University of Vermont, and the City of Burlington for their wonderful organisation, collaboration, and dedication in hosting this event.

Outcomes from the meeting can be found here.

(Photo credits: Sarah Webb, Shelburne Farms)