Have you ever wondered how environmental education made its way into our classrooms?
Understanding the history behind such an important aspect of our education system is essential for any educator in the environmental world. Perhaps the two most important historical contexts to focus on are the Tbilisi Declaration and the Belgrade Charter. While the Belgrade Charter was created first in 1972, the Tbilisi Declaration was adopted in 1977 as the official guidelines concerning environmental education worldwide. Both historical pieces represent the beginning of EE as we now know it.
The Belgrade Charter was a global framework proposed at the 1972 United Nations Conference on Human Environment in Stockholm, Sweden. The goal statement under the charter evolved to be the most widely accepted among professionals in the field. The statement heavily encourages environmental education to be a lifelong journey focused on responding to a changing world. It suggests environmental education should provide “the provision of skills and attributes needed to play a productive role towards improving life and protecting the environment with due regard given to ethical values.” Because the charter also places heavy emphasis on solving current problems as well as future ones, it remains the first declaration that couples ethical values with proper education to protect the environment.
The United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) were the next to state the purpose of EE. In October 1977, the world’s first intergovernmental conference took place in Tbilisi, Georgia. Together, the two organizations developed the roles, objectives, characteristics, goals, and guiding principles of environmental education that are included in the Tbilisi Declaration. Like the Belgrade Charter, the Tbilisi Declaration also considers the environment in its totality, as well as its interdependence on the physical world.
Most importantly, the objectives listed under the declaration—awareness, knowledge, attitudes, skills, and participation—cover the necessities to produce generations of environmental stewards. These objectives, coupled with the declaration’s focus on creating sustainably built environments, laid the foundation for effective environmental education that is still utilized today.
As environmental educators, we can look to these roots of EE and do our best to uphold their messages in our own classrooms.