24 Oct 2017 Story Ecosystems

Educating university students to beat pollution

Young people, who are setting today’s trends and will be tomorrow’s decision-makers, are key to beating pollution and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

Half the world’s people are under 25 and most of them live in urban areas. Many are engaged in relatively wasteful consumption patterns, so education is critical if development patterns are to become cleaner and more sustainable.

Lifelong learning can encourage changes in knowledge, attitudes and practices, and empower people to effect change. Those exposed directly to the impacts of pollution in their daily lives, or through study visits, have demonstrably different perspectives on the issue.

Last month, the World Environmental Education Congress, for which UN Environment is a supporting partner, brought together students, scholars, university decision-makers, media and civil society. Held this year in Vancouver, Canada, it is one of the largest gatherings of environmental educators and policymakers in the world.

© Laura Fuller

“The Congress is highly significant for our work on education and youth engagement and we were able to highlight our important global initiatives that address biodiversity and climate issues as well as pollution,” said Laura Fuller, Head of Communications for UN Environment in North America.

Key events included the announcement of Canada joining UN Environment’s CleanSeas Campaign; Elliott Harris, UN Assistant Secretary-General, speaking at the opening ceremony;     sessions on Kenya’s plastic bag ban and promoting sustainable lifestyles in higher education; and participation in the Oceans Education Evening held at the Vancouver Aquarium. The closing ceremony featured famous Canadian environmentalist David Suzuki.

UN Environment supports enhancing sustainable lifestyles on campus, including through awareness-raising and curricula development. Working with members of the Global Universities Partnership on Environment and Sustainability, UN Environment is supporting a generation of graduates to better comprehend the importance of the lifestyle, and professional, choices they make.

Building an understanding of pollution prevention approaches, recognizing best practices and providing a platform for universities to network and share their experiences ensures that students are able to live sustainable lifestyles on campus and off.

Elliott Harris and John Nightingale, CEO and president of Ocean Wise, at the Vancouver Aquarium © Laura Fuller


“Educating university students on the links between pollution, ecosystems and their field of study is vital for a step-change in transitioning towards sustainable development,” says UN Environment ecosystems expert Niklas Hagelberg.

Sustainable Development Goal Target 4.7 on Education for Sustainable Development, as well as UN Environment Assembly Resolution 2/3 on Environmental Education, are relevant in this context.

Providing courses and training are not the only links between education and the environment. In fact, both the public and private sector regularly turn to universities as centres of innovation in pollution reduction technologies and sources of important research.

An interesting footnote is that studies show that women, when informed, are more likely to act on sustainable consumption than their male peers.

Pollution is the theme of the 2017 United Nations Environment Assembly, which is meeting in Nairobi from 4 to 6 December. Sign the pledge and help us #BeatPollution around the world.

For further information: Niklas Hagelberg Niklas.Hagelberg[at]unep.org

Media enquiries: unepnewsdesk[at]unep.org