On 25 March Jean-Louis Borloo, French Minister for Ecology, Energy, Sustainable Development and Town and Country Planning, announced the seventh Sustainable Development Week from April 1st to 7th. The "territorial collectivities" (local governments) are the first in line for education on sustainable development with a number of training courses aimed specifically at their elected representatives and local inhabitants.
France has certainly taken its time in developing an environmental awareness. A country gifted with a vast expanse of forest areas (28.2% of its surface area), France has for many years not felt any concern for the environmental damage being caused by its industrial and nuclear activities. The first French ministry for environmental affairs, whose task was to "prevent natural and technological disasters", dates back to 1984 and the major French green party "Les Verts" only managed to obtain four out of 577 seats in the 2007 legislative elections. Then came the new oil crisis and the world-wide campaign against global warming. Thus a new environmental awareness developed, driven nonetheless by publicity for "environmentally-friendly" products and services. Proper education on sustainable development has been developed in a parallel fashion, aimed specifically at local government representatives as well as local inhabitants, who are much more closely affected by problems posed by water management and distribution and by the recycling of waste generated by consumers.
Training local government representatives and the local citizens
Comité 21 (French committee for environment and sustainable development), an NGO commissioned by the French National Committee for the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development, has made this mission its top priority.
A specific action programme has been released and documented within the framework of this decade-long project (2005-2014).
The programme comprises seminars on the issues surrounding and principles of sustainable development, organised regionally and aimed at elected representatives and officers working in local government services. Project-based training has also been proposed, bringing together various professional bodies to focus on formative issues such as the responsible acquisition of cultural property, training citizens, exclusive right of way transit systems, among others. Furthermore, the Comité 21 report on local government action for education on sustainable development (1) indicates that "since 2005 several territorial collectivities have been running proper awareness-raising sessions on themes such as saving energy, natural, plant-based products and economical water management". Unfortunately however, according to the report, "not all categories of elected representative and staff are covered equally". In the conglomerate community of val d´Orge in the Île-de-France region, three training programmes have been running simultaneously: a general session for officers who had expressed a wish to attend, focusing on the concept of sustainable development and how it can be integrated into local policy, another training programme for all general managers and their assistants in order to implicate the hierarchy, and specialised sessions for each individual service.
In the southern French department of Herault, all new general council executives go through training to raise their awareness, which falls within the "executive passport" plan designed in particular to provide information on management tools and the administrative agenda. The new recruits, put forward by the urban community of Dunkirk, are sent on a "welcome course" which involves raising their particular awareness of sustainable development, including planning pilot projects and an explanation of internal sustainable development practice. The actual education of the citizens is mainly carried out through participation in meetings to discuss local planning projects and calls on a large number of communication methods (campaigns, exhibitions, newspapers, educational tools, etc.) in order to inform, train and raise the awareness of the local inhabitants.
Children and young adults are the main target, although access to extra-curricular educational activities run by associations is still too strictly regulated.
"Partnerships with environmental education associations are nevertheless essential in creating a real strategy for sustainable development. It is the associations which spur the educational institutions into action and remind them of their responsibilities", says Christine Delhaye, head of educational activity at Comité 21.
(1) Assessment of local government activity for education on sustainable development, "working together on education for sustainable development" - Comité 21 - November 2008.
(InfoNet - Renée David Aeschlimann)