The Convention’s CEPA Programme


Final Research Report:

Education for Sustainability and the Ramsar Convention

by Dr Jane Claricoates


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This study explores the concept of Education for Sustainability (EfS) in relation to the Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar, Iran, 1971) as a contribution to the development of the Convention’s Communication, Education and Public Awareness (CEPA) policy, by

  • stimulating a debate on EfS within Convention constituencies
  • assessing current thinking on EfS/ESD within the Convention’s policy-making circles
  • offering suggestions for next steps.

The study comprises a literature review of the current EfS debate and a questionnaire survey seeking, primarily, the views of formal policy-makers across the (133) Contracting Parties on EfS.

The survey data are analysed

  • with reference to dimensions of EfS identified from the literature
  • in relation to established education frameworks
  • in relation to practical considerations for future CEPA policy development.

Recommendations are offered for future debate, policy development and implementation of the Convention’s CEPA Programme.


The input of many people – academics, practitioners, family and friends – is reflected in this research, and is sincerely acknowledged here.

Special thanks go to Delmar Blasco for agreeing to and supporting this research through his staff’s time; to the Bureau staff, in particular Sandra Hails; and to the participants in the pilot and final questionnaire survey, for help with administration, translation, and questionnaire completion.






1.1 Preamble

1.2 Rationale

1.3 Aims



2.1 key dimensions of the debate

2.1.1 Terminology

2.1.2 Environmental, social and educational contexts

2.1.3 Consensual dimensions


3.1 Conceptual framework for the research

3.2 Research strategy and design

3.3 Questionnaire survey



4.1 Introduction

4.2 Results of questionnaire survey

4.2.1 Profile of survey respondents

4.2.2 What is EfS/ESD in the minds of the Ramsar community, in general? (RQ1.2.1)

4.2.3 What is EfS/ESD in the minds of the Ramsar community, in relation to the Ramsar Convention?

4.2.4 What opportunities and constraints are offered by the Ramsar Convention for EfS/ESD?


5.1 Significance of key results

5.2 Conclusions

5.3 Recommendations








The independent research reported here was undertaken between May 2001 - September 2002. Limited resources, especially for translations, requires that this summary be short. Readers are encouraged to contact the author by e-mail ( for further details.

The research was planned and completed in the 18 months prior to the Ramsar Convention’s (Ramsar, Iran, 1971) 8th Meeting of the Conference of the Contracting Parties (COP8). The initial intention was that its findings should be available to interested parties as a contribution to their policy deliberations prior to COP8. In practice, this timetable was not achievable. However, preliminary findings were used in the preparation of a Draft Resolution on Ramsar’s Communication, Education and Public Awareness (CEPA) Programme (COP8 document COP8 - DR 31), for consideration by Contracting Parties. Further, at the invitation of the Ramsar Secretary General, the concept of ‘CEPA for Sustainable Development’, and some of the key findings of this research, were introduced to a broader Ramsar constituency at the pre-COP8 Global Biodiversity Forum CEPA workshop. The workshop concluded that a shift in focus for the Convention’s CEPA Programme from ‘CEPA’ to CEPA for Sustainable Development’ would be appropriate. This suggested amendment to COP8 – DR31 was subsequently adopted by COP8.

This summary highlights aspects of the research that will help most to move this conceptual shift forwards in practice. Whilst the research was focused at the policy level, it is hoped that the results and ideas put forward will stimulate debate about ‘CEPA for Sustainable Development’, and what the concept means in practice for those involved in implementation of the Convention’s CEPA Programme at both policy and practical levels.

The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of the Contracting Parties to the Ramsar Convention, the Ramsar Secretariat (the Bureau), Convention partners or implementers.

1.2 Rationale

The research was planned as a contribution to Ramsar CEPA policy development. The emerging field of ‘Education for Sustainability’ (EfS/ESD)* is gaining professional and political support at all levels, as an educational approach to help move societies (and, thereby, environments) towards a sustainable future.

The educational element of the Convention’s work has hitherto received less attention than many of its other aspects, and there has been no formal Convention-wide forum peopled by educators where the Convention’s educational agenda is discussed in its own right. Scrutiny of the Convention’s CEPA policy has therefore been rare.

COP7 adopted the Convention’s first CEPA programme (Resolution VII.9 and its annexed Guidelines: Education and Public Awareness; Despite some excellent examples of implementation, evidence suggests that significant difficulties remain. Hence, although there remains strong agreement across Convention constituencies that ‘educational’ activity (in its broadest sense) is essential to achieving the Convention’s mission, the CEPA Programme is not yet being effectively implemented in such a way that its full potential can be realised. Why?

Aspects of the Convention’s CEPA Programme could, arguably, benefit from more purposive direction in both conceptualisation and (collective) implementation; much remains to be strategically operationalised. In short, it is not easy to interpret the practical implementation of the CEPA Programme in its present form as a process. Precise reasons for this situation, and what is needed to engage Ramsar constituencies in a more profound debate about the fundamental rationale and practice of wetland-related CEPA, have not been systematically investigated.

Why EfS/ESD? EfS/ESD acknowledges the (social) root causes of environmental (wetland) problems, and takes an integrated view of possible solutions. It recognises that if education in this broad sense (understood to include all elements of ‘CEPA’) is to be used effectively for change, it will require a re-visioning of some established educational approaches and curricula. It therefore seems reasonable to look to EfS/ESD for guidance when trying to improve the Convention’s CEPA policy in line with its ‘wise use’ mission.

It is hoped that the research will help prompt a deeper scrutiny of the Convention’s educational needs, and to engage Contracting Parties and the wider Ramsar constituency in trying to achieve more clarity and commitment concerning the value and aims of the Convention’s CEPA work.

*Because the use of terms varies (see Section 2), and ‘Education for Sustainable Development’ (ESD) is widely used in international circles, the acronym ‘EfS/ESD’ is used throughout this document

1.3 Aims

The research aimed to:

  • Introduce the idea of EfS/ESD to the Ramsar community
  • Stimulate a debate about the direction and principles of the Convention’s future CEPA programme, in relation to EfS/ESD
  • Establish the current thinking in relation to EfS/ESD within the Convention’s (policy-making) circles
  • Offer practical suggestions for moving this educational debate and policy-making forward, in relation to the Convention’s CEPA Programme.


2.1 Key dimensions of the debate

2.1.1 Terminology

There is no agreed meaning or definition of ‘education for sustainability' (EfS). It is more helpfully thought of as an educational response to particular values and beliefs, rather than as a fixed body of theory and practice. The terms ‘Education for Sustainable Development’ (ESD) and ‘Environmental Education’ (EE) are also used.

In the present study ‘EfS/ESD’ is used to represent a general educational response, rather than as a label representing a specific, defined, form of education.

2.1.2      Environmental, social and educational contexts

EfS/ESD is an evolving educational contribution to a more sustainable future. It responds to indicators of non-sustainability as recognised in social and ‘natural’ environment contexts, at local and global levels (eg Adams, 2001; Cohen, 1995).

Non-sustainability is differently framed and responded to, for example by ecologists, economists, educators, and indigenous peoples. Sterling (2001:11) provides a framework for thinking about the interconnectedness and complementarity of social and educational perspectives and about the types of responses being advocated. His framework is presented as four progressive levels of learning:

  • no response (ignorance/denial/no learning)
  • accommodatory response (adaptive learning, paradigm unchanged)
  • reformatory response (reflective adaptive learning, paradigm modified)
  • transformative response (critical and creative learning, changing paradigm).

2.1.3 Consensual dimensions

From the literature I have identified key dimensions of non-/sustainability (Table 2.1), around which appropriate educational (EfS/ESD) responses might usefully be moulded.

Different perspectives on non-/sustainability agree on the following:

  • the need for change (a different response is required to shift towards a sustainable trajectory)
  • the significance of different ways of knowing (problems and solutions will be complex and differently understood)
  • the importance of beliefs about the human-nature relationship (this fundamentally affects the aims, the nature and the acceptable bounds of our practices)
  • the effects of power (power relations mediate our social actions and possibilities)
  • the importance of context (this forms our different perspectives and opportunities)      Change

The concept of EfS/ESD is founded on the premise that problems (the elements of non-sustainability) exist and that change is necessary to achieve a sustainable path. Problems are therefore the raison d’être of EfS/ESD, and its theory and practice should be problematised and critical. There is less agreement about how far a (socially) critical EfS/ESD should be taken: should EfS/ESD responses be confined by existing norms and practices (reformatory), or should EfS/ESD be transformative? There are many arguments on each side.

Recognising the interconnectedness between real ‘environmental’ and ‘development’ problems, there is a general consensus that EfS/ESD must take an integrated approach. Furthermore, since the root causes of ‘environmental’ problems are understood to be located in society, it is in society that solutions (changes) are sought (Wood et al, 2000).

The pace and extent of change in ‘risk’ societies require any meaningful education to be both an agent and subject of change (Sterling, 1996, 2001; Fien, 2001). EfS/ESD should therefore be reflective, flexible and dynamic, an iterative learning process. An alternative educational response argues for changing technical capability; that is, a reproductive approach.

We have the ability to create the future(s) we desire by the individual and collective actions we take now (Hicks, 1994). Many advocates of EfS/ESD therefore require it to encompass theory and practice relating to futurity, which includes learning how to envision desired futures.

Increasing the scale or scope of EfS/ESD interventions requires institutionalisation, to achieve systemic change (Benedict, 1999; Bosselmann, 2001; Gough & Scott, 2001). Structural issues represent significant barriers to achieving sustainability. Thus, EfS/ESD should play a role in creating a supportive environment, and should encompass considerable social and procedural know-how. Different ways of knowing

We see our world through different forms of ‘cultural’ or ‘literacy’ filters, making our meanings through such filters as attitudes, observational limits, and past experience (Moscovici, 1976, cit. Uzzell, 1999). Trudgill (2001) emphasises the importance of seeing that the filter is there as well as looking through it.

The science filter is particularly relevant here. A philosophy in which there exists a universal ‘truth’, or knowledge, which will be revealed piecemeal by the cumulative learning of discrete knowledges is increasingly questioned (Bonnett, 1999; Gonzalez-Gaudiano, 2001; Stables, 2001). Can such pure rationality be expected to support sustainability, including its democratic component? Bonnett (1997) and Trudgill (2001) argue that science is not value-free, and that the values embedded in scientific practice should be made explicit. The power of our emotional responses to ‘elemental nature’ should cause us to think again about the relative emphases we place on the different ways of knowing we encourage (Bonnett, 1997).

It is suggested that EfS/ESD has an important role in explicating the values and motivations that underlie the different literacies through which we interpret our world, as a first step in allowing alternative knowledges and contributing to more transparent decision-making (Stables, 2001). EfS/ESD could be an effective vehicle for contributing to a shift from science as authority, to science as facilitator. EfS/ESD should strive to bring together new combinations of knowledge bases, organisational and cultural institutions.

A thorough knowledge of our own environment is essential, it is argued, to begin to understand the impacts of our actions in remote situations. Nevertheless, Bonnett (1997) notes that this alone is inadequate because it may lead to ignorance of distant impacts, and because many environmental and social issues have dimensions that cannot effectively be addressed at the local level alone. EfS/ESD must therefore encompass local and global perspectives that are experiential, incorporating affective and cognitive learning through opportunities for active involvement.

Hence, EfS/ESD should begin with the assumption that different ways of knowing are legitimate and potentially constructive. Where such intellectual equity is not found, EfS/ESD should strive to achieve the legitimation of multiple and new ways of knowing. In short, EfS/ESD should be explicitly culturally-sensitive, enabling learners to understand the existence and effects of cultural filters in order to come to a more critical understanding of the forces in their own, and other, cultures that are acting for or against more sustainable existences. The human-nature relationship

Writers approach differently the question of how we should use our knowledge about the environment, but arrive ultimately at the question of humanity’s "proper relationship with nature" (Bonnett, 1997:249) and assert a fundamental need to attend to morality and ethics when considering sustainability (Bonnet, 1997, 1999; Bosselmann, 2001; Leopold, 1968; Stables, 2001; Trudgill, 2001). That such diverse discourses lead to a consensus about the central importance of a question that is rarely asked is interesting in itself.

Bonnett (1999:319) maintains that our ever-greater ability to ‘control’ nature brings with it a concomitant responsibility to undertake "an honest appraisal of our underlying motives towards nature".

On closer examination, ‘sustainability’ and ‘sustainable development’ are shown to be highly ambiguous terms (Bonnett, 1999; Rist, 1997; Stables 2001), and authors reveal the human-nature relationship question to be at their core. We cannot sustain everything, and our choices involve the weighing up of values. On what grounds do we make our choices (Bonnett, 1999)?

Concerning ethics, Stables (2001) argues that a knowledge of ecology does not ensure ecologically responsible behaviour if it is part of a process that does not take into account other dimensions of the issues, such as values.

Finally, Bosselmann (2001:168) suggests that "the pursuit of sustainability … ignores the divide between science and arts/humanities, penetrates mono-disciplinary boundaries and questions, at least potentially, the intellectual aversion against metaphysics and spirituality." DeWitt (1996) and WWF (1995) draw direct parallels between the tenets of major faiths and the practices of ecology and conservation. Religion and spirituality are important planes for communication, bringing multifarious understandings to points of convergence, if not to unification. Thus, spirituality and religion have important contributions to make to EfS/ESD.

Hence, from many different quarters there is a call for a genuine reappraisal of our proper relationship with nature. The underpinning ethic, or state of mind/attitude, that we are called on to acquire, is necessarily a long-term goal. Issues of power

"A closer look at every imaginable environmental issue will reveal … conflicting interests in the use of natural resources … This is why environmental issues are not just ‘evaporating’ by themselves when people gain knowledge of them" (Breiting & Mogensen, 1999:349-350). Or, as Rist (1997:194) says, "it is impossible to bracket out the power issues that determine practices in the real world". Hence, EfS/ESD must address issues of power.

The negative effects of power inequalities on people and the environment (Klein, 2001; McNeill, 2001; Rist, 1997) prompt calls for other voices to be heard. Many specialist discourses (about environment, for example) are understood as genuine contributions to attaining sustainability, but they can also act as barriers to such a move by excluding other ways of knowing, especially through their linkages to powerful social institutions. At least some aspects of effective EfS/ESD, then, will be political. EfS/ESD should help to make issues of power explicit and understood in terms of their effects on social organisation, and the impacts of this on the environment (Doyle & McEachern, 2001; Gonzalez-Gaudiano, 2001).

Table 2.1: Summary of the ‘consensual dimensions’ of EfS/ESD derived from the literature




























Social / procedural know-how


Flexible .




Global perspectives












Legitimation of DWK


New combinations




Local perspectives .










Spirituality .






Social justice
















Contextual .

The idea of ‘participation’ to address issues of power inequality is now commonplace in development and environmental circles. Accounts of practice testify both to the difficulties and to the sustainable benefits of overcoming them (Evans & Birchenough, 2001; Greaves Stiles, 2002; Seale, 1995).

In terms of playing its part in redressing inequitable power relations, and thus in struggles for social justice and democracy, the implications for EfS/ESD would seem clear: it should strive for the strongest form of participation and empowerment possible, and it should not turn away from political difficulties in so doing. EfS/ESD has a vital role in the process of decentralisation, entailing attention to procedural and technical knowledge, and to the development of confidence and of opportunities, to enable those implicated to reclaim responsibilities and to act. Context

The foregoing discussion highlights the importance of context. For example, cultural sensitivity is important because culture affects the identification and understanding of ‘the problems’, and the form of our preferred solutions. Experiential learning is considered by practitioners and educational philosophers alike to be more effective than abstract knowledge accumulation. The need to operate at different levels and across other boundaries, and to think laterally, is also recognised. Running through all of this is connectedness: addressing (education for) sustainability requires us to work in connected and relating modes; this idea is now well established in the literature (eg Barkham, 1996; Xunta de Galicia/UNESCO, 2001).

It seems clear, then, that EfS/ESD should be decentralised, contextual and relevant, and that it must allow, if not encourage, diversity. The balancing of social, environmental or other requirements for sustainability is not a precise process. Views will differ as to where both theoretical and practical balances should lie, and there will be difficult decisions to be made where conflicts arise, or where information is poor or lacking. These are new endeavours, and EfS/ESD, as a learning process itself, has an important role to play in advocating and providing support for educational moves into the unknown.


3.1 Conceptual framework for the research

A conceptual framework for organising the research is given in Figure 3.1.

Because no agreed definition of EfS/ESD exists with which to work, consensual (theoretical) dimensions of the concept of EfS/ESD were first identified from the literature (Section 2) and then compared with conceptualisations of EfS/ESD in the minds of Convention policy-makers. Such ideas and beliefs are likely to be powerful motivators of, or detractors from, action, reflecting as they will personal ideologies. They will thus have significance for the real-world potential of EfS.

Research Question 2 (RQ2) looks at some of the more practical policy-related issues - opportunities and constraints presented by texts, structures and processes of the Convention.

3.2 Research strategy and design

It is not possible in a short summary to provide a detailed, fully transparent account of the research process. Some aspects of the research strategy and design are highlighted, where these differ from more familiar, quantitative, approaches using inferential statistics.

A descriptive approach to RQ1.1 was taken, using the literature review to derive ‘consensual dimensions’ (the semi-quantifiable indicators used in this study) of EfS/ESD. These were then used to assess the extent to which EfS/ESD was understood and practised in these terms by Convention policy-makers.

Initially, the understanding of EfS/ESD within the Ramsar community was unknown, and hence the strategy adopted for RQ1.2 and RQ2.1 (Figure 3.1) was necessarily exploratory and interpretive (Robson, 1993). Descriptive inference (Hakim, 2000) was used to arrive at results and conclusions.

RQ1.2, RQ1.2.1 and RQ1.2.2 were addressed by means of a questionnaire survey which sought the views of policy-makers on EfS/ESD. RQ2.1 and its subsidiary questions were approached in two ways. First, questions were included in the survey questionnaire to seek respondents’ views on textual, structural and procedural opportunities and constraints for EfS/ESD within the context of the Convention. Second, the administration of the questionnaire survey was monitored to provide additional, practical information to inform RQ2.1.2 and RQ2.1.3. Process indicators included, for example, numbers of non-respondents and the reasons for non-response.

3.3 Questionnaire survey

3.3.1 Sampling regime

A first-tier sample comprised all the (» 500) formal policy-makers, who were invited personally to participate in the survey. The second-tier sample, of widely-dispersed informal policy-makers, was reached impersonally, by means of an invitation and questionnaire posted on the Convention’s Web site. Thus, there was control over only the composition of the first-tier sample; only a small (indeterminable) proportion of informal policy-makers are likely to have accessed an invitation, and their responses will not be representative of that population.

3.3.2 Questionnaire design

Despite the shortcomings of a questionnaire survey (Hakim, 2000; Moser & Kalton, 1971), this was the only practicable option for data collection from such a widely-dispersed population. A draft questionnaire was piloted at the 4th European Regional Ramsar meeting (Slovenia, October 2001) and in response significant changes were made to the content and design of the final questionnaire. The pilot responses were not included in the final analyses.

The final questionnaire (Appendix 1) is organised into five parts:

Part 1 seeks factual information about the respondent
Parts 2-4 are tailored to specific research questions
Part 5 invites open comments, to capture additional issues of importance in the minds of the respondents and to help identify any reasons for suspecting the utility of a response.

The questionnaire incorporates a range of question formats (open, closed, forced choice; Robson, 1993), and the possibility of answering ‘No Opinion’ or ‘Don’t Know’ where appropriate. Opportunities for respondents to add their own incidental comments throughout the questionnaire helped in assessing their level of engagement and in capturing unforeseen points.

3.3.3 Survey administration

The survey was completed mainly by e-mail (a minority of necessary cases were administered by air mail) using the three official Convention languages (English, French, Spanish). Translations of the English-version survey documents were completed by Bureau staff. Translations of communications and questionnaire responses back into English were completed by the author. The English-version texts (responses) were used in the analyses.


4.1 Introduction

In this section a small selection of the results from the questionnaire survey are reported. For reasons of brevity, the detailed analyses and statistics on which the reported results are based are not shown. Most attention is given to RQ1.2, reflecting its complexity and fundamental importance to any incipient debate on EfS/ESD.

Indecipherable, ambiguous or other ‘unusable’ question responses were not used in the analyses.

Please refer to Figure 3.1 for clarification of the specific Research Questions (RQ) referred to, and to Appendix 1 for Questionnaire Question (QQ) details.

4.2 Results of questionnaire survey

4.2.1 Profile of survey respondents

In total, 166 questionnaires were returned (142 personalised, 24 non-personalised; 104 English, 32 French, 30 Spanish). All regions (87 CPs) contributed data, roughly in proportion to the number of CPs in the region. Administrative Authorities (AA) contributed the largest proportion of total responses in terms of Ramsar roles.

Of the 47 recipients who gave a reason for non-response, 12 had changed their responsibilities, 10 passed the questionnaire to a colleague, and 17 could be collectively described as feeling it lay beyond their responsibility, capacity or competence.

The government sector contributed a majority of the returns, the NGO sector approximately one third (QQ5). All but 2 returns showed respondents working in an environmental sphere (QQ6); in all regions only a very small proportion of respondents reported their work sphere as social. In all regions a small number of respondents described themselves as working in two spheres, but no respondents ticked all three boxes for QQ6. The largest majority of respondents work at the national level; 51% work at more than one level (QQ7).

4.2.2 What is EfS/ESD in the minds of the Ramsar community, in general? (RQ1.2.1) Terminology

  • Respondents holding roles other than formal Ramsar roles displayed the highest self-reported awareness of EfS/ESD; CEPA Focal Points were middle-ranking in this respect.
  • More than half of the respondents thought a definition of EfS/ESD to be ‘Essential’;

Of the respondents who held a view, 70 believed EfS and ESD shared the same meaning, and 47 believed the terms had different meanings. Comments reflected a wide spectrum of underlying assumptions and interpretations of ‘sustainability’ and ‘sustainable development’. Goals and content

This section reports the most dominant collective views from QQ13, QQ17 and QQ18, designed to explore respondents’ (theoretical, abstract) views on the goals and content of EfS/ESD. Where these are inextricably linked with process issues, the latter are necessarily included.

Responses to QQ17 indicated:

  • a strikingly negative view of EfS/ESD as an educational form having content and process not conforming to established social practices (17d)
  • academic disciplines (17j) and global connections with learners (17k) to be of relatively little importance
  • that the need to help change practices (17i), to be socially integrated (17l) and to develop critical-thinking, problem-solving and decision-making skills (17m) were some of the most important components of successful EfS/ESD

Responses to QQ18 displayed contradictions and suggested fragmented thinking in relation to some theoretical notions of EfS/ESD. They showed:

  • a high level of disagreement with EfS/ESD as issues-based (18a), people-focused (18c) and institutionalised (18c);
  • marked disagreement with the inclusion of mass media (18r) and political (18s) themes;
  • disinterest or active aversion to the inclusion of religious (19t) or spiritual (18u) themes;
  • a very high level of support for the inclusion of resource management themes (18q), though less for the inclusion of scientific themes (18v);
  • strong support for the inclusion of cultural themes (18l) and fully participatory approaches (18f);
  • strong active disagreement with the idea that EfS/ESD should be responsive primarily to local agendas (18j).

QQ13 focused on the (theoretical) goals of EfS/ESD:

  • of 119 useable responses to the closed part of QQ13, 100 viewed the ultimate goals of EfS/ESD as a process, 11 as a condition, and 8 as both a process and a condition;
  • only 1 respondent to the open part of QQ13 described the goals of EfS/ESD explicitly in terms of process, although a significant number of responses inferred process-related thinking.

Open responses to QQ13 were coded for the use (first analysis) and inference (second analysis) of the 42 consensual dimensions of EfS/ESD identified from the literature (Table 2.1):

  • ‘participation’, ‘change’, ‘futurity’ and ‘responsibility’ showed markedly higher (described) response frequencies than the other dimensions;
  • ‘process’ ranked as the third most frequent inferred dimension;
  • ‘values’ was recorded for only 4 responses, and mainly in the context of ‘the values and functions of wetlands’;
  • responses featuring ‘participation’ illustrated a complex range of views about the concept, including different degrees of empowerment sought, and varying environmental and educational ideologies, motivations and values;
  • ‘participation’ was associated with notions of ‘responsibility’ more often (9 responses) than with ‘empowerment’;
  • the political implications of ‘participation’ were mentioned by no respondents;
  • ‘empowerment’ and ‘motivation’ were framed in utilitarian terms; never on grounds of social justice or democracy.

Analysis of the 20 responses which described or inferred ‘change’ to be an important goal of EfS/ESD showed that:

  • all but 2 respondents focused on change at the individual level;
  • only 2 respondents described the goals of EfS/ESD as ‘problematised’ in any way;
  • no respondent answered both that EfS/ESD should be problematised and critical, problematised and political, or political and critical.

The implications of these results contrast with the high frequency of respondents who agreed with EfS/ESD as a continual socially-located action research process through which we learn what sustainability goals might be, and how to attain them (QQ17m). A small minority of respondents saw a need to institutionalise a form of education that has sustainability as its goals.

‘Transmissive’ was used twice by respondents, but ‘reformatory’ and ‘transformative’ were not used. The inference is inconsistent with the majority respondent view of EfS/ESD as a process combined with the high frequency with which change’ was used or inferred in the current (QQ13) analysis. It does, however, concur with the results on non-conformity (QQ17d).

Although ‘futurity’ was the third most frequently recorded dimension, it was used uncritically, frequently echoing Brundtland (1987), rather than in the sense of a critical, precisely-envisioning, futures education.

Responses to QQ13 were subjected to a third analysis, relating respondents’ views about the goals of EfS/ESD to established educational frameworks and other parameters relevant to the Convention’s CEPA programme development. Results indicated that:

  • most thinking focused at the root (underlying causes not symptoms) levels; however, respondents rarely ‘spoke’ in terms of issues;
  • there was a strong view of the need for technical capacity-building, but a less explicit call for CEPA or socially-rooted, action-based, capacity-building;
  • there was a clear view that EfS/ESD should help in understanding sustainable development and achieving change;
  • a significant proportion of respondents apparently continue to think of education in terms of education ‘about’ the environment;
  • action was revealed to be the most frequently expressed goal of EfS/ESD;
  • the majority of responses were not specific about the targets of EfS/ESD, but there was a general feeling that they are multiple, and dispersed throughout society. Process

In response to QQ16, the results showed:

  • a minimum of 69% agreement with each learning context listed, suggesting widespread recognition of the importance of non-formal learning contexts;
  • the full potential of non-formal contexts for EfS/ESD may not be recognised;
  • of the learning contexts added by respondents, ‘the media’ were the most frequent (12 responses).

When asked which from a list of social groups should be the ‘teachers’ of EfS/ESD (QQ15), responses showed:

  • a high level of dependence on formally-trained educators and NGOs
  • that formal communications personnel did not score highly
  • ‘CEPA Focal Points’ was ticked by only one respondent.

4.2.3 What is EfS/ESD in the minds of the Ramsar community, in relation to the Ramsar Convention? (RQ1.2.2)

165 of the 166 responses viewed EfS/ESD as a relevant educational approach for the Convention on the grounds that both seek an integration of social and environmental entities and processes, and because this form of education could be expected to provide a key to widespread and successful implementation of the Convention.

Short extracts from seven formal Convention texts were selected (QQ20) to represent a range of educational opportunities, to assess to what extent respondents translated their abstract theoretical conceptions of EfS/ESD into the context of the Convention’s formal policy frameworks and obligations. All seven texts were considered by a minimum of 33% of respondents to offer some opportunity for their view of EfS/ESD, irrespective of the text’s explicit theme. When texts were ranked according to their total response frequencies as offering the most opportunity for EfS/ESD, the results indicated:

  • the text with participation as its theme was understood to offer the most opportunity for EfS/ESD by the highest number of respondents;
  • the text with participation as its theme ranked higher than that of the 1997-2002 General Objective for the Convention’s education programme;
  • the lowest-ranking text was that encouraging the study of traditional water management systems to inform the Convention’s concept of the wise use of wetlands, apparently revealing a conventional perception of valuable knowledge and speaking against full participation, despite strong abstract theoretical support for ‘participation’.

In response to QQ22 and QQ23, 75% considered that their own work makes a practical contribution to EfS/ESD. These responses were subjected to a frequency analysis of the (inferred) occurrence of the consensual dimensions, allowing comparison of the conceptualisation of EfS/ESD theory and practice in the minds of the Ramsar community.

The shape of the two frequency distributions was markedly different, suggesting significant differences between theory and practice, at least in the way they are articulated. In some instances the frequency of described practice appeared to fall far short of theoretical conceptualisations (‘participation’, processes of change); in other cases the reverse was true (‘social justice’, ‘systemic’, ‘decision-making’, ‘experiential’, ‘connected’, and ‘science’).

4.2.4 What opportunities and constraints are offered by the Ramsar Convention for EfS/ESD? (RQ2.1)

QQ21 asked respondents to suggest factors that might present constraints for the adoption of their view of EfS/ESD. Of the 138 useable returns:

  • 49 reported having insufficient knowledge of EfS/ESD, and 19 insufficient knowledge of the Convention, to answer the question;
  • 49% answered that there were no such constraints;
  • 25 respondents thought potential constraints existed within the Convention, including low political prioritisation of the Convention, wetlands or education (or a combination); poor communications between levels, sectors, departments, agencies; and poor continuity between policy cycles.

When asked (QQ10) if their work should actively contribute to the Convention’s educational (CEPA) objectives:

  • 140 respondents replied ‘Yes’, of whom 92 replied ‘Yes’ to development and to implementation, and 43 replied ‘Yes’ to development or implentation;
  • 25 were unsure
  • 1 replied ‘No’.

The (9) respondents who answered that they were not engaged in EfS/ESD (QQ22) gave familiar explanations, including too low a priority, no formal responsibility for CEPA, or a lack of resources. None of the 9 respondents suggested any constraints for adopting EfS/ESD in QQ21; all but one believed EfS/ESD to be a relevant educational approach for the Ramsar Convention (QQ19), and the same number saw opportunities for EfS/ESD in the text extracts presented in QQ20. This internal triangulation appears to confirm a gap between aspirational thinking and practice.

The time available to individuals engaged in Ramsar roles is a significant consideration in relation to the practical potential for developing (EfS/ESD) policy and practice. QQ11 showed that:

  • only a little over 10% of respondents are engaged full-time on Ramsar-related tasks;
  • 45% have a maximum of 1 day available to them on average each week for their Ramsar responsibilities.


5.1 Significance of key results

5.1.1 Terminology

The findings on terminology reflect the hidden dangers discussed in the literature (Bonnett, 1999; Rist, 1997; Stables, 2001): key terms are commonly used uncritically, and the explanations given of the differences between, and respective preferences for, EfS and ESD reveal a wide, complex and not always apparently reconcilable array of perceptions, values, ideologies and priorities. The results also showed only 10% disagreeing with the need for a definition. The value of any definition of such a contested concept must be questioned. Whatever the outcome of ‘the definition debate’, it is unlikely that a directional, coherent education policy can be developed within the Convention if such fundamental differences are not made explicit, to assist in coming to common understandings, if not common views.

All respondents but one described their sphere of work as ‘environmental’. Most described their practical contribution to EfS/ESD as directed at proximal causes (Wood et al, 2000). Yet results from questions about respondents’ theoretical conceptualisations of EfS/ESD (QQ13, Q17 and QQ18) revealed wide agreement that educational efforts should be socially directed. The way we think about what we are practically, strategically and ideologically engaged in is important for the way we talk about our actions. This has important implications for advocacy, acceptability and participation in respect of EfS/ESD.

5.1.2 EfS/ESD goals, content and process

The study revealed a near-absolute consensus of support for the idea of EfS/ESD as an appropriate educational approach for the Convention.

Whilst respondents’ theoretical/abstract/aspirational conceptualisations of EfS/ESD goals and content accorded well with many of the consensual dimensions, the results also revealed significant gaps between theoretical conceptions and practice, and between theoretical content and goals and (theoretical) process. For example, responses showed a high level of support for ‘participation’, but much less for ‘empowerment’; high levels of support for the development of critical-thinking, but little mention of ‘issues’, politics or power; high levels of support for social-level changes, but little for institutionalisation or non-conformity.

Several results suggested that respondents think in an integrated way about education and wetland issues. However, respondents were consistently less clear about practical EfS/ESD process. Many results indicated that respondents were thinking about process, but much of the thinking about practice was shown to be fragmentary, and lacking in the connectedness required for effective EfS/ESD. Specifically, it was seen to be mostly on a technical, proximal or somewhat passive (raising awareness will lead to participation in change) level, and to be largely apolitical in nature.

There was clear recognition of the need for out-of-school learning, but the concomitant educational importance of the workplace (especially in view of the call for social-level changes) was not recognised. The results also revealed a conventional adherence to the primary importance of formal school settings and professional educators. The intention here is not to suggest that these are unimportant, but to illustrate that thinking about educational processes among respondents is somewhat (the results show not entirely) conventional, and that the wider social-process opportunities offered by an EfS/ESD approach are not yet common intellectual currency.

5.1.3 Convention structures and processes

A proportion of contact details were out-of-date; technological difficulties existed for many would-be survey recipients, resulting in their participation being compromised; and some unsolicited comments from respondents maintained that the Convention remains remote from its users. Individually and collectively these matters represent a practical challenge for effective development of the Convention’s education work. Identification of and communication with competent education individuals and institutions is a related issue: CEPA Focal Points were not all reached, many did not engage with the research process and some significant non-personalised responses were received. The latter can be interpreted positively as successful Convention CEPA networking, but it also indicates that much competence, enthusiasm and experience resides outside of the readily-identifiable policy-making circles, and represents an untapped source of help for the Convention in this field.

The time available to policy-makers for Convention work is limited. This, and the small proportion of experienced educators represented in formal policy circles, constitutes considerable structural and process hurdles to be overcome if relevant, considered educational policy, including informed debate on EfS/ESD, is to be achieved.

5.2 Conclusions

The study set out to explore to what extent EfS/ESD might be used as a guide for the future educational policy and practice of the Ramsar Convention.

The results indicate that amongst the formal policy-makers of the Convention EfS/ESD is seen as directly relevant to the Ramsar mission. There is widespread understanding, at least at an intellectual and technical level, of many socio-environmental connections, and hence of some of the key principles underlying EfS/ESD. Whilst it appears that support for EfS/ESD is to some extent intuitive, and that its deeper implications are not thoroughly contemplated, understood or acknowledged, there is evidence of considerable enthusiasm from formal policy-makers – who include some experienced educators – to help develop and implement the Convention’s education policy. Practical work in which they are engaged reflects the well-established ‘wise use’ principles of the Convention, and as such is already orientated somewhat similarly to EfS/ESD.

Whilst the connections between environmental and social spheres have received technical attention in the Convention, this study shows that their educational implications and potential are less well developed and understood. Nevertheless, not only did respondents see the mission of the Convention as being appropriate for the application of EfS/ESD, they also recognised educational potential in a range of formal Ramsar texts. Thus, the educational thinking of Convention policy-makers fits most closely Sterling’s (2001) ‘accommodatory’ response, in which learning is adaptive, but within an unchanged paradigm. This thinking, and the ‘in-principle’ support for EfS/ESD, is a sound base on which to build an EfS/ESD-guided educational policy.

The study also confirms some of the flaws to be addressed if EfS/ESD is to be advanced in the Convention. They include the composition and educational competency of the policy-making circle, which would require broadening to include more educational expertise; the improvement of communications specifically for educational purposes, including ensuring the wider involvement of non-formal policy-makers and local implementers; and a greater commitment of dedicated time and competence to the tasks. None of these is straightforward, and it is unlikely that without high-level political support for any such endeavour significant advances in the educational policy of the Convention will be achieved. And here is perhaps the single most difficult issue: many of the respondents appeared to eschew the political implications of a critical form of education and to espouse passive or apolitical educational solutions – despite the problematised foundation of the Convention itself. Whilst this is understandable in the context of an intergovernmental Agreement, it does represent a significant obstacle to systemic change, and to the development and implementation of a form of education that might help bring about such change.

5.3 Recommendations

The purpose of this study has been to facilitate a debate about EfS/ESD within the Ramsar community, in order that decisions about its adoption as a guiding principle of the Convention’s future educational policy and implementation might be better informed. Actions are now needed to take the debate, the decision-making and the implementation forward:

  • Initiate a policy-level debate within the Convention on EfS/ESD. Contributors to the debate should include the Convention’s informal policy-makers and educators, and a broader range of relevant expertise from education, development and social science fields. In particular, a thorough understanding of southern views should be sought.
  • Timetable the debate and the decision-making on this issue into formal Convention business.
  • Shift some of the focus of the Convention’s educational materials and training away from wetland values and functions towards root issues of wetland non-sustainability, beginning with key dimensions of EfS/ESD outlined in this study.

Now that the principle of ‘CEPA for Sustainable Development’ has been adopted by COP8:

  • Increase the understanding and capacity of key Ramsar constituencies in relation to EfS/ESD.
  • Attend to the communication issues highlighted in this study.
  • Establish educationally-competent representatives within the policy-making circles of the Convention to advance EfS/ESD, if necessary creating new advisory roles or structures to achieve rolling strategic planning, and support in implementation.
  • Complete a trawl of formal Convention obligations as a basis for developing EfS/ESD advocacy and learning tools.
  • Ensure EfS/ESD training modules are available through the proposed Ramsar Training Service.


The following references have been accessed directly and referred to in the text. References taken from citations, which have not been seen by the author, are listed separately in the Bibliography. References to Web sites are listed at the end, with the date of most recent access in parentheses.

ADAMS, W M (2001). Green Development: environment and sustainability in the third world. 2nd edition. Routledge.

BARKHAM, J P (1996). ‘Environmental Needs and Social Justice’. Chapter 7 in: Cooper, N S and Carling, R C J (Eds.) Ecologists and Ethical Judgements. Chapman & Hall. pp 75-86.

BENEDICT, F (1999). ‘A Systemic Approach to Sustainable Environmental Education’. Cambridge Journal of Education, 29(3) pp 433-446.

BONNETT, M (1997). Environmental Education and Beyond. Journal of Philosophy of Education 31(2), pp 249-266.

BONNETT, M (1999). Education for Sustainable Development: a coherent philosophy for environmental education? Cambridge Journal of Education, 29(3) pp 313-325.

BOSSELMANN, K (2001). University and Sustainability: compatible agendas? Educational Philosophy and Theory, 33(2) pp 167-186.

BREITING, S and MOGENSEN, F (1999). Action competence and Environmental Education. Cambridge Journal of Education, 29(3) pp 349-353.

COHEN, J E (1995). How Many People can the Earth Support? W W Norton & Company.

DeWITT, C B (1996). ‘Ecology and Ethics: relation of religious belief to ecological practice in the Biblical tradition’. Chapter 5 in: Cooper, N S and Carling, R C J (Eds.) Ecologists and Ethical Judgements. Chapman & Hall. pp 55-65. (First published in 1995 as a special issue of Biodiversity and Conservation, 4(8).)

DOYLE, T and McEACHERN, D (2001). Environment and Politics. 2nd edition. Routledge Introduction to Environment Series. Routledge.

EVANS, S M and BIRCHENOUGH, A C (2001). ‘Community-based management of the environment: lessons from the past and options for the future’. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems,11 pp 137-147.

FIEN, J (2001). ‘Educating for a sustainable future’. Chapter 8 in: Campbell, J (2001) Creating our Common Future: educating for unity in diversity. Paris: UNESCO/Berghahn Books. pp 122-142.

GONZALEZ-GAUDIANO, E (2001). Complexity in Environmental Education. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 33(2), pp 153-166.

GOUGH, S and SCOTT, W (2001). Curriculum Development and Sustainable Development: practices, institutions and literacies. Educational Philosophy and Theory. 33(2). pp 137-152.

GREAVES STILES, K (2002). ‘Zimbabwe. Education to Sustain the Zambezi’. Chapter 12 in: Tilbury, D; Stevenson, R B; Fien, J and Schreuder, D (Eds.) (2002). Education and Sustainability: responding to the global challenge. Gland: IUCN Commission on Education and Communication. pp 125-132.

HAKIM, C (2000). Research Design; successful designs for social and economic research. 2nd edition. Social Research Today. Routledge.

HICKS, D (1994). Reclaiming the Future’. Chapter 2 in: Preparing for the Future: notes and queries for concerned educators. Adamantine Press Ltd.

KLEIN, N (2001). No Logo. Flamingo.

LEOPOLD, A (1968). A Sand County Almanac and sketches here and there. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

McNEILL, J R (2001). Something New Under the Sun: an environmental history of the twentieth century. Penguin.

MOSER, C A and KALTON, G (1971). Survey Methods in Social Investigation. 2nd edition. Heinemann Educational Books Ltd.

RIST, G (1997). The History of Development: from Western origins to global faith. Zed Books.

ROBSON, C (1993). Real World Research: A Resource for Social Scientists and Practitioner-Researchers. Oxford: Blackwell.

SEALE, R G (1995). ‘Aboriginal Societies, Tourism, and Conservation: The Case of Canada’s Northwest Territories’. Chapter 27 in: McNeely, J A (Ed.) (1995). Expanding Partnerships in Conservation. Washington DC: Island Press. pp 234-242.

STABLES, A (2001). Who drew the sky? Conflicting assumptions in environmental education. Educational Philosophy & Theory 33(2) pp 245-256.

STERLING, S (1996). Education for Sustainability: experiences of change through education. Unit 7 Study Guide, MSc in Environmental and Development Education. South Bank University.

STERLING, S (2001). Sustainable Education: re-visioning learning and change. Totnes: Green Books.

TRUDGILL, S (2001). ‘Psychobiogeography: meanings of nature and motivations for a democratized conservation ethic.’ Journal of Biogeography, 28 pp 677-698.

UZZELL, D (1999). ‘Education for Environmental Action in the community: new roles and relationships.’ Cambridge Journal of Education, pp 397-413.

WOOD, A; STEDMAN-EDWARDS, P and MANG, J (2000). The Root Causes of Biodiversity Loss. London: Earthscan/WWF.

WWF (1995). Ecology and Faith. Series. Godalming: WWF UK on behalf of the Alliance of Religions and Conservation.

XUNTA DE GALICIA / UNESCO (2001). New Proposals for Action. Proceedings of the International Meeting of Experts in Environmental Education, Santiago de Compostela, 15-24 November, 2000. Xunta de Galicia / UNESCO.


Full bibliographic details of works referred to in this study, the originals of which have not been seen by the author.

BRUNDTLAND, H (1987). Our Common Future. Oxford: Oxford University Press for the World Commission on Environment and Development.

MOSCOVICI, S (1976). Social Influence and Social Change. Academic Press.

WEB PAGES (29 August 2002)

The questionnaire can be downloaded here as a Word document.

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