“Development that meets the current generations’ needs without compromising the needs of future generations.”

This phrase struck me as it really set the tone for the Environmental Education/Education for Sustainable Development (EE/ESD) policy workshop held at NUST from the 11th to the 13th of July 2017. The workshop provided an insightful platform where various stakeholders presented their efforts towards Environmental Education in Namibia. The presentations linked the benefits of their efforts towards promoting environmental education and education for sustainable development.  The purpose of the workshop was to review the EE/ESD policy in Namibia and the potential implementation in the Namibian school curriculum in order to mainstream EE/ESD across sectors in Namibia (for more on this, watch my video interview at the workshop with Dr. Alex Kanyimba about the mainstream EE/ESD material across all spheres of education). The links between stakeholder activities and their contributions towards promoting EE/ESD were discussed in order to consolidate information to effectively review the policy. What stood-out for me during the workshop was that environmental rights remained under-addressed during the discussions. 

Environmental rights  can be simply understood as the right to access the unspoiled natural resources (e.g. land, shelter, food, water and air) that enable survival. Reliable access to these basic necessities are imperative to human prosperity and are referred to as biological and physiological needs in the first fundamental tier of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, which drive and enable people to live dignified lives. If the environment is not kept in a healthy condition, this consequently jeopardises human wellbeing and in so doing impaires our right to a dignified life. So, we need to protect the environmental order to have a dignified life. An informed understanding of the relationship between environmental rights and human rights forms the basis of responsible resource consumption and preservation of the environment.

An informed understanding of the relationship between environmental rights and human rights forms the basis of responsible resource consumption and preservation of the environment.


What Namibia has to gain from teaching environmental rights? 

For the purposes of this discussion, EE can be understood as the process of developing environmentally knowledgeable citizens who understand their responsibility towards the environment. While ESD can be defined as education that incorporates key sustainable development issues into teaching and learning practices. ESD concepts are especially relevant to discussions concerning climate change, land degradation, biodiversity, poverty reduction, and sustainable consumption.

The structure of EE and ESD learning material within the Namibian school curriculum would be based on consolidating various stakeholders’ materials and approaches, mainly in the context of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs form a key part of the Agenda 2030 for sustainable development and represent member states' commitment to end all forms of poverty everywhere, reduce inequalities and tackle climate change, while ensuring that no one is left behind. In particular, Goal 4 of the SDGs calls for quality education, and as a proud member state of the UN, the Namibian government is committed to providing education that is both empowering and uplifting to all members of society.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) protects the right to life and a standard of living adequate for good health and well-being, from which the right to a healthy environment can be inferred. The right to a clean and safe environment is a basic right, which supports the idea of clean water and food security as basic human rights.  Essentially the right to life is being disrupted by environmental degradation and the effects of climate change. This will continue to be the case if we as Namibians are not sustainable in our actions towards the environment. 

A human rights perspective on the environment moves away from the traditionally "green" discussions focused on the health of ecosystems in isolation, and towards a wider outlook protecting women and children, the poor, and several other vulnerable groups in Namibia. One example of such a group is the San people of Southern Africa who live in different parts of the Kalahari. The San lifestyle is based on hunting wild animals while also gathering fruits and nuts from their local surroundings. For them, the fauna and flora of their environment are what sustain them and a harmonious relationship with their ecosystem is imperative to their survival, the lives of their children and the longevity of their culture.

“Both aspects of man’s environment, the natural and the man-made, are essential to his well-being and to the enjoyment of basic human rights – even the right to life itself.”  - W.J.M. Mackenzie



The Trash People of H.A. Schult: In 1996 German artist H.A. Schult first came up with the idea of life–sized trash people as reflections of ourselves. The 1000 “Trash People” are moulded from tin cans, computers, car parts and plastics. The installation has travelled the world and was made out of the waste we constantly produce every day delivering the artists picture of us and our consequences to our planet as well as our future generations.



Taking the Human Rights-based Approach towards implementing EE/ESD

Taking the rights-based approach towards implementing EE/ESD requires an emphasis on principles of equity and equality, which are central to sustainable development. In addition, further principles that inform the rights-based approach are those of universality and inalienability, ensuring all people have their rights considered and interdependence and interrelatedness, which recognises that no right can be considered in isolation.

Applying the rights-based approach to policy discussions and technical training programmes requires a restructuring of our education curriculum with human rights as a constant narrative throughout all schooling material. It requires all staff, especially teachers, to be well-versed in the dynamics of human rights and capable of situating them at the core of educational discussions. Policy-makers and stakeholders must orientate their efforts towards seeking partnerships and expertise in order to construct and implement policies that can reach all corners of the Namibian community.   

Rhino poaching would be an example of a challenge facing the Namibian people, a challenge founded firstly on poor education and unsustainable hunting patterns, and secondly on poor law enforcement and the influence of international cartels involved in wildlife crime. Misunderstandings of the rhino’s economic and social contribution towards tourism is destroying the industry and EE/ESD has a big part to play in rectifying such misunderstandings.

Implementing EE/ESD policy frameworks is imperative for the development of our country and the education of our children. It is the responsibility of all stakeholders and individual Namibians to adopt a human rights based approach towards our environment if we want to protect it for its current and long-term contributions to human prosperity in Namibia and the world. I recommend to policy stakeholders to also develop a campaign that aims at educating the Namibian people about their environmental rights and the environmental rights of furture generations. This will enable us to better appreciate and effectively safeguard our environment. Ultimately, education is the vehicle that will allow us to do this. 


About the author

Daniel Hifikepunye Mulongeni, graduated from the University of the Western Cape with a BCom Law degree. He currently interns with the Hanns Seidel Foundation in Namibia.