Sustainability Activity
Sustainability Lesson 6 Hook

Time: 10 minutes
Skills:  Cross-Cultural Communications and Holistic Thinking
Objectives 1 and 4
Related Resource:
- National Geographic Society, “Personal Energy Meter” found midway down “The Great Energy Challenge” webpage (n.d.).  Retrieved from:

Place students in pairs or groups.  Have them compare and discuss the results of their Personal Energy Meter evaluations. 

As a class:  On the board (or map) chart some of the countries compared and share some of the results. 

Individual quick response:  Briefly explain to your “citizen for comparison” from another country why your energy usage compares to theirs as it does.

Sustainability Lesson 6 Lecture

Time: 30-60 minutes
Skills: n/a
Objective 1
Related Resources:
Sustainability6.ppt PowerPoint presentation

Using lecture outline and PowerPoint slides, introduce students to a brief history of United Nations involvement in sustainability issues and treaties to protect the environment.


  1. Brief History of United Nations involvement in Sustainability Issues:

Q:  What IS the UN?  When was it created and why?  How does it function?


Display UN webpage or text from it:

The United Nations is an international organization founded in 1945 after the Second World War by 51 countries committed to maintaining international peace and security, developing friendly relations among nations and promoting social progress, better living standards and human rights.

The UN has 4 main purposes

  • To keep peace throughout the world;
  • To develop friendly relations among nations;
  • To help nations work together to improve the lives of poor people, to conquer hunger, disease and illiteracy, and to encourage respect for each other’s rights and freedoms;
  • To be a centre for harmonizing the actions of nations to achieve these goals.

Due to its unique international character, and the powers vested in its founding Charter, the Organization can take action on a wide range of issues, and provide a forum for its 193 Member States to express their views, through the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council and other bodies and committees.

Q:  How are sustainability issues related to the UN’s 4 main goals?

 I. Very early actions on sustainability: (Slide 4)

  1. 1949: UN Scientific Conference on the conservation and utilization of resources (Lake Success, New York, 17 August to 6 September). Mostly on how to manage the resources, not so much on conserving them.
  2. 1968: UN  Economic and Social Council decided to hold the first “Earth Summit” in 1972
    1. 1972 Stockholm:  UN Scientific Conference on the Human Environment  (aka the First Earth Summit) (Slide 5)
    2. Declaration that set out principles for preserving the human environment.  
    3. Action plan with recommendations for international environmental action.
    4. Establishment of monitoring of atmospheric composition to track long term changes.
    5. Established the Governing Council of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the Environmental Fund, and the Environmental Coordination Board.
      1. Mostly concerned with water resources, marine mammals, renewable energy resources, desertification, forests,environmental-  legal framework. 
      2. Post-Earth Summit (Slide 6)

            1.      1987 Environmental Perspective to the Year 2000 and Beyond.  Introduced Sustainable Development

            2.      1988 The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was established.

            3.      1989 Montreal Protocol to protect the Ozone layer

II. 1992 Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, The UN Conference on Environment and Development (aka The Earth Summit)  (Slide 7)

  1. Created a framework for how to attain international agreements on protecting the environment.
  2. Main outcome was Agenda 21 – a document reflecting the global consensus for protecting the environment while allowing development of             underdeveloped countries. Agenda 21 is available at
  3. Began signing of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change – an international agreement to stabilize concentrations of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere in order to reduce the threat of global warming.
  4. Convention on Biodiversity.
  5. 1997 Kyoto Protocol to reduce Carbon dioxide emissions
  6.  2000 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs
    1. Ensuring environmental sustainability is one of the goals.
    2. Over seen by UN Division for Sustainable Development
  1. Treaties to protect the environment: (Slides 8 – 9)
  2. Structure and follow up activities
    1. Typically there are 2 types: 
      1. Ones that deal with specific locations, entities (i.e., a particular river), or a species.
      2. And ones that are global (to deal with more global issues like climate change).
      3. Each treaty may result in a conference of the parties – regular meetings of the members – and a secretariat – a small office to facilitate the meetings. It may even have a group of scientific advisees.
      4. Members need to report data for their country to secretariat to demonstrate compliance and progress.
      5. Difficulties in getting the treaties to work. (Slides 10 -11)
        1. Secretariat may not have power to verify reports from members.
        2. Secretariat may not have funding to enforce treaties.
        3. Lack of central locations for all of these treaties means that there is overlap and redundancy. Centralization would make the process more efficient.  There was some agreement to this in the Agenda 21, but haven’t followed through on it.
        4. Trade agreements sometimes conflict with Environmental treaties.
        5. Members may lack the funds or technology to implement treaty actions. Global Environment Facility (GEF) created to address this.
  3. Notable UN entities 
    1. Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) More info is at: 12 – 13)
      1. Created at 1992 Earth Summit
      2. Forum for reviewing progress of Agenda 21
      3. Monitors activities of governments, private sector, etc. For example, member have been asked to report if they have formulated and implemented a national Sustainable Development Strategies (NSDS). An online map is viewable at:
      4. The UN Division of Sustainable Development is the secretariat to the CSD.
      5. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (Slide 14)
        1. To study greenhouse warming and climate change
        2. To study the global effect of climate change on sea level, food production, water resources, etc.
        3. Has established itself as the state of the art repository of data and of the interpretation of that data. Well regarded and trusted by a vast majority of the climate science community.
        4. UN Framework Convention on Climate Change  (Slides 15- 17)
          1. Signing of this treaty began at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992.
          2. To consider what can be done to reduce global warming and to cope with whatever temperature increases are inevitable.
          3. Recognized that climate system is a shared resource.
          4. Kyoto Protocol is an addition to the treaty
          5. Climate Change Secretariat is located in Bonn, Germany (since 1996)
          6. Coordinates with the IPCC and the GEF.
          7. Major agreement on Carbon Equity: idea that per capita emissions should be more equitable across the world.  Right now USA is way higher than all the rest of the world.
          8. More info is at:                         
  4. Q:  What are some important actions to be taken within countries?       
  5. Climate change – need to change over to Carbon-neutral sources:
    1. Cap and trade of Carbon dioxide
      1. Will only work if Carbon is properly monetized
      2. Money collected will need to be invested in clean energy technology.  
      3. Need to keep financial institutions out of it.
      4. Building codes
        1. New construction will be more energy efficient.
        2. Include energy costs in mortgage requirements.
        3. To encourage sellers to improve houses before selling.
      5. Transportation (cars, specifically)
        1. Governments can use their purchasing power to bring new technology to the market.
        2. Then increase the requirements for millage.

Q:  How could/does the UN encourage these actions?

Sustainability Lesson 6 Reading Discussion

Time: 30 minutes
Skills: n/a
Objective 1
Related Resources:
- Ecosystems and human well-being: Opportunities and Challenges for Business and Industry a synthesis report of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. (2003). Retrieved from: 
- French, Hilary. (2000). Vanishing Borders: Protecting the Planet in the Age of Globalization. W.W. Norton & Co., New York, Chap 9 and 10. 257 pp.

Optionally, one could shorten the lecture and use class time for a discussion of the main reading.

Sustainability Lesson 6 Group Activity on Millenium Ecosystem Project

Time: 30 minutes
Skills: Holistic Thinking
Objectives 1, 2 and 4
Related Resources:
- Ecosystems and human well-being: Opportunities and Challenges for Business and Industry a synthesis report of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. (2003). Retrieved from:

Divide students into groups of 3-5 with each an assigned a role:

  • An international group of business leaders
  • An international group of officials from the UN’s environmental agencies
  • An international group of members of environmentalist NGOs
  • An international group of governmental leaders
  • An international group of residents of “Spaceship Earth” who are not in one of the above groups 

In your group, discuss the following and develop an action plan that you could share with the class.

  • What are your group’s major goals, and how do these intersect with environmental problems?
  • What factors motivate your group to engage in environmental protections?  What are some of the obstacles, including possible differences within your group?
  • How could you overcome these?
  • How could you persuade members of the other groups to collaborate?