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[RIO DE JANEIRO] Educational institutions around the world have signed up to a framework for promoting teaching methods that help students acquire the knowledge and skills needed to build a more sustainable society.

The Higher Education Sustainability Initiative for Rio+20 was launched during a side event at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Brazil.

The declaration for the initiative was signed by 257 education institutions from 52 countries.

It states that leaders of higher education institutions — including chancellors, presidents, rectors and deans — have agreed to support teaching sustainable development concepts and "ensuring that they form a part of the core curriculum across all disciplines".

This article is part of our coverage of preparations for Rio+20 — the UN Conference on Sustainable Development — which takes place on 20-22 June 2012. For other articles, go to Science at Rio+20

Other mainstays within the initiative's five action areas include encouraging research on sustainable development issues, enhancing the diffusion and transfer of knowledge, including new innovative technologies, and taking action to make campuses greener.

Educational leaders will also support sustainability efforts in the communities surrounding their institutions, and engage with and share results through international frameworks such as the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (DESD) so as "to exchange knowledge and experiences and to report regularly on progress and challenges".

"We decided to launch it now to use the momentum of Rio+20," Alexander Leicht, chief of the Section of Education for Sustainable Development at UNESCO (the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), told SciDev.Net.

Several institutions have already started thinking about how to incorporate the declaration into their practices, Leicht said.

He gave as an example the Sao Paulo Business School in Brazil, which has proposed to encourage the adoption of sustainable approaches by faculties and students in coursework and final projects. Egypt's Cairo University plans to include environmental studies in its undergraduate and postgraduate curricula, and Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia plans to develop a sustainability strategy for 2013–2017.

Leicht encouraged other educational institutions to adopt the declaration, noting that participation would not necessarily entail any additional costs. "There are many sustainable development activities and themes that you can integrate into the curriculum starting tomorrow", he said.

"For example, in geography you can discuss urbanisation and North–South inequities. And even in mathematics, through different exercises you can teach students using sustainable development-related examples, such as calculating carbon emissions.

"This is one of our main arguments: that there are many entry points for sustainable development within educational institutions and curricula."

The declaration was organised by UN DESD, on behalf of UN Academic Impact, UN Environmental Programme (UNEP), UNESCO, the UN Global Compact, UN Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME), and the UN University.

Link to the Higher Education Sustainability Initiative for Rio+20 declaration

This article is part of our coverage on Science at Rio+20. Read more in our live blog.