22 May 2024
Transformative Learning: Eco Ambassadors Solutions Lab
Photo Credit: SDSN
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Every year, the SDGs Today team at the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, in partnership with the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University, organizes the Eco Ambassadors Solutions Lab.

​​The global program offers free virtual training that equips middle and high school students with skills in geographic information systems, data analysis, digital storytelling, and citizen science while introducing them to a deep understanding of the SDGs.

By Maryam Rabiee, Head of SDGs Today, UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network

In the pursuit of sustainable solutions to mitigate the impacts of climate change, a pressing question persists: Are we equipping the next generation of decision makers currently navigating complex and interconnected climate challenges with adequate knowledge and skills?

Discussions at the 2023 UN Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC COP 28) in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) covered a myriad of topics spanning from the integration of artificial intelligence (AI) for real-time monitoring of environmental change to multisectoral partnerships needed to form better policies, to opportunities for access to education for sustainable development and climate change awareness among youth. An important theme emerged throughout these discussions regarding the flow of knowledge and information between the global North and South, and the imperative to understand events and systems that result in the disproportionate impact of climate change on low-income countries (LICs) and middle-income countries (MICs) and vulnerable populations.

Our team was encouraged by the discussions and the need to continue our efforts in creating a platform for youth engagement, centered on education on the SDGs and climate challenges, harnessing data and technologies, and fostering local solutions.

Every year, the SDGs Today team at the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), in partnership with the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University, organizes the Eco Ambassadors Solutions Lab (EASL), a global program offering free virtual training that equips middle and high school students with skills in geographic information systems (GIS), data analysis, digital storytelling, and citizen science while introducing them to a deep understanding of the SDGs. This program fosters knowledge exchange across diverse regions and the creation of a dynamic network of experts and youth dedicated to addressing sustainability challenges at local and global levels.

The EASL offers biweekly live virtual training sessions spanning 6-8 weeks. These sessions include lectures covering the program’s overarching theme, technical training in data analysis and GIS, and group discussions on formulating data-driven solutions. Throughout the program, students engage in the development of their final projects, which are presented in an ArcGIS StoryMap at the end of the program. This data-driven storytelling tool enables them to present a narrative that is interactive and accessible to their peers, community members, decision makers, and other audiences. With the knowledge and tools acquired during the learning process and supported by our network of experts, students share their knowledge and experiences and develop action-oriented plans to tackle sustainability challenges within their communities.

The program aims to increase impact by an innovative learning experience focused on three key priorities:

  • Cross-regional knowledge exchange: Sustainable development is interconnected geographically, thematically, and historically, highlighting the interplay between environmental, social, and economic factors globally. Our program strives to provide a creative space where students from diverse locations can exchange knowledge and experiences regarding shared challenges, share insights on the cause and impact of climate shocks, and collaboratively devise locally tailored solutions.
  • Technology Integration: Given rapid advancements in emerging technologies like AI, we believe it important to incorporate discussions on various tools and applications into our program. With a specific focus on geospatial data and analysis, we provide students access to ArcGIS and technical training, allowing them to conduct geo-analysis and visualization activities for their projects.
  • Solution-driven advocacy: Our goal is to encourage students to develop solutions that can inform decision-making processes at the school, community, or city level. We’ve witnessed numerous instances of students engaging with local decision makers, catalyzing positive change within their communities and schools. Furthermore, our program has inspired students to pursue degrees and careers dedicated to advancing sustainable development.

Since its inception in 2021, the EASL has overseen engagement from over 50 locations, facilitating peer knowledge exchange, collaboration on joint projects, and implementation of solutions within schools. Throughout the years, students have led various projects, such as investigating the impact of food waste management on their school environment and proposing solutions for improved recycling practices. In one instance, a student created an off-grid rainwater harvesting system that could be replicated by neighbors. Another student designed a food composting prototype, in an effort to inspire community-wide composting efforts.

Registration for the 2024 Eco Ambassadors Solutions Lab is open until 10 June 2024. This year’s program focuses on oceans, rivers, and microplastics. We invite creative and motivated middle and high school students who are passionate about environmental sustainability and are eager to develop innovative solutions to address the challenges facing our local water ecosystems. More information about the program can be found on the UN SDG: Learn platform or our website.

SDG 4.7 aims to “ensure all learners acquire knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development.” We hope inclusive and transformative learning experiences remain central to future UN Climate Change Conferences. Our teams continue to offer youth platforms to share indigenous knowledge and their solutions and form partnerships to expand student access to such experiences and advocate for inclusive and quality education on sustainable development. It is crucial to support learners who are already making decisions that will significantly impact the future sustainability of both people and the planet.

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