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Higher Education and Research for Sustainable Development (HESD)

Future well-being of humanity and the planet depends on successful resolution of the interconnected challenges of economic, social, cultural, and environmental sustainability. Since 1993, IAU advocates for the key role higher education plays in achieving sustainable development. IAU’s actions in support of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development provide a framework for universities to develop inter-institutional collaboration in pursuit of sustainable development. The aim is to assist higher education leaders wishing to embed sustainable development concepts and principles in strategic planning, academic and organizational work.


  • Encourage peer-to-peer learning using IAU global network of higher education leaders
  • Monitor trends, develop and share expertise on the Sustainable Development Goals
  • Foster whole institution approaches at the leadership level to integrate sustainable development priorities
  • Provide leadership training, capacity building and networking services

Have a look at the IAU HESD Flyer



IAU represents the voice of its Members globally, develops guidelines for embedding sustainable development in higher education and research and provides analyzes of global and regional trends on institutional approaches to sustainable development.

>> To learn more about IAU Policy Statements and the Global Surveys on HESD, go to RESOURCES.


- The IAU global HESD Cluster brings together IAU Members who work together in teaching, research and campus and community engagement activities to share knowledge, develop expertise, joint projects and recommendations on how higher education contributes to addressing the global goals set in Agenda 2030.
>> To learn more about the IAU global HESD Cluster, please go to IAU GLOBAL CLUSTER ON HESD.

- IAU is a key partner of the UNESCO GAP ESD, which ended in 2019. IAU is involved in the follow-up programme ESD for 2030, which was launched at the UNESCO World Conference on Education for Sustainable Development in May 2021.
>> IAU collaborates with international and national entities and sits on several committees to advance cooperation and foster HESD.


- The IAU Global Portal maps institutional initiatives and showcases best practices on sustainable development from around the world. It includes more than 800 higher education institutions.
>> To learn more about the IAU Global portal on HESD, go to GLOBAL PORTAL

- The IAU developed a series of joint Publications on HESD, each time focusing specifically on a particular SDG.
>> To learn more about the IAU SDG Publication Series, go to RESOURCES.

The working group, composed of IAU Administrative Board members, provides advice on the strategic direction in HESD. A new working group is currently being elected after the IAU General Conference in October 2022 in Dublin and the election of the IAU Board. IAU thanks the HESD Working Group 2016-2022 for their support and expertise.


Jouhaina Gherib, President, University of Manouba, Tunisia

Salim Daccache, Rector, Saint Joseph University of Beirut, Lebanon
Yoshiaki Terumichi, President, Sophia University, Japan
Pam Fredman, IAU Immediate Past President
Nomeda Gudelienė, Advisor to Deputy Rector on Sustainable Development, Mykolas Romeris University, Lithuania

IAU Secretariat
- Hilligje van't Land, Secretary General, International Association of Universities
- Isabel Toman, Programme Officer, International Association of Universities


To enhance international cooperation in HESD, IAU cooperates with various key partners and sits on several committees.
Click on each partner to learn more about our cooperation:

UNESCO ESD for 2030

Copernicus Alliance

Energy Observer


Green Gown Awards

Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie

Association of Commonwealth Universities



Launched in 2018, the IAU Cluster on HESD promotes the role of higher education institutions in building more sustainable societies. It is a consortium of IAU Member universities from all parts of the world, working in collaboration to develop existing and new exciting initiatives to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by all United Nations Member States in the framework of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The Cluster encourages a holistic approach to the SDGs, promoting the whole institution approach, where institutions aim to embed sustainable development in their strategic planning, academic and organizational work.


Each of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals is assigned an institutional team leader, joined by a group of Satellite Universities. IAU is responsible for leading the work on SDG 17 - Partnerships for the goals.
IAU and the 16 lead institutions, together with their satellite universities, are acting as the voice for higher education at the United Nations’ High-Level Political Forum. Through this international cooperation, the project has the most global outreach than any other project in the field.

Read the latest IAU HESD Cluster Activity Report (2022-23) here to discover:

- The latest updates from all 16 Cluster Leads
- Updates from the IAU on work towards SDG 17: Partnerships for the SDGs
- Information from various Cluster Satellites
- Good practices and initiatives to replicate


Discover the Members of the IAU Global Cluster on HESD !
Click on each SDG to learn more about the lead institution and its initiatives on the IAU HESD Portal

  • SDG 17: Partnerships for the Goals: International Association of Universities (IAU)

The full list of IAU HESD Cluster Leads and Satellites, as well as examples for Cluster actions, can be found here.

If you wish to get involved in the activities of the IAU Global Cluster on Higher Education and Sustainable Development, please contact Isabel Toman, IAU Programme Officer for HESD. Please indicate your institution’s name, and contact details and do not hesitate to provide information on the existing and/or future initiatives towards sustainable development at your institution!



IAU developed a dedicated portal on Higher Education and Research for Sustainable Development:

This global portal presents IAU’s strategy to support sustainable development in higher education, reports on all IAU activities in the the field, provides useful resources about sustainable development in higher education and maps more than 1000 inspiring initiatives implemented by higher education institutions and organizations to reach the SDGs.|

The Higher Education and Research for Sustainable Development (HESD) global portal is a tool developed by the International Association of Universities; it provides access to actions and initiatives developed around the world to promote sustainability. It showcases best practices of universities and higher education institutions worldwide. Actions include student initiatives, Living Labs, Green Campuses, faculties engaged in sustainable development, and leadership initiatives.

The portal is searchable by Sustainable Development Goal (SDG), type of initiative, organisation/HEI and area of work. Currently, the portal lists over 480 News items , more than 1200 actions from 1100 HEIs and 200 Organizations globally (July 2023).

If you wish to add your higher education institution, action, or news to the portal, please contact Isabel Toman.



The High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) is the yearly conference of the United Nations where governments, UN Agencies and civil society come together to discuss the achievements that have been made towards the 2030 Agenda and SDGs.

HLPF 2023
The High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) was held from Monday, 10 July, to Wednesday, 19 July 2023, under the auspices of the Economic and Social Council. This included the three-day ministerial segment of the forum from Monday, 17 July, to Wednesday, 19 July 2023 as part of the High-level Segment of the Council. The last day of the High-level Segment of ECOSOC was on Thursday, 20 July 2023.

The theme was "Accelerating the recovery from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at all levels”.

The HLPF in 2023, without prejudice to the integrated, indivisible and interlinked nature of the SDGs, also reviewed in-depth Goals 6 on clean water and sanitation, 7 on affordable and clean energy, 9 on industry, innovation and infrastructure, 11 on sustainable cities and communities, and 17 on partnerships for the Goals.

>>> List of UN HLPF 2023 events with IAU participation <<<

SDG 11: Progress, challenges, lessons learned and tools for sustainable transformation of cities - 14 July

As in previous years, IAU’s proposal to hold a virtual workshop as part of the UN DESA 2023 SDGs Learning, Training and Practice Workshops was successful. This year’s event focused on SDG 11: Sustainable Cities, and in particular the role of universities in contributing to a sustainable city and building partnerships with local actors and communities.

Partners: Sustainable Cities Institute (Brazil), World Blind Union (WBU), UNIBO and University of Paris Saclay.

Session 9, 8.30am-10.00am ET/ 2.30pm-4pm CEST (Session description here)
More information and Recording here

2023 HESI Global Forum - 17 July

The Higher Education Sustainability Initiative (HESI) is a partnership between several United Nations entities and the higher education community, currently chaired by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA). IAU and many other UN agencies, associations, and higher education institutions are part of the HESI initiative. Each year, HESI organizes a global forum as a special event to the HLPF to highlight the critical role of higher education in achieving sustainable development.

17 July, 10am-1pm ET/ 4pm-7pm CEST (Conference Room 2, United Nations Headquarters, New York and virtual)
Learn more about the hybrid event, programme, and event recording here.

2023 International Green Gown Awards Ceremony - 17 July

The International Green Gown Awards Ceremony, took place virtually on 17 July. More information on this year’s finalists and registration available here.
IAU is pleased to be a longstanding partner of HESI and the IGGAs.

Community and Partnership Based Approaches to Capacity Building in the Water Sector - 18 July

Recognizing that research, knowledge transfer, and community engagement are essential for the achievement of all of the Sustainable Development Goals, and that SDG 6 is under review at this year’s HLPF, the "How we know what we know about water: Community and partnership-based approaches to capacity building in the water sector" side event, which took place on July 18, 8am-9.30 ET, 2pm-3.30pm CEST explored best practices in water sector capacity building from around the world, including a focus on partnerships (with educational institutions, local governments, NGOs, etc.) as an accelerator for action.

The event brought together experts from across the global networks of the International Association of Universities, the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, and the Global Water Partnership, representing higher education, policy, and practice, who presented and discussed innovative approaches to, and the remaining needs of, capacity building in the sector.

The virtual event was co-organized by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), the Global Water Partnership (GWP) and the IAU.
More information on the concept note here.

IAU at the HLPF

IAU has Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) which enables participation in this High-Level event. While 2019 was the first year that IAU participated in the HLPF in New York (IAU secretariat with a delegation of 18 Members), in the years before IAU was represented by its Members (and in particular through the University of Bergen, Norway). Read about it in the 2019 HLPF Report. In 2020, 2021, and 2022, participation in the HLPF was virtual. Find out more about IAU’s participation in previous years by clicking on the boxes 2019, 2020 2021, and 2022 below.

Follow us for updates on the UN HLPF also here:


IAU provides research and monitors trends in order to help higher education institutions worldwide implement HESD.


>>> Mapping HESD worldwide – IAU HESD Global Portal

The IAU HESD portal is a tool accessible to all, spotlighting IAU Members’ and Partners’ contributions to the sustainable development goals. The aim is to generate synergies and networking around the world in favour of sustainable development. The portal features more than 1500 initiatives and counts some 3000 monthly visitors.

>>> Researching HESD trends

>>> Publications

IAU started a Series of Publication, one for each of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. The first one on SDG 13 (Climate Action) was released in July 2019, followed by a publication on SDG 5 (Gender Equality) published on the occasion of International Women’s Day in March 2021. In November 2021, a special collection of papers on Higher Education and SDG 16 (Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions) resulting from a paper competition for young scholars with UNODC/E4J was released. Also in 2021, the work on a publication for SDG 14 (Life below water) with the University of Bergen was completed.


The International Association of Universities (IAU) has advocated for the role universities and other higher education institutions (HEIs) have played in support of sustainable development since the early 1990s. Already in 1993, the IAU Kyoto Declaration called for higher education leaders to articulate better HE’s work to achieve a sustainable future. This was reaffirmed in 2014 with the IAU Iquitos Statement. IAU is one of the strongest advocates for the inclusion of higher education as a key stakeholder in achieving Agenda 2030 and the SDGs, including at high-level events such as the UN-HLPF, at UNESCO conferences and other global events with its Members and partners.

UNESCO ESD Net 2030 and recent UNESCO engagement

ESD for 2030 Global Network IAU was a key partner of the UNESCO GAP ESD, which ended in 2019. IAU is again a partner in the follow-up programme ESD for 2030, which was launched at the UNESCO World Conference on Education for Sustainable Development in May 2021. IAU actively participated at this 2021 ESD Conference, with IAU Secretary General Hilligje van’t Land and IAU Board Member and president, Siam University, Thailand Pornchai Mongkhonvanit, speaking in the expert panel on ‘Putting ESD into action: in higher education’. IAU supports the Berlin declaration and the ESD for 2030 Roadmap. In March 2023, IAU facilitated a UNESCO Webinar on on ESD Pedagogy, and in June 2023, IAU was invited to attend and speak at the ESD for 2030 Regional Meeting in Paris at UNESCO HQ.

UNESCO UNITWIN Chairs Conference November 2022
IAU attended the 2-day UNESCO UNITWIN Chairs Conference at UNESCO HQ in Paris, on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the programme which connects academics, HEIs and UNESCO’s work all over the globe. IAU Secretary General Hilligje van’t Land spoke on the plenary Responding to Multi-dimensional Crises: Implications for Research. She stressed the importance of collaboration in higher education for democracy, fairness, and inclusion to transform knowledge systems for the future, including the role of research to achieve this. IAU met with many UNESCO Chairholders that are also IAU Member representatives, as well as colleagues from UNESCO IESALC, IIEP, and other.

UN Transforming Education Summit 2022
Among the events in which theIAU participated were the UN Transforming Education pre-Summit (pre-TES) at UNESCO in Paris in June, and the UN TES at the UN Headquarters in New York in September. The IAU presented in both events as a partner to the session organised by the SDG Academyof the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), placing focus on the importance of sharing Open Educational Resources for SD to ensure proper circulation of knowledge around the world. While the Summit provided an important opportunity to mobilise support of governments across the world for the importance of investing in education, higher education unfortunately remains at the fringes of the conversations. The IAU thus continues to call for more specific attention to the higher education sector.

IAU was invited to co-organise a session on higher education and ESD at the UNESCO World Higher Education Conference (WHEC22) in May 2022 in Barcelona, Spain. The panel included experts from UNESCO and IAU Board members and partners.

IAU HESD Cluster Workshop 2022
After successful application for the 2020-2021 UNESCO Participation Programme, IAU was able to implement an expert workshop in March 2022 originally foreseen in 2021), which brought together over 81 participants including university leaders and researchers from 37 universities from 31 countries around the world taking part – with participation from 18 representatives from 6 LDC countries. During the 3-day virtual workshop, many aspects of Agenda 2030 were discussed, and the universities exchanged on good practices towards higher education’s contribution towards the SDGs, as well as elaborate two key documents for the future commitment of the IAU HESD cluster: A statement on the Joint vision from the IAU Higher Education for Sustainable Development (HESD) Cluster members and Strategy and Working Plan 2022-2024.

In 2021, IAU also supported its member universities in the creation of the UNITWIN Network on ESD and Social Transformation (UNiESD&ST).


IAU and its Member institutions are committed to working together towards a more sustainable future, including for SDG 13: Climate Action ahead of COP27. Key concepts are:
  • ESD: Education for Sustainable Development and the Greening Education Partnership (UNESCO)
  • ACE: Action for Climate Empowerment (UNFCCC)
  • CCE: Climate Change Education (MECCE)

Several initiatives are in place to stress the role of higher education in research, teaching, student and community engagement, and more at COP28. More information will be shared soon.

>>> IAU HESD Cluster on SDG 13

The University of the West Indies leads SDG 13: Climate Action in the global IAU HESD Cluster. It is located in the Caribbean with campuses in Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad & Tobago and hence in one of the regions already affected by climate change. The University has multiple initiatives focusing on sustainable development: the Climate Studies Group Mona (CSGM), Institute for Sustainable Development (ISD), the Centre for Resource Management and Environmental Studies (CERMES), and the cross-campus UWI Resilience Working Group (UWIRWG).

More information on their SDG13 Activities with the University Consortium on SDG 13 is available here.

>>> IAU Partners working on higher education and climate

UNESCO just launched the Greening Education Partnership and will be active again at COP28.

The MECCE Project, in which IAU is a partner, also send a delegation to COP 27 and is involved in discussions around ACE (Action for Climate Empowerment). More information on how MECCE is involved at COP27 is available on the MECCE website. Furthermore, MECCE launched an interactive data platform on CCE around the globe.

The Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU), a close partner of IAU for HESD. The ACU Commonwealth Futures Climate Research Cohort was created in the lead-up to COP26 with an aim to accelerate knowledge transfer across the Commonwealth. The Cohort will be continued, more information on the ACU and BC Cohort is available here.

SOS-UK is a student-led education charity focusing on sustainability. SOS is represented at the COP and involved in various activities.

The Global University Climate Forum brings student activists together to share ideas, learn, connect, and act on the global imperative of addressing climate change. Offered in the context of the global climate negotiations, this program challenges student teams around the world to propose ideas for local-scale projects that will yield measurable results over the course of six months. Accepted teams become a cohort that learns together, networks, shares ideas, and contributes to a growing body of inspirational projects that demonstrate the capacity of today’s youth to lead and have an impact. An outcome publication is to be presented at the COP.

Second Nature organised several events for and with higher education at COP27 here .

The Higher Education Sustainability Initiative (HESI).
Universities and individuals can sign on to the SDG Accord and "Race to Zero" commitments. More information here.

Updates on general COP negotiations can also be found on the UNFCCC page here.


>>> IAU Policy Statements on HESD & supported declarations

>>> Letter from the President of the United Nations General Assembly (2017)
H.E. Mr. Peter Thomson, Former President of the United Nations General Assembly, reached out to the IAU to call on all leaders of higher education institutions to embrace the sustainable development goals. The Association disseminated the UN letter to all IAU Members and Partners worldwide.

>>> Open Letter to COP21 Ministers and Governments (2015)
On 1 December 2015, a global alliance of higher education sustainability networks, including the IAU, representing more than 3,000 universities and colleges worldwide, jointly issued an Open Letter urging Ministers and Governments to acknowledge and strengthen the research and education role that universities and colleges play in addressing climate change.

>>> Rio+20 People’s Sustainability Treaty on Higher Education (2012)
A partnership of over 30 agencies, organizations and associations, led by Copernicus Alliance and the IAU, developed the Higher Education People’s Sustainability Treaty to influence Rio + 20 dialogues.

Isabel Toman

NGO in official partnership with UNESCO in associate status
International Association of Universities, UNESCO House, 1 rue Miollis, 75732 Paris cedex 15, France
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