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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
other members to be confirmed

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.


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 6: Clean Water and Sanitation: currently being restructured
  • 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 800 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 practises 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 820 actions from 1186+ HEIs and 274 Organizations globally (May 2021).

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) will be held from Monday, 10 July, to Wednesday, 19 July 2023, under the auspices of the Economic and Social Council. This includes 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 will be on Thursday, 20 July 2023.

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

In the forum, participants will be able to further discuss the effective and inclusive recovery measures to address the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and explore actionable policy guidance for the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs at all levels.

The HLPF in 2023, without prejudice to the integrated, indivisible and interlinked nature of the SDGs, will also review 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 <<<

2023 HESI Global Forum on 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. Learn more about the hybrid event, programme, and registration here.

Workshop on the University and the sustainable city
As in previous years, IAU is planning to hold a virtual workshop as part of the UN DESA 2023 SDGs Learning, Training and Practice Workshops. This year’s event will focus 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.
Confirmation of date and more details to follow shortly

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.


IAU advocates for the key role of higher education for sustainable development and Agenda 2030 and high-level events such as the UN-HLPF, at UNESCO conferences and other global events with its Members and partners.


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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