Scholarly Technical Education Publication Series (STEPS) Vol. 1

Regional Cooperation and Linkages for a Greener Economy and the Role of TVET


    Dr. Mohammad Naim Yaakub
    Director General
    Colombo Plan Staff College for Technician Education (CPSC)
    [email protected]


The negative impact of unsustainable development require governments and organizations to collectively respond with roadmaps in which cooperation is the key to faster integration and reinforcement of values, beliefs and strategies to create a better environment for everyone on this planet. This paper explores the different perspectives of international cooperation in transforming TVET to meet the challenges of the green economy in the region. The discussions tackle concepts and ideas suitable for the current scenario of the region, as well as suggested directions in greening TVET. Lastly, it provides a glimpse of regional and international initiatives that will serve as a stepping stone for a greener, environmentally sustainable economy through sound TVET operations and policies.

Keywords: green economy, regional cooperation, education for sustainable development in TVET


Climate change and environmental degradation from human actions are largely controversial issues hounding the present policymakers, sparking innumerable conferences and talks to reverse the trends of environmental destruction. Efforts made so far seem insufficient in reversing this trend, as the world increases the consumption and degradation of its natural resources, as evidenced below.

  1. The world’s energy consumption increased by five percent in 2010 fueled by the demand from developing countries particularly China and India. Coal and Oil accounted for 33 and 27 percent of consumption respectively, with the latter posting a steady growth in the share of energy sources.
  2. The proportion of urban population is dramatically increasing. The urban population in 1900 was 13 percent, it rose to 29 percent in 1950, 49 percent in 2005 and projected at 60 percent by 2030. Although this enables easier mobility of goods and services, and perceived better quality of life, ill effects like the urban heat island, a major contributor for global warming, is very imminent.
  3. Rising carbon dioxide emission levels is directly contributing to global warming. Currently, there are no signs of slowing down as developing countries increase their consumption of fuel for their respective economies.
  4. Poor countries are likely to bear the heaviest brunt in abrupt changes in climate, as it may alter agriculture-related activities and livelihoods, promoting widespread hunger and unrests. The increase in disasters poses a grave threat in reconstruction, rehabilitation and sustenance of the almost subsistence economies of these countries.

The realization of the imminent consequences that environmental problems may bring if not addressed in a long-term manner, unites all sectors in the society to formulate their ideas, researches and opinions in making a sustainable, environmentally-future a possible reality. TVET is no exemption on these initiatives, for its operations and by-products contribute largely to the environmental problems we have been seeing today. With this, the call for a Green TVET is growing in resonance as the administrators, organization and concerned TVET experts work hand-in-hand to streamline operations to accommodate the needs of the environment.

Education and TVET as a Key to Embrace Sustainable Development

The most common concept of sustainable development is defined by the Brundlandt Commission (as cited in Drexhage and Murphy, 2010) as “A development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their own need. Sustainable development is increasingly being lobbied as a battle cry by development advocates as a suited policy direction for the world today, given its ills and problems, and education and training is key to an orchestrated effort towards achieving this, as highlighted by the 1987 Brundtland Commission.

The goal of achieving sustainable development practices gave rise to summits and meetings organized by the United Nations specifically convening countries towards the agreement of integrating sustainable development in their economic and social agenda. In response, the World Summit on Sustainable Development reaffirmed this commitment and recommended to the United Nations General Assembly the establishment of a United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (DESD, 2005-2014), which clearly recognizes the increased need to integrate sustainable development issues and principles into education and learning at all levels. Thus, while education clearly is not a sufficient condition in itself for achieving sustainable development, it is certainly a necessary condition.

Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) and TVET

The ESD approach was conceptualized by UNESCO as a way to integrate all the pillars of education with the promotion of sustainable development. Among other things, ESD promotes a sense of both local and global responsibility, encourages future-oriented, anticipatory thinking, builds recognition of global interdependence and emphasizes cultural changes that embrace the values of sustainable development. Rather than remaining passive in the face of the above-mentioned challenges, ESD seeks to empower societies, communities and individuals everywhere to shape their future actively and responsibly. ESD raises interesting questions, for example, about learning how to generate creative solutions to current global challenges; about reflecting on new lifestyles which combine well-being, quality of life and respect for nature and other people; and about considering the viewpoints of people from different countries about what sustainability means in practice.

TVET for sustainable development seeks to provide a new image and direction for TVET besides from it being just a “mere supplier” of skilled labor to industry. In order to reconcile these two concepts, Majumdar (2009) suggests the need to reorient the TVET curriculum towards the “6R” principles namely: Reuse, Reduce, Renew, Recycle, Repair and Rethink; in order to say that TVET education is heading towards sustainability. Moreover, it has three pillars based on three concepts: (1) a change of the “business as usual” approach to “sustainable development approach” through the wise and practical usage of resources, (2) economic sustainability which requires a different and wider set of economically related knowledge skill and attitude for production, management and consumption of goods and services and (3) social sustainability, which involves ensuring that the basic needs of people regardless of classification are satisfied.

The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) summit held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil from June 3-4, 1992 has pointed out the importance of a sustainable development practice in education and its integration at all levels, either formal or informal. This landmark recognition has started several campaigns to increase the awareness for adopting sustainable development at all levels, with the most important being the UN’s establishment of the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development from 2005-2014 with the primary goal of making Sustainable Development a central policy for education and training for all sectors, an outcome of the World Summit on Sustainable Development held at Johannesburg, South Africa from August 26-September 2, 2002.

Regional Cooperation Initiatives for the Green Economy

The Asia-Pacific region, being the largest and one of the most economically diverse in the planet, has forwarded some important initiatives in sparking a collective action towards the reorientation of TVET towards the green economy.

Green Economy in the Asia-Pacific Region

The green economy is born out of multiple crises and accelerating resource scarcity through the creation of an economic paradigm that can drive growth of income and jobs without creating environmental risks, and has strategies to end the persistence of poverty. It is based on the working definition of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) as the distribution and consumption of goods and services that result in improved human well‐being over the long term, while not exposing future generations to significant environmental risks and ecological scarcities.

The Asia-Pacific region is increasingly being looked at as a hub for research and development for green solutions. This is due to its innovation in technology, lowpriced manufacturing and services, and traditional knowledge and processes. Today, the region has the world’s third largest pool of scientists and engineers and has instilled confidence in the global market through its significant achievements in information technology, professional services and communications in the past decade. The past few years have seen a rise in green innovation and venture capital, with China, India, Malaysia and Korea being rated as among the most attractive countries for renewable energy investment.

If Asia-Pacific capitalizes upon the potential of green economy, not only would it promote a more sustainable and cleaner environment, but also the region’s economy would see the generation of hundreds and thousands of downstream jobs. Asia-Pacific is in a unique position to create a low-carbon green economy. It is on a high path of growth. However, there is a lot to create more infrastructure, services and jobs. It is the TVET programs and support from industry that will shape the outlook of the region; if they choose to incorporate environmental sustainability into their business, although immediate costs may be higher in some instances, they will sustain their business economically.

Some of the initiatives and practices being adopted in the region in environmentally sound practices are presented Table 1.

Green Jobs

Green jobs, as defined by the International Labor Organization (2008) refer to employment in any industry that contributes to preserving or restoring environmental quality in that sector and allowing for sustainable development. Specifically, but not exclusively, this includes jobs that help protect ecosystems and biodiversity; reduce energy, materials, and water consumption through high efficiency strategies; de-carbonize the economy; and minimize (or altogether avoid) generation of all forms of waste and pollution.

Green jobs encourage the following activities: (1) the adaptation and mitigation of resources, (2) contribution in preserving environmental quality, (3) promotion in protecting ecosystems and biodiversity, (4) leadership in reducing energy, materials and water consumption, (5) de-carbonization of the economy and encouragement of the reduction of pollution and wastes. On the other hand, green employment practices encourages the use energy-efficient materials in building materials and maintenance, Proper solid waste management, controlled water supply and reduction of CO2 and the use of green technology.

Table 1: Asian Initiatives Towards the Adoption of Clean and Green Technology

Source: Asia-Pacific Partnership on Green Development and Climate (2011)

The different organizations concerned with labor and employment have seen the adoption of green jobs as a sure direction towards addressing the issues brought by the recent challenges of economic development and its imminent halt due to climate change and environmental degradation. Thus, the International Labor Organization (2008) launched the Green Jobs Initiative as a way to promote green jobs as an alternative to address pressing issues like poverty, unemployment and economic disparity. Alongside organizations such as the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), the International Employers Organization (IOE) and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), this initiative was created as a way to encourage government action in the mobilization of stakeholders to come up with effective programs that will lead to the green economy. The program concentrates on six priorities such as (1) Analysis of the employment and labor market conditions, (2) practical approaches to greening enterprises, (3) Green jobs in waste management and recycling, (4) renewable energy and energy efficiency, (5) a just transition towards a green economy and a sustainable society and (6) adaptation to climate change.

ILO has pointed out that the creation of green jobs will spark the initiatives for a green economy. Its conclusions on the 2008 meeting was that the green economy should feature the following:

  1. Meet new skill needs as part of mitigation and adaptation efforts
  2. Support a fair transition to more sustainable production, and
  3. Sustain a dynamic development process through: adjusting training supply to demands of new technologies, products, energy efficiency, etc.

So far, this ILO initiative has already assisted India, Nepal, China, Laos, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, Fiji and the Philippines in sectors that have a high impact and contribution to the local economy. This ranges from green jobs creation for energy and heavy industry in China and Sri Lanka to the green enterprise development in Thailand and India.

The research conference on Niigata, Japan held on April 21-23, 2011 served as an initial outcome of this initiative in the region. It attempted to explore the new concepts and approaches being done in the region in terms of the promotion of green jobs. The conference provided inputs to the ILO contribution to the 2008 G8 Ministers Meeting hosted by Japan. Some of the important policy messages that were provided are:

  1. The inter-relationship between the environmental, economic and social dimensions of climate change and other policies is needed to be put on a political map
  2. New opportunities for employment and social well-being can be obtained through green growth and mitigating the effects of climate change
  3. Arresting the drastic effects of climate change and green growth depends on the creation of enterprises and jobs that promote environmental wellbeing
  4. The labor markets and the institutions in the region should always be prepared for these changes
  5. Attention must be given for the “clean development” through social and economic equity
  6. Coherent policies should be promoted to engage and empower actions.

Recently, a conference serving as a platform to initiate a healthy discussion and information exchange on the green jobs opportunity was held in the Philippines in line with the ILO’s initiative. With the theme of “promoting green jobs and decent work through exclusive growth”, the first Philippine Green Jobs Conference held in Manila last August 15-16, 2011 convened more than 300 participants who discussed about the climate change effects, the world of work and the identification of new jobs, skills and competencies that will ensure change from the conventional employment practices to a more environmentally stable approach. This session resulted in a collective call for action to pursue the green jobs initiative not only in the Philippines but also in the regional and international scope.

Inter-Regional Initiatives

The Rio Declaration on the Environment and Development, or the 1992 Rio Declaration, has indicated in one of its 27 principles that “The right to development must be fulfilled so as to equitably meet developmental and environmental needs of the present and future generations”. This has sparked the creation of the Commission on Sustainable Development to ensure the effective implementation of this agreement at all levels. It also led to the agreement of the Climate Change Convention, which in effect led to the creation the Kyoto Protocol.

Throughout the years after this summit, the world has seen several conferences on climate changes that have promised landmark developments in guaranteeing a sustainable future. The Kyoto Protocol agreed in 1997, for example, has imposed a mandatory reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to 37 developed countries by 5.2 percent from the 1992 level.

The idea has been met with mixed results. Developed countries in the region have managed a 4% reduction in the emission of greenhouse gases (GHG) as compared with the 1990 levels. This is due to the efforts placed by these countries on the creation of emission schemes such as the following:

Table 2: Implementation of the Emissions Trading Program

Source: United Nations Framework on Climate Change (2011)

Some critics argue that the emissions trading scheme is not a radical solution to an increasing climate change problem since it requires nothing less than the “reorganization of the society and technology that will leave most of the remaining fossil fuels underground”. Weak points such as “perverse incentives” or incentives that will actually cause the reverse of what is targeted to be achieved are also included in the criticisms.

The Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate, also known as the APP, was formed by Australia, Canada, India, Japan, China, South Korea and the United States on July 28, 2005. The basis of this formation was through a shared vision of “advancing clean development and climate objectives” through the building of existing bilateral and multilateral initiatives to increase cooperation in terms of meeting needs and challenges associated with growing energy demands in accordance with national objectives.

This partnership brings an alternative to the Kyoto Protocol, which imposes mandatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions. This partnership encourages member countries to accelerate the development and deployment of technologies promoting clean and green procurement of energy without mandatory enforcements. Although supporters have hailed the partnership as “overcoming the impasse between developed and developing countries”, environmentalists criticized it as a mere” public relations ploy” (Rustin, 2011). This is due to the non-imposition of mandatory targets and incentives as presented in the Kyoto protocol. The criticism was again highlighted on the fact that none of the signatories have lowered greenhouse gas emissions. Despite these, proponents have lauded a record of promoting collaboration with the governments and private sector in key collaborative projects on developing the key energy sectors and activities.

Key Points and Lessons from the Copenhagen Accord

The Copenhagen Accord of 2009, in continuance to the Kyoto Protocol, has recognized the different hazards posed by the climate change and has reiterated the call for increased support of the developed countries to Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS); both groups severely affected by changes in climate.

It specifically targets to forward initiatives such as the developed countries’ allocation of almost 30 Billion USD for the new and additional resources in establishing the Copenhagen Green Climate Fund to support the projects, programs and other activities placed by the developing countries to limit carbon emissions. In turn, plans for the restructured multilateral funding, with the structure towards good governance and management, will be delivered.

Several critics have labeled the Copenhagen Accord as “serving the interests of the few economies, particularly the US and China”. Similarly some accusations that there are still no decisions for the creation of a legally binding successor to the Kyoto Protocol and the lack of an international approach to technology have hounded the conference.

The failure of the Copenhagen accord brings a new perspective on the responsibility of preventing the ill effects of climate change. Many critics say that the emissions of developed countries are still lopsided and the Copenhagen Accord will bring a more “unfair” sharing of the carbon budget. It also encourages countries to resume negotiations in agreeing to a multilateral track without any motive for political or economic self-gain.

Transforming TVET for a Greener Economy

TVET influences policy shifts towards sustainable development since it plays a major role in the development of the workforce that utilizes resources. This forges the role of TVET in upholding the recommendations of the United Nations in terms of developing a green economy as a future direction.

The examples above show that that governments and organizations in the AsiaPacific region are taking massive steps in achieving a green economy through stronger ties and wider understanding on its scope and strategies. However, TVET has to have a major involvement in this initiative, being a major supplier of skills and training initiatives to the emerging workforce.

The International Forum on Vocational-Technical Education held on November 17-19, 2008 at Hangzhou, China recognized the “paramount necessity” of TVET improvement and has called several measures to make TVET a catalyst to transform the vast potential of human resources in the region. It has forwarded the following recommendations in view of this call:

  1. TVET should encourage and implement political will and commitment of national governments so it can assume a unique and key role in ensuring the provision of education.
  2. The image, values and attitude towards TVET must continually be enhanced.
  3. Reform TVET based on the recommendations from the UN Millennium Development Goals and Education for Sustainable Development Concepts.
  4. TVET should strive to provide lifelong learning and a lifetime upgrade of knowledge in the age of rapid technological advancement.
  5. Closer international partnership and linkages between TVET and the industry must be pursued, as well as the public-private cooperation and initiatives.
  6. Competency-based TVET should be emphasized as a clear need to develop individual learning, relevance and efficient use of resources.
  7. Entrepreneurship and entrepreneurship training must be promoted to facilitate the development of knowledge.
  8. Networking between TVET institutions and other countries across the region should be greatly encouraged to facilitate institutional development.
  9. . The assistance of organizations such as the UNESCO-UNEVOC will play a key role in providing the needs for TVET reform and expansion.

Although this is one of the important regional responses to make TVET practices sustainable, there is still a need to reinvent it towards the greener direction. Thus, the Colombo Plan Staff College, an inter-regional organization for human resource development in the Asia-Pacific region, has continuously spearheaded ways to serve as a model of greening TVET through the launch of the “Green CPSC Program”. The college aims to serve as a model towards the green campus approach based from the five pillars of greening TVET.

Figure 2: The Five Pillars of Greening TVET
Source: Majumdar (2009)

In connection with this initiative, a conference on Education for Sustainable Development in TVET was held in Manila from November 2-3, 2010 organized by CPSC and its international partners IVETA and InWEnt (currently GIZ) from Germany. This initiative has recognized the need for TVET to pursue an environmentally sound direction through the inclusion of economic, cultural and social considerations to drive a more sustainable human resource path in its contribution to the green economy. In conclusion, the delegates representing 39 countries across the world, called to implement the following green TVET practices through the following recommendations:

  1. Recommend to integrate ESD in TVET as high in the international agenda
  2. Develop policies and strategies to integrate ESD in TVET system
  3. Mobilize a green TVET Framework to support socio-economic aspects in sustainable development
  4. Promote capacity building to integrate ESD in TVET systems
  5. Re-orient TVET curriculum and teacher education to integrate ESD at all levels of education
  6. Increase public awareness through seminars, conferences and workshops to promote ESD as an advocacy
  7. Strengthen networking and linkages to enhance multi-stakeholder partnership for evolving green TVET
  8. Promote evidence-based research, monitoring and evaluation strategies for ESD in TVET
  9. Develop clean and green technology programs to address the needs of the green economy
  10. Prioritize capacity building of trainers to increase investments in education for the youth in creating a strong foundation of society for sustainable development.

Challenges to Transform TVET for a Greener Economy

Despite the relevance of TVET in forwarding the cause of SD, it still remains locked up to the role of being a mere supplier of skilled labor to industry and is thereby unable to respond effectively to the needs of the sustainable development strategies (Majumdar, 2009). Thus, the challenges emerge centering on how professionals should transform TVET towards green economy while maintaining the principles of 6R: Reduce Reuse, Renew, Recycle, Repair and Rethink.

As the modern world evolves and adapts to the constant changes in lifestyle and perspectives, TVET is reinforced with the urgent need to invent and re-invent ways in infusing the concepts of green economy for sustainable development into the curriculum or diffusing GE principles from specific technical subject domains. As per Rosalyn McKeown of the Heinrich Boll Foundation (2002) some of the challenges and Barriers to SD are:

  • Increasing awareness: green economy is essential
  • Structuring and placing SD in TVET curriculum
  • Facing the complexity of sustainable development concept
  • Developing international and regional cooperation and networking in SD
  • Engaging traditional disciplines in a trans-disciplinary framework
  • Building teacher educator’s capacity
  • Developing instructional materials and resources
  • Developing TVET policy
  • Developing a creative, innovative and risk-taking climate in TVET institutions
  • Promoting sustainability as a popular culture in TVET schools

Future Directions for the Green Economy, TVET and Fostering International Cooperation

The cornerstone for a change in economic perspective is the shift in the reorientation of accustomed values, beliefs and evidence in finding the link between the multiple crises to unsustainable economic activities. This has to translate to all the stakeholders in the world’s economy, from the micro (individual) to the macro (policy makers and multinational corporations) levels.

There is also the need for the world’s most powerful economies like the members of the G8 and the G20 to support those developing countries that will be affected significantly by the changes in climate and its related effects through policies that can generate long-term solutions such as augmented balance-of-payments support, trade finance, lending by multilateral banks, and concessional finance to those countries that are really in need of economic intervention. Fiscal reforms, equitable distribution of resources and revitalized trade using environmentally sound technologies are some of the suggestions to bring a permanent, if not a long-term solution. These are the core requirements in establishing a green economy.

The report of the United Nations Environmental Program (2011) states that the shift towards the direction towards green economy requires education for sustainable development complemented by the provision of adequate health systems. It encourages governments to provide training on a range of skills for gainful jobs that can provide security and income stability to the world’s population. Furthermore, a focus must be given to underprivileged sectors like the children, women and the elderly, in integrating green economy for formal and informal education systems. This is the role that TVET policymakers should ponder in implementing their systems in their respective countries.

The first inter-sessional meeting for the 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development Meeting has set some landmark agreements for the formulation of sound policies to foster green growth with the nations. However, the reactions show that some countries see that their embarkation on the green economy perspectives is not feasible since they are still unfamiliar with the concepts and the activities that will fall under it. This position was then counteracted by Germany in saying that there is no mandatory path for the fulfillment of the green economy and an implementing mechanism will be a missing phase.

Some reassurances towards “green protectionism” have been forwarded with pledges that the adoption of the green economy will not mean the imposition of the barriers to trade and development. This has been some of the major concerns of developing countries since they may lack the necessary resources to meet the standards.

It has been suggested that promotion and development of green jobs can serve as a link between the green economy and economic development, poverty alleviation, and sound institutional framework. This has been suggested in the said conference, whereas these green jobs could serve as a proof that the green economy is a success. There still remains to be hope, as more substantive discussions on the implementation and financing of institutions that will develop the green economy, as well as proposals on structural matters were still in the working tables. This has been likened to an Indian parable about the blind men and the elephant, where the men-the different government policymakers, touch the elephant to see what it is like, they have a different perception about it. This perception is the green economy, and hopefully this will translate to greater consensus on its real form and purpose in championing sustainable development.

TVET, being a link between the present and the future workforce to skills and training, must continually reinvent itself as the green TVET. The first step towards this is the adaptation of a green index scheme that will set standards towards the acceptable criteria for determining green TVET operations. Ensuring a green TVET will translate to major efforts such as:

  1. Skilling and re-educating the workforce towards the green TVET
  2. Adoption of green practices in institutional operation and development
  3. . Integration of ESD principles in the training curriculum
  4. Encouragement of public-private linkages towards green innovations
  5. Continuous support for individuals and groups that will forward green TVET innovations


The key towards finding a link between TVET and the international agreements is the encouragement of the green jobs to replace the losses stemming from the “brown jobs”. The successes and failures of governments to agree to decisions that will have a major impact to the future should be supported by sound actions and hard evidences. This has been proven to be a tough direction, especially that interests between the developing and developed countries should be considered.

TVET, being the proponent of skills development, should adopt the green jobs initiative towards the creation of skilled workforce to fuel the economy. So far, considerable efforts have been done especially in the Asia-Pacific region. This translates to major and bigger responsibilities to the TVET implementing bodies, policymakers and funding organizations to sustain, if not exceed the expectations towards the adaptation of the green economy.


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