The Role of Education as a Tool for Environmental Conservation and Sustainable Development

Caroline Howe

The UN has declared 2005 to 2014 the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development. However, education is often viewed as an unalloyed good and consequently, there have been few empirical studies on the costs and benefits of different forms of education within the fields of environmental conservation and sustainable development. Likewise, studies quantifying success of conservation and sustainable development projects are also limited. Without quantitative data on either of these aspects it is difficult to translate research into action, which is vital if conservation and sustainable development strategies are to succeed.

This study explores educational policies at global and local scales based on conservation interventions funded by the DEFRA Darwin Initiative. At the global scale, I carry out an analysis of the role of educational activities in projects funded by the Darwin Initiative since its inception. At the local scale, I carry out an in-depth case study of the success of a Darwin-funded project for the conservation of the saiga antelope (Saiga tartarica) conservation in Kalmykia, Russia. The geographically small area studied meant that cultural and demographic influences could be controlled, allowing for an in-depth exploration of a media-based public awareness campaign in comparison with other conservation interventions. Fieldwork was carried out over three months, using willingness-to-pay (WTP) as an indicator of behavioural intention. Analysis involved generalised linear modelling techniques. To expand the study from a case-by-case scenario to a global comparative analysis, a database was developed of Darwin Initiaiii Abstract tive project reports, as the scheme has been promoting biodiversity conservation and sustainable resource use worldwide for many years and emphasises the importance of education within its remit. It therefore offers a range of education initiatives both in terms of scale and strategy providing the variance required for such a meta-analysis. The study involved a combination of quantitative statistical and cost-benefit analyses alongside qualitative in-depth interviews with project leaders.

This may be one of the few studies on environmental conservation and sustainable development success in which intervention effectiveness has been properly quantified and robustly examined. WTP, as an indicator of behavioural intention, was established as a practical measure of conservation success at field-level. At the larger scale, consistent measures of success can be developed that can be used to analyse large datasets in a quantitative manner. These measures have been used successfully to establish education as a useful tool for environmental conservation and sustainable development and to demonstrate important distinctions in cost-effectiveness of different educational strategies. It is hoped that this comprehensive and quantitative comparative assessment of the effectiveness and success of different conservation interventions will be used in future implementation of conservation, and in particular environmental education policies, to ensure that sustainable development and environmental conservation strategies are both cost-effective and successful.