Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2803

Article | Open Access

From Education for a Sustainable Development to Ecological Civilization in China: A Just Transition?

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Abstract:  This article uses just transition to understand the education for sustainable development (ESD) transition in China. The latter has shifted from an internationally recognized response to support sustainable development to an “ecological civilization,” that is, a policy agenda combining domestic environmental and political interests. Using a climate justice framework, this article interprets the ESD transition on three levels: stakeholder engagement, education scope, and environmental governance. The findings reveal that (a) the concept of ecological civilization is heavily political, (b) its scope is limited to environmental sustainability, and (c) stakeholders from the education sector who participated in the new agenda as policy recipients are underrepresented in decision‐making processes. Most importantly, despite the heavy political endorsement of the agenda, many previous challenges associated with ESD, such as lack of policy support, inadequate professional training, and exam pressures, continue at the institutional level. This article recommends establishing an overarching ESD or ecological civilization framework in the education sector to sustain the growing attention given to ecological civilization in the Chinese education sector and calls for further research on the roles of education in just transition in the global context.

Keywords:  China; ecological civilization; education for sustainable development; environmental governance; just transition



© Ronghui (Kevin) Zhou. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.