Sustainable Development: IBBY and the UN SDG Book Club

As world leaders come together for the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow, there’s no better time to explore sustainable development and climate action from global perspectives. Liz Page, Executive Director of IBBY (the International Board for Books for Young People), tells us about the international book club for young people focused on the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals

By Liz Page

IBBY first discussed the idea of a book club in January 2019 when our partner, the International Publishers Association (IPA) suggested that IBBY might join the UN Sustainable Development Goal initiative. We had signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the IPA in October 2018 and this was our first major collaboration.

The initial premise was simple: the book club would draw up a recommended list of children’s books (for readers up to 12 years of age) in the six official UN languages: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish. The books would address the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the UN’s Strategic Global Goals. The publications department of the UN coordinated the project that included IBBY, the IPA, IFLA (International Federation of Library Associations), EIBF (European & International Publishers Federation) and the Bologna Book Fair.

The start went well, and we identified juries of experts for each of the six languages, one from each of the partner organizations for each language. The 17 SDG goals are all important, but some are becoming more urgent. Goal 7 for Affordable and Clean Energy was an early indicator that literature for young people was beginning to address these issues. By the time we reached Goal 13, Climate Action, the general population realized that something needed to be done – it was no longer just a problem of a group of scientists.

The UN Sustainable Development Goals are a call for action by all countries to promote prosperity and end poverty everywhere while protecting the planet. The SDG Book Club identifies titles that introduce young people to the goals the UN has vowed to address by 2030. The hope is that the books will prepare future leaders with a background in ways we can make life sustainable and promote equality.

Although the main UN SDG Book Club is confined to the six UN languages, several other book clubs have been established: in Brazil and Portugal covering Portuguese, in Africa in a whole range of national languages, in Indonesia in Bahasa, and in Norway in Norwegian. New ones are being formed in Germany, Japan, the Netherlands and Taiwan. 

During the recent Frankfurt Book Fair, the IPA convened a mini sustainability summit to discuss climate change and how the book sector could set out a shared vision of a sustainable future in the industry. Around twenty participants from the global book sector were present in person. Although the majority were representatives of national publishers’ associations, IBBY was also invited to attend. We were able to share with the participants how IBBY members are approaching climate change at the grassroots level. Our role is mainly raising awareness in children and young people, although our colleagues at IBBY Cameroon are far more ambitious. They vow to use biodegradable materials in their projects, use renewable energy, introduce the educational aspect of respect and preservation of the environment, as well as promote hygiene during project sessions. Within the publishing industry, the global supply chain is a major problem that needs to be solved as the IPA works with its members towards a carbon-neutral industry by 2040. 

All seventeen goals are vital to our lives and all are connected to each other.  Goal 13 highlights books related to climate change, but we can see how the other goals are related. The books selected for Goal 13 are available to see on the SDG Book Club website: IBBY and the SDG Book Club. There are three titles in English, three in Arabic, five in Chinese, three in French, four in Russian, and five in Spanish. These picture books encourage young readers to look further into climate change and how we can all work towards halting the damage we are doing to our planet. They can initiate discussions and further projects. These books are examples of what is becoming available, and there are many more being published as our deadline draws closer. 

IBBY also asks its members every two years for books that are considered outstanding national representatives. Over the years the number of titles highlighting the environment and climate change has been growing, reflecting increased awareness. The 2020 IBBY Honour List included titles from Brazil, Cambodia, Cyprus, Iran, Lithuania and Turkey that address the environment and climate change. 

Like so many, IBBY members are greatly affected by the devastating consequences of climate change. To help future generations prosper and survive, we need to work towards creating a sustainable environment. Books and reading play an essential role in society, especially in the development and lives of children. As Greta Thunberg reminds us: “We are watching … We are not going to let them get away with more talking and not doing anything and pretending the situation is under control.” It is their future that is in peril if we do not act now. 

Further reading

A screenshot from the World Kid Lit book list for sustainable development and climate action


Liz Page left the UK in 1983. She has lived in Germany and settled in Basel, Switzerland in 1985. Through her daughter’s primary school, she became a founding member of the JuKiBu, which opened as an intercultural library for children and young people in 1990. The library has grown and is now not only a lending library, but also an important cultural centre for the many children in the city whose mother tongue is not German. She began working for IBBY in 1997 and was promoted to Executive Director in 2009. Contact Liz at