Universities link up for green training
In its role as a global leader of science-based environmental policy, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) continues to attach great importance to universities which will educate the environmentalists of the future as well as serve as the pool for the intellectual capital needed to address the concerns of climate change and growing environmental degradation.
To strengthen its interaction with universities, UNEP last week convened the Global Universities Partnership on Environment and Sustainability (GUPES) meeting at its headquarters in Nairobi which brought together 40 professors from Africa, Asia and the Pacific, Latin America, North America and Europe.
Discussions during the two-day meeting revolved around how to enhance the quality of environmental education in universities in Africa and globally and in turn mainstream the teaching and research into policymaking as well as into civil society.
"The universities of Africa here represent the top sector where there is the wisdom that can be mainstreamed. This needs to be increased at the national level, into governments, business and into society," said Nay Htun, Research Professor from the Department of Technology and Society in the State University of New York, who was attending the meeting.
UNEP brings a vast expertise and knowledge to the GUPES in shaping the university curricula to incorporate environment and sustainability issues that look at climate change, ecosystem management, hazardous waste, environmental governance and resource efficiency.
In his opening remarks, Ibrahim Thiaw, Director of UNEP's Division of Environmental Policy Implementation (DEPI), underscored the important role of universities in generating informed change agents required in the achievement of sustainable development as well as the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. ''Participating institutions are the nucleus of universities that have come together to develop the GUPES partnership. UNEP hopes that the network will grow with hundreds of universities expected to join the network by the Rio+20 summit," he said.
And as the world gears up for the climate meeting in Cancun, Mexico, next week, streamlining the environment into the public domain is as important as ever. The devastating impact of climate change, growing numbers of conflicts over natural resources and increasing pressure on ecosystems will require the assistance of an ever larger number of trained environmentalists. The GUPES offers a platform for training specialists and inspiring the innovation that will offer solutions to current and future environmental threats.
Education has always been a priority for UNEP and its annual training programme with Germany's Dresden University on environmental management has been ongoing since 1977. Over the past three years, UNEP has also worked closely with over 90 universities across 42 countries in Africa in building a programme for bringing environmental concerns and solutions into higher education. Known as the Mainstreaming Environment and Sustainability in African Universities (MESA), this successful project is now being considered for replication in Caribbean universities under the Mainstreamimg Environment and Sustainability in the Caribbean (MESCA) partnership programme.
Similarly in China, UNEP launched an initiative with Tongji University in May 2002 to create the UNEP-Tongji Institute for Environment and Sustainable Development (IESD) that seeks to develop educational programmes to build research, technical and managerial skills in developing countries. UNEP also has partnerships with the Nanjing Institute of Geography and Limnology, the Institute of Soil Science and Fertilizer in the Shannxi Academy of Agricultural Sciences and the Gansu Research Institute for Water Conservancy.
Most recently, UNEP has established a partnership with the University of Eastern Finland to work on International Environmental Law-making and Diplomacy.
The GUPES meeting was preceded by a one-day meeting on 17 November on Asian-African universities to discuss experiences and pressing concerns in environmental policy and research on both continents.