The role of universities in supporting UNESCO designated sites, beacons of sustainability

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© UNESCO

The Meeting on “The role of Universities in Supporting UNESCO Designated Sites as Drivers for Sustainable Development at Local and Regional Levels” will take place on 18-19 January 2016 in Athens, Greece. The event is jointly organized by the UNESCO Regional Bureau for Science and Culture in Europe, Venice (Italy), MIO-ECSDE, MEdIES, the Greek National MAB Committee, and the UNITWIN MedUnNET.

How can the world effectively address the magnitude of emerging global problems it faces, including that of feeding adequately 9 billion people by 2050 in a manner that advances economic development and reduces pressure on the environment? This question is key in a world struggling for growth and answering it requires a “great balancing act”. Rather than relying on short-term solutions that could damage our environment and degrade our natural resources, long-lasting solutions must be found to yield valuable lessons for the future. The answer lies in the relationship between people and their ecosystems, their cultural and natural heritage.

Communities of UNESCO designated sites across the world - World Heritage sites and Biosphere Reserves - have identified ways to grow in harmony with their environment, drawing on their knowledge, traditional practices and active participation. Unparalleled for their communicative value, UNESCO designated sites are beacons of sustainability and laboratories for Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), exemplary tools to raise global awareness and educate people about the issues Sustainable Development (SD).

Sustainable Development is also a core issue that universities - specifically those belonging to MedUnNET - are expected to address by fostering research, spreading knowledge, and promoting new competencies and behavioural models in order to encourage a more globally, responsible action. The meeting in Athens will explore the role that universities play in supporting UNESCO designated sites in the Euro-Mediterranean region to promote ESD and sustainable practices within recent, global and regional, contexts and initiatives.

The meeting will demonstrate that universities are places of conceptual development and application of SD principles and ESD methodology; focus will be set on their role as incubators of change and drivers of sustainability in their local/urban context. It will further look to strengthen the potential synergy of universities and UNESCO designated sites’ managers in the design and implementation of actions contributing to SD. The meeting will explore possibilities for further involvement of youth and allow the exchange of experiences on the role of universities in improving the interpretation, the communication and the sustainable management of UNESCO designated sites.

Of particular thematic relevance for the lectures, will be the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); COP21, the 2015 Paris Climate Conference; the Education for Sustainable Development after 2014 - Global Action Plan (GAP) of UNESCO; the Mediterranean Strategy on ESD (MSESD) and its Action Plan under preparation; and, the Education 2030 Framework for Action (FFA). In addition to the lectures on fundamental SDGs- and ESD-related themes, the meeting will introduce interactive sessions that will allow participants to work on examples based on their own experiences.

The meeting will gather university educators, researchers and administration staff - mostly from MedUnNET -, as well as managers from UNESCO designated sites to explore principles and good practices for World Heritage cities and Biosphere Reserves. The meeting will close with the elaboration of joint follow-up actions for the universities of MedUnNET and UNESCO designated sites.

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The Mediterranean Universities Network on SD and ESD (MedUnNET) was launched in Athens in 2008, with the support of the UNESCO Regional Bureau for Science and Culture in Europe, the University of Athens (UNESCO Chair in Sustainable Development Management and Education in the Mediterranean) and the Mediterranean Information Office for Environment, Culture and Sustainable Development (MIO–ECSDE).

The network was created with the aim to promote the integration of SD aspects in university programmes, departments and facilities, in a “whole-institute-approach”, addressing not only the needs of academicians and students, but also those of the public administration, the private sector, NGO’s, policy-makers or the media.