Closing ceremony of the International Year of Global Understanding (IYGU) presents record of success and looks towards lasting future.

Jena (Germany, 21.11.17) All individuals have the potential to change the world through their actions. To achieve this, however, they need to understand their own lives in a global context. This is the thought underlying the ‘International Year of Global Understanding’ (IYGU), which was celebrated around the world in 2016. The IYGU, jointly proclaimed by the three Science Councils for the natural and social sciences, and the humanities on the basis of a UNESCO resolution on 13 September 2015, traces its origins to the German state of Thuringia – Friedrich Schiller University in Jena, to be precise. Prof. Benno Werlen (Chair of Social Geo­graphy) initiated the year in cooperation with the International Geographical Union. On 21 November 2017, many prominent guests attended the closing ceremony in Jena (Germany), which took stock of the achievements to date as well as discussing the future.

Growing Public Interest

Global Understanding has become a global brand, as it was stated at the World Humanities Conference in august this year. Benno Werlen points first to the simple example as evidence of growing public interest: the steady increase in the number of Google hits for the term. But more importantly he mentions the fact that UNESCO proclaimed the annual World Science Day 2017 under the motto ‘Science for Global Understanding’. UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova said on this subject: “This year’s theme for the World Science Day for Peace and Development, Science for global understanding, encompasses UNESCO’s approach to deve­lop scientific cooperation between and within societies, combining global sustainability and local actions and knowledge.”

“One could hardly imagine an International Year having a greater effect on science policy,” comments Prof. Werlen, who also sees the cross-disciplinary cooperation within the sciences as being of enormous benefit.

That this effect will be lasting is evidenced by the institutional conditions that have been created. In 2016 a total of 40 regional action centres were established worldwide, which, together with 20 additional cooperation partners, put on more than 1,000 events that spread the idea of Global Understanding. These included scientific conferences as well as art and technology festivals, television documentaries, special stamps, and numerous brochures, books and educational materials, with which the organisers touched millions of people.

Prominent support

An important factor in the year’s success was the support of a large number of well-known personalities, not only from all areas of science and culture, but also from many parts of society. A clear illustration of this was the ceremony in Jena, at which Prof. Klaus Töpfer, former German Environment Minister and Executive Director of the UN Environment Pro­gramme, and Prof. Carlos Torres of the UNESCO chair in Los Angeles, gave the keynote speeches.

In addition to the contributions from numerous well-known figures, the closing ceremony focused on presenting major IYGU highlights. A wide range of topics and projects were represented, which have spread ideas around the world to help form connections and build bridges. In his welcoming address, Prof. Walter Rosenthal, President of Friedrich Schiller University Jena, referred to a key dimension of Global Understanding that promotes inter­nationality and therefore peace, for which one must struggle every day.

The determination to spread the message of global understanding ever more widely is not limited to the many dedicated supporters of the IYGU and the regional action centres. The UNESCO chairs program will install a specific chair on “Global Understanding for Sustain­ability”. And above all, there should be a scientific decade of Global Understanding in the 2020s – because even after the ceremony in Jena, Global Understanding should continue to be a significant theme.

For further information:


Prof. Benno Werlen

Institute for Geography of Friedrich Schiller University, Jena
Loebdergraben 32
07743 Jena

Phone: +49 (0)3641 / 948840