UNESCO honours the discipline of Geography with a Chair in Global Understanding for Sustainability. It will form part of worldwide network of over 700 UNESCO chairs to support the teaching and research goals of the world cultural organization. The social geographer Prof. Benno Werlen, will hold the chair at the Friedrich Schiller University Jena (Germany).
Sustainable development requires research
“Knowledge is the factor that leads us to change our way of thinking. However, it is the understanding that leads to change attitudes. The program of this UNESCO chair puts emphasis on culturally different paths to global sustainability. And that only changing individual actions will lead to change of collective action whose result will be the improvement of the system in global scope”, says Eliezer Batisata (Brazil), key Initiator of the Rio Summit 1992 and founder of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD. Understanding one’s own life in the global context and in doing so, strengthening internationality is a key task of geography.
Getting social sciences and humanities more involved in sustainability research
Over the next four years, the new chair will primarily encourage getting social sciences and humanities to become more involved in sustainability research. Benno Werlen has already started on this in recent years. As the initiator and director of the International Year of Global Understanding (IYGU), he campaigned for a transdisciplinary approach to the challenges of globalization rather than primarily addressing them from a scientific perspective. “Many initiatives have been launched worldwide, for which the IYGU secretariat in Jena will remain an important coordinating body thanks to the UNESCO chair,” says Benno Werlen. “The IYGU’s programme to help better understand globalized living conditions with the help of science will therefore be carried on and consolidated.” Professor Yukio Himiyama, President of the International Geographical Union, on hearing of the announcement, stated: “The IGU congratulates Professor Werlen on the tremendous work he has done with our IYGU flagship project and that this has been richly and appropriately rewarded with the UNESCO chair. Coupled with his leadership of the recently established IGU Commission on Global Understanding, this platform should enable the valuable work to continue into the future and play its part in fostering sustainability”
In the meantime, a network of approximately 40 regional centres has been established. They provide a wide variety of information on sustainable lifestyles and consequently promote them. “Globalization has posed many fundamental problems, which also have to be solved at local level. To do so, we also need to consider the respective contextual social and cultural conditions and backgrounds. Only in this way can the idea of sustainability be incorporated into the routines of every individual, and only in this way can sustainable lifestyles be established,” explains the Jena social geographer. “The new UNESCO chair offers a unique opportunity to strengthen precisely this interface between science and everyday life at which the regional centres operate.”
Sustainability as a fundamental criterion for political decisions
Werlen views the interaction between research and society as a huge opportunity to establish sustainability as a fundamental criterion for political decisions – and to align it – globally – with the respective culture all over the world. Therefore, as chair holder, he wants to support and implement research projects as well as educational campaigns in the respective regions, thereby also aiming to intensify intercultural cooperation between individual centres. All this will be done in cooperation with the IGU commission “Global Understanding”, established at the 33rd International Geographical Congress 2016 in Beijing.
In cooperation with the UNESCO Mahatma Gandhi Institute in Delhi, the École Normal Supérieur Lyon and the Paolo Freire Institute of UCLA in Los Angeles, Werlen also focuses on integrating an understanding of globalized living conditions into the education of young leaders. In this way, sustainability concepts can be developed into a global perspective that incorporates the particularities of different cultures, and passed on to the decision-makers of tomorrow.
Prof. Dr Benno Werlen
UNESCO Chair Global Understanding for Sustainability
Friedrich Schiller University Jena
Loebdergraben 32, 07743 Jena
Phone +49 (0)3641 948840