Global Higher Education for Sustainability Partnership (GHESP) is Launched in December 2000

The Declaration, Volume 4, Number 2 : May 2001  [Spotlight]


Four organizations with a significant commitment to making sustainability a major focus of higher education hereby agree to form a “Global Higher Education for Sustainability Partnership (GHESP),” namely:

  • The COPERNICUS Programme of the Association of European Universities (CRE),
  • The International Association of Universities (IAU),
  • The Association of University Leaders for a Sustainable Future (ULSF),
  • The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO),

The four founding partners of the initiative will combine strengths in an effort to mobilize universities and higher education institutions to support sustainable development:

  • COPERNICUS is responsible for the University Charter for Sustainable Development, signed to date by 281 university heads in 36 European countries;
  • IAU provides an international centre of cooperation among 700 member universities and organizations of higher education institutions that have formally endorsed the Kyoto Declaration;
  • ULSF serves as the Secretariat of the 280 signatories of the Talloires Declaration in over 40 countries and promotes education for sustainability based on the Earth Charter;
  • UNESCO is the task manager for the implementation of Chapter 36 of Agenda 21 (“Education, Public Awareness and Training”) and for the international work programme on education of the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development, as well as the convenor in 1998 of the World Conference on Higher Education, both of which have called for the renewal of higher education to address the complex societal challenges of the 21st century.

The rationale for the partnership is the consensus that higher education must play a central role within the overall process of achieving sustainable development. The partners are convinced that if the leaders of major disciplines and institutions do not make sustainability a central academic and organizational focus, it will be impossible to create a just, equitable, and sustainable future. This includes the generation of knowledge through science and research, policy-making, capacity-building, and technology transfer. It is critical that higher education institutions understand their responsibility within a broader context of social and economic development, and the building of democratic, equitable and ecologically sound societies.

There is an urgent need to conduct an overall assessment of progress towards sustainability in higher education. This is particularly relevant since a ten-year review and assessment will be undertaken for the major event to be organized by the United Nations in 2002, ten years after the Rio Conference (Rio + 10). The partners consider that such a global assessment can best be achieved through collaboration among organizations and higher education institutions actively involved in sustainability issues.

The objectives of the partnership are to:
1. Promote better understanding of, and more effective implementation of, strategies for the incorporation of sustainability in universities and other higher education institutions, beginning with signatories to the charters and declarations sponsored by the partner organizations.

2. Undertake a global review and assessment of progress in making sustainability central to curriculum, research, outreach and operations in institutions of higher education, and, in so doing, assist UNESCO in its role within the UN system in contributing to the preparation of Rio + 10, as well as contribute to the follow-up of the World Conference on Higher Education.

3. Identify and share effective strategies, models and best practices for promoting higher education for sustainability; and analyze experience thus far, with a view to making recommendations based on these studies in consultation with key stakeholders from both North and South, including business, governments, and other UN bodies such as the United Nations University (UNU), as well as other relevant non-governmental organizations.

4. Demonstrate that it is possible to form a partnership of non-governmental organizations working closely with the UN system to develop and implement a joint action plan addressed to achieving common goals; and analyze and evaluate this experience as an international demonstration project.

In order to achieve the objectives outlined above, the partners will undertake a number of collaborative activities, such as international consultations and conferences, good practices inventories, models for sustainable universities, publications and websites. In addition, the partners shall seek to develop and disseminate, by the end of 2002, an action-oriented Higher Education for Sustainability Implementation Strategy and Inventory of Available Resources. This will be intended for use by the some 1000 universities committed to the three charters and declarations developed by the partners. This material will also be of relevance and made available to the world’s thousands of universities and other institutions of higher education.

COPERNICUS, IAU and ULSF will each draw on its own experience and on-going work to help advance the goals of the partnership. The role of UNESCO is primarily to: act as facilitator for the collaborative work of the partners; provide further international context and input; and make use of and promote the outputs of the group to further innovation and international cooperation in this field.

The partnership shall take effect upon signing by all parties of this Memorandum of Understanding and shall remain in effect until 31 December 2002. At that time, the composition and continuation of the partnership shall be reviewed based on an evaluation of the achievements made.

In implementing the Memorandum of Understanding, the following activities are planned:

1. To review and assess the role of higher education for sustainable development: Hold conferences, undertake research, commission papers for publication, and produce official statements and recommendations.

2. To develop higher education for sustainability implementation strategies: Help universities and other higher education institutions more effectively implement sustainability initiatives by producing a higher education for sustainable development (HESD) action-oriented handbook for universities, managers, administrators, faculty and students.

3. To create an electronic network supported by an internet discussion forum: Support the review process on strategies, models and best practices and allow the debate and sharing of information to continue worldwide.

4. To develop HESD best practice learning workshops: Design and support workshops within universities and colleges and assist them in implementing HESD.

5. To organize a Global Seminar on Sustainable Development: Develop a virtual seminar open to all universities and other higher education institutions worldwide to cover timely and relevant sustainable development issues on an ongoing basis.

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