Higher Education for Sustainability and the World Summit on Sustainable Development

The Declaration, Volume 5, Number 2 : May 2002  [Spotlight]

This June and July 2002, Higher Education Policy and the International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education will publish the same series of articles in their respective issues. The Preface to that joint issue is reprinted here, with permission from the journal editors.


From August 26 to September 4, 2002, official governmental delegations and many heads of state will gather in Johannesburg, South Africa for the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD). This Summit is taking place on the tenth anniversary of the Earth Summit in Rio, and on the thirtieth anniversary of the first United Nations Summit that recognized the importance of environmental issues – the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment. The WSSD’s major purpose is to reaffirm the importance of sustainable development for the 21st century, and to take action to deal with critical challenges that must be addressed to create a just and sustainable future. The Johannesburg Summit is taking place in a world focused on terrorism and economic globalization. Governmental and civil society representatives will be charting a course that can provide security and economic benefits for all, while preserving the ecological and cultural diversity that is the foundation of a sustainable future.

Clearly, higher education plays a crucial role in defining the policies and practices to create a just, sustainable, and peaceful world. The International Association of Universities (IAU) has joined with University Leaders for a Sustainable Future (ULSF) to edit and publish [a special joint journal] issue focused on higher education for sustainable development with the WSSD in mind. The primary goals of this issue are to highlight the importance of sustainable development for higher education and to make an academic contribution to the WSSD.

IAU has consistently encouraged member institutions to make sustainability a central focus – from developing the Kyoto Declaration to providing a range of resources to assist members in addressing their role in sustainable development. ULSF, as the secretariat of over 285 signatories of the Talloires Declaration, makes sustainable development its central focus, providing a range of services to assist colleges and universities in integrating sustainability into teaching, research, operations, and outreach.

IAU and ULSF have joined with COPERNICUS-Campus, the secretariat for European universities that have signed the University Charter for Sustainable Development, and with UNESCO in its role as task manager for Chapter 36 (“Education, Public Awareness and Training”) of Agenda 21. Together we have formed the Global Higher Education for Sustainability Partnership (GHESP). At the October 2001 international COPERNICUS conference, “Higher Education for Sustainability – Towards the World Summit on Sustainable Development (Rio+10),” the GHESP partners and conference participants formally approved the Lüneburg Declaration, which calls on the international higher education community and its stakeholders to mobilize around the theme of sustainability in order to speak with one voice at the WSSD in Johannesburg. This Declaration also committed the GHESP partners to developing resources and regional centers of excellence to accelerate the transition toward sustainability in higher education.

The articles in [the special joint issue] address higher education’s effort to reorient itself toward sustainability. They provide an overview of work over the past decade since Rio, the research and assessment tasks that lie ahead, and they include case studies from the global south and Russia in pursuing this agenda.

A second, but arguably more important, task at the WSSD is for all of us in the education community to affirm the importance of higher education for sustainable development. Education was the second most mentioned word after government in Agenda 21, but it has not been given the priority it needs in preparing our transition to a sustainable future. The mobilization and full commitment of the crucial sector of education is imperative for success in our common efforts to achieve sustainable development. We are moving forward with our GHESP partners in this endeavor, and we urge you to join with us.

Hans van Ginkel
President, International Association of Universities

Richard Clugston
Director, University Leaders for a Sustainable Future

NOTE: Partnerships and initiatives to implement Agenda 21 are expected to become one of the major outcomes of the World Summit on Sustainable Development. GHESP is intending to be recognized as one of these Type II outcomes at the Summit.

For information on Higher Education Policy, the quarterly journal of the International Association of Universities, go to www.unesco.org/iau/publications.html.

For information on the International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, go to www.emeraldinsight.com/ijshe.htm.

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