Statement by Maurice F. Strong at 2013 Asia Education Forum General Conference and Ecological Education and Sustainable Development Forum, in Chengdu, on 25 October, 2013.
The unsustainable nature of our current economic system was dramatically revealed by both the climate change and the environmental economic crises. They are inextricably linked in a systemic, integrated basis and cannot be managed as separate and competing issues.
The climate change challenge requires us to make changes in the fundamental nature and functioning of our educational economic system and resist the temptation merely to patch up the existing system to enable to continue, however, temporally, on the pathway that led to its crisis. Only through fundamental change can we transcend these crises and rebuild the economic and social foundations of our civilization to ensure its survival and sustainability.
Throughout human history, civilizations have risen and fallen, often due to mismanagement of their environment and the resources on which they depended. The consequences were clearly devastating for those affected, but there was always somewhere else for them to go. The climate change crisis is fundamentally different because it is global in scale and affects the survival and sustainability of all nations and people. It is also different in that we know its causes and probable consequences.
The future of life
We are the first generation ever to have the responsibility for our own future. What we do, or fail to do, will determine the future of life on Earth. This requires unprecedented levels of cooperation both within and amongst nations. But it does not require homogeneity in our life styles or cultures.
We can learn from nature that the healthiest and more sustainable natural ecological systems are those which maintain the highest degree of diversity and variety.
While the fundamental changes I believe must take place at the level of individual people as well as nations it promises to produce improved conditions of life and a more secure and sustainable future for all people. It is instructive to reflect that the conditions required for sustaining life as we know it have only existed for a small portion of its history and within relatively narrow parameters.
Our very existence is now at risk and its future is literally in our own hands. We have the knowledge and capacity to ensure our survival. The real question is do we have the will to make the fundamental changes that this requires.
Chengdu is well positioned to take this lead in this. In the more than quarter century since the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1972 put the environment issue on the global agenda, the concept of the environment has been broadened to encompass the wide range of economic, social, biological and climatic conditions that affect the quality and the sustainability of life on Earth.
It is within this larger contest that the WEU has been conceived. In recent times, there has been a great expansion of environmental education and research and many universities and institutes now have extensive programs in addressing these issues.
Some like notably in China is the Peking University with which I am privileged to be associated. Nevertheless, no single institution has yet emerged as the center of the network of universities and organizations that have their own important programs. All value their autonomy, but most would be willing in exchange of information, experience and support cooperation.
The proposed World Environment University would be designed to provide significant support and services to meet this need while at the same time developing a core program of its own.
The World Environment University was conceived as a network of cooperating universities and institutes which together provide the most authoritative source of research, knowledge and educational capabilities in environmental and related matters. Chengdu is well positioned to take a lead in this process.
It is proposed that the WEU concentrate initially on programs at the Masters level and gradually at the Doctors level. Most universities and institutes that are part of the WEU network will already have undergraduate or similar courses in the areas in which they undertake their WEU programs. These programs would also be expected to include short specialized courses.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is a principal source of advice and cooperation in developing the programs of the WEU and with its many member organizations would provide extensive access to faculty and students.
The Core Program centered at the University itself would be developed initially on the basis of the comparative advantage offered by participating universities. This could include some of the following:
The history and development of the environmental and related sustainable development movements for which the extensive study of the Foreign Ministry of Sweden, “From Stockholm to Johannesburg and Beyond”, would be a principal source of reference.
The role of international agreements, conventions and treaties, their administration, effectiveness and prospects.
Climate change and measures required to deal with it for which there are many sources of expertise and commitment. A particularly important source is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and its reports.
Environmental governance – the role of the United Nations Environment Program, other UN organizations and agencies, the International Union for the Conservation for Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and other organizations. The report of the Global Environmental Governance Project would provide an important reference document for this.
Each program would require a core faculty at a partner university Institute linked closely with the centre of the WEU network which could draw on other universities and institutes to contribute to its programs and provide visiting faculty.
Extensive use would be made of modern ICT methods such as distant learning to provide multimedia programs and materials to, and also from, partner organizations to make WEU and related programs available to large numbers of people throughout the world, to ensure their universal accessibility. An active program of research including practical experimentation will be developed together with policy research closely related to and supportive of the academic programs of the University.
Environment and peace – Competition for water and scarce resources has always been a major source of conflict and has now reached the point where it constitutes one of the main threats to peace. There is an intrinsic relationship between the environment and peace which would be from the basis for an important core program of WEU.
The Asian dimension – its contributions to environmental deterioration and its risks and to the prospects of their resolution. This will focus particularly on China’s role in protecting its environment and its impacts on the global environment.
A World Tourism Institute should be established as an integral, but autonomous component of the WEU.
The Earth Restoration Corps has for several years been running a very effective program, particularly in the ACRE region of Brazil, training of young people, and instructors to restore environmentally damaged sites, revitalize their ecological integrity and productivity and provide constructive and educational work for young people.
The WEU must be fully autonomous to ensure its intellectual and academic integrity and freedom from ideological constraints. A close relationship with the United Nations can be achieved without making the WEU an actual UN organization, through cooperation with UN agencies and organizations and participation of UN personnel in its faculty and programs.
International funding could be forthcoming when the WEU has progressed to the point where it can command attention and support of international sources. The long term objective should be to achieve a significant degree of self-financing for the WEU.
The climate change and economic crises require a degree of international cooperation that has only been achieved on a limited basis in wartime and never on a global scale. A global system of governance through which nations cooperate to address issues which none can deal with alone. Highest priority must be given to those issues which affect the security, sustainability and survival of all humanity. All is certainly true of both climate change and the related needs for fundamental and education system changes in our current economic system.
Actions should be dealt with at the levels closest to the people concerned. On this basis, the role of global government would be to provide the framework of principles and context require facilitating actions which can best be taken at local, national or regional levels. We must re-educate humanity.