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Global Universities Partnership for Environment and Sustainability (GUPES)
  • Date submitted: 31 Oct 2011
  • Stakeholder type: Major Group
  • Submission Document: Download
  • Additional Document:

Global Universities Partnership for Environment and Sustainability (GUPES)


Role and contributions of Higher Education in Sustainable Development recognizing the Rio+20 themes of Green Economy in the Context of Sustainable Development and Poverty Eradication (GESDPE) and Institutional Framework for Sustainable Development (IFSD)

Universities around the world are increasingly embracing strategies and initiatives focused on promoting environment and sustainable development focussed learning and research, campus sustainability, interdisciplinarity sustainability programmes and social responsibility. Higher Education has been identified globally as a critical agent in furthering sustainable development in society; particularly towards strengthening a knowledge economy and transformative practices associated with sustainable development and poverty eradication. (e.g. Rio Principles, Talloires and Tbilisi Declarations, Earth Charter, Treaty on Environmental Education for Sustainable Societies and Global Responsibility, Getting it Together: interdisciplinarity and Sustainability in the Higher Education Institution, UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development, 2005-14).

The current environmental and economic crises highlight the urgency to develop and equip a cadre of leaders familiar with issues, challenges and solutions in relation to GESDPE and IFSD. These crises require a new kind of critical thinking to engage with uncertainty, and in the crafting of sustainable development models which reduce human ecological footprints, promote social equity and inclusiveness, strengthen economic fundamentals and reduce poverty. In addition, holistic thinking and understanding of current and future sustainability challenges are imperative. Academia can lead efforts that support social, economic and environmental innovations within and beyond campuses locally and globally, thereby generating large multiplier effects. Universities are well positioned for these efforts as they prepare immediate, energetic and alert leaders for following generations.

The Global Universities Partnership for Environment and Sustainability (GUPES) is a framework designed to address this need, bringing together over 100 Universities from across Africa, Asia and the Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean, West Asia, Europe, and North America. Collaborative learning and action for sustainability networks, international communities of students, faculty and university leaders to foster environmental creativity and innovation are facilitated through the GUPES platform. In addition to concrete environmental benefits, the global GUPES platform offers intrinsic social and educational value.

The implementation of best practices developed by universities in their surrounding communities serve as teaching and learning tools, since they create new forms of research and teaching for applied science, technology, and engineering. As local and global centres of innovation, these efforts can spread ideas, experiences, technologies and practices to communities around the world who may otherwise not have access to such resources/experiences.

At the core of GUPES is the role Universities can foster for critical thinking e.g. on emerging ethics and values towards the next generation of planetary leadership.

Contribution of Universities to GESDPE:

1. Conceptualize, develop and apply the fundamentals of green economy at various levels, while addressing issues of scale, scope and power, through engagement with communities;

2. Develop metrics for measuring and evaluating the extent and progress in green economy initiatives at different levels;

3. Promote iterative and critically reflective processes to address issues of consumption, production and sufficiency, using culture as an aspiration;

4. Undertake Life Cycle Analysis as a key part of the Green Economy, through alternative models and options for eco-literacy, green education, green jobs, etc.;

5. Take a lead role in identifying local solutions for local challenges in the context of GESDPE; within a wider global context of sustainable development and poverty reduction.

Contribution of Universities to IFSD:

1. Leadership:

Create intellectual capital and environmental leadership on critical environmental and sustainability issues and foster opportunities for sustainable development, whereby universities provide effective and efficient social learning platforms to shape actions, policy, legal frameworks and governance at local, national, regional and globa levels.

2. Institutions:

Generate innovative ideas and solutions on institutional change and mechanisms and processes for advancing sustainable development, taking into account current and future problems and prospects affecting humanity and the planet;
Develop institutional frameworks to effectively influence policy through knowledge generated at universities and systematically interacting with policy stakeholders, thereby facilitating inter/intra-generational connections/collaborations; Graduate a next generation of green leadership imbued with awareness and responsibility of contemporary environmental sustainability issues, innovative tools, expertise and networks.

3. Research:

Conduct interdisciplinary research that can influence policy and practice, including translational research in addressing current and future sustainability challenges;
Conduct research that supports ongoing innovation in education, training and wider social learning systems that strengthen/fast-track re-orientation of societal structures; Implement applied/action research aimed at alleviating communally identified and prioritized social, economic and environmental challenges at various levels, such as reduction of carbon emissions and reduced energy consumption.

4. Teaching and Curriculum:

Integrate basic principles into education viz., equity, ethics, respect, social and ecological justice, thereby reaffirming agreed commitments, e.g. Earth Charter;

Review and renew curriculum and teaching methods to support learning that articulates with, and critically engages with new forms of knowledge, inter-disciplinarily, and with stakeholders, including business and civil society, including methods which encourage hands-on and minds-on learning;

Develop curriculum innovations and methodologies for successful teaching and learning in a changing knowledge environment;

Utilization of ?living lab? applied and constructive teaching and learning models, that include interaction with local communities;

Ensure opportunities for values of empathy and innovation to emerge in university practice as well as critical reflections on the role of universities on sustainability; Transfer of appropriate science and technology and practical skills which encourage critical thinking and innovation.

5. Community engagement:
Jointly research and apply sustainability initiatives with local communities.

6. Practices:
Implement institutional (on-campus) sustainability practices (e.g. reducing carbon footprints) to transform campuses into green/sustainable campuses and adaptation approaches/strategies to impacts/risks of climate change.

University Action Recommendations to be included in the Zero Draft:

1. Increase awareness of GESDPE and IFSD at higher education for renewed political commitment;

2. Create institutional culture of sustainability and sustainability leadership at Universities;

3. Collaborate in new areas of knowledge generation, such as promoting systemic, inter-disciplinary and transdisciplinary approaches to research, teaching and learning on environment and sustainability issues;

4. Broaden service learning and outreach locally, nationally and internationally through the Global University Partnership for Environment and Sustainability (GUPES);

5. Create research, solution expos and other centres to support key aspects of GESDPE and IFSD application at Universities;

6. Transform university campuses into sustainable/green campuses, while connecting with local communities;

7. Re-orient university curricula to include concepts of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) supportive of GESDPE and IFSD;

8. Seek out, support and recognize alternative networked sources of environmental leadership at Universities (e.g. student leadership);

9. Student-led/oriented/influenced higher education in the context of Greening of Universities;

10. Establish a sustainable cycle connecting Green Education, Green Jobs and Green Economy.

Universities can provide platforms where people and institutions move away from ?Business as Usual? to ?A Transformational Paradigm Change of Sustainability?.

Universities must be empowered to elaborate the concept, principles and parameters for a ?Green Economy in the context of Sustainable Development and Poverty Eradication?.

Universities are capable of adopting holistic and systemic approaches to promote relevant knowledge, teaching and learning in the transition towards the application of GESDPE and IFDS concepts.

There is an urgent need to recognize and prioritize the role of Universities as key hubs that facilitate transformational change towards sustainable and resilient societies.
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