Magazine article UNESCO Courier

UNESCO: Helping to Save the Earth

Magazine article UNESCO Courier

UNESCO: Helping to Save the Earth

Article excerpt

UNESCO regards the environment as one of its top priorities, and by virtue of its four fields of competence--education, science, culture and communication--it is involved in environmental issues on a wide range of fronts.

"UNESCO started doing in-depth work in the aftermath of the major United Nations Conference on the Environment held in Stockholm in 1972," says Victor Kolybine, who is in charge of the Organization's activities in environmental education. "In collaboration with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), we launched an international programme on environmental education in which the concept of the natural environment was widened to include socio-economic and cultural dimensions. A key idea was that environmental protection is compatible with ecologically sound development."

Today UNESCO and UNEP are still using a wide range of methods to improve awareness of environmental issues. Twenty-seven young people from various northern and southern countries have designed and illustrated a version of Agenda 21, the action plan adopted at last year's UN Conference on Environment and Development, adapted for 7- to 12-year olds. The book, entitled Rescue Mission: Planet Earth, will be published at the end of the year by Kingfisher (UK). Another innovative project is being planned by the International Humour Centre in Granada, Spain, which in April 1994 will publish a book of cartoons by famous artists and informative texts in Spanish, English and French.

To promote better understanding of the complex inter-relationships between human activities and the environment, UNESCO makes a point of breaking down the barriers between its various fields of activity, with the social sciences joining forces with the exact sciences and economics. University chairs in sustainable development will be established to provide multidisciplinary education. Programme specialist Christine von Furstenberg explains: "Training nothing but overspecialized experts, as is done everywhere today, prevents the co-operation between researchers and practitioners that is vital in many disciplines."

This pioneering multidisciplinary approach is intended not only for those with specialized qualifications in the exact, natural and social sciences but also for decision-makers, civil servants, engineers, journalists and the interested public. The holder of a UNESCO chair co-ordinates the teaching of several colleagues from different disciplines, and offers sixteen courses leading to a degree. Outlets include national, international and non-governmental organizations. The first chairs already exist. One is in Granada (Spain), another in Quebec, and a third is shared between two universities in Australia and Thailand.

Since 1971 UNESCO's "Man and the Biosphere" (MAB) programme has been an outstanding tool for understanding and protecting terrestrial ecosystems. Its purpose is to study the impact of human activities on the biosphere and the means that can be employed to prevent further damage. MAB has established an international network of 300 "biosphere reserves" covering a total of 164 million hectares in 75 countries.

The reserves are not static, unpopulated ecological museums. They have been created to conserve and monitor representative samples of the planet's major natural and semi-natural ecosystems, offer research opportunities and ensure that local people benefit from the resources of their area without exhausting them. Examples include the Maya forest reserve in Guatemala, the Central Californian coast reserve in the United States--a complex terrestrial and marine environment--and the National Park of Tassili N'Ajjer in Algeria, which is famous for its cave paintings.

Each reserve has a protected "core" area which is surrounded by a buffer zone. However, this system of protection is only effective if the government of the country in which the reserve is located has the political will to respect it. …

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