The Year, a joint initiative of UNESCO and the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS) and which was proclaimed through Resolution 192, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 22 December 2005, has the ultimate aim of drawing global attention to the major role that the earth sciences can play in helping to foster a safer, healthier and more sustainable planet.
The opening ceremony was attended by several high personalities, including Ms Tora Aasland, Minister of Research and Higher Education of Norway; Professor Hany Helal, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research of Egypt; Mr Giancarlo Viglione, President of the Italian Agency for Environmental Protection and Technical Services (on behalf of the Minister for Environment, Land and Sea of Italy); Professor Elizabeth Kiondo, Secretary-General of the National Commission of the United Republic of Tanzania (on behalf of Professor Peter Msolla, Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology of the United Rep. of Tanzania); and Mr Arab Hoballah, Chief of the Sustainable Consumption and Production Branch in the Division of Technology, Industry and Economics of UNEP. There were also many renowned scientists, journalists and other personalities present at the opening ceremony.
The opening address was pronounced by the Director-General, while Mr Jean-Pierre Jouyet, the French Secretary of State for European Affairs gave the keynote address.
In his address, Mr Matsuura highlighted the importance of IYPE for raising awareness on the important role of the earth sciences in addressing the rapid and profound changes being undergone by the planet – not just climate change, but also urbanization, population growth, the freshwater crisis and the increasing risk of natural disasters. He encouraged its use as a means of fostering closer collaboration between earth scientists and policy-makers, as well as the private sector, and as a means of ensuring future generations of earth scientists. Indeed, the Year is already doing this through initiatives such as its Student Contest, the winners of which were present at the Global Launch. In this regard, Mr Matsuura applauded those Member States who have re-introduced geosciences into the secondary-school curriculum and urged other Member States to do the same.
Regarding the three themes of discussion during the Global Launch, namely “the challenges for Planet Earth of population growth and climate change”; “the Earth’s resources: threat or treat?”; and “how to minimize the risk, and maximize the awareness, of geohazards”, Mr Matsuura provided some projected statistics, such as on the expected human population in 2050 (over 9 billion), to illustrate the gravity of the situation and the need for action. “If we are to provide for the needs of present and future generations, all sharing the resources of our one small Planet, we need to better understand the functioning of the complex Earth systems and the interaction of humankind with the Earth’s resources“ he said.
Finally, Mr Matsuura underscored UNESCO’s commitment to the Year and its intention to share, as a major contribution, its 40 years of accumulated knowledge and expertise in the fields of oceanography, hydrology, ecology and the earth sciences, particularly through its Man and the Biosphere programme (MAB), World Heritage Programme and Global Network of Geoparks. “These initiatives can serve the Year in many ways, such as through showcasing spectacular examples of natural heritage, promoting sustainable practices, and raising awareness of the role of culture in environmental conservation” he said. Other activities of UNESCO for the Year highlighted by Mr Matsuura included the ‘OneGeology’ project, a joint initiative with the Geological Map of the World, which aims to give interactive Internet access to the geological map of our Planet; and the planned Geological Congress, to take place in Oslo in August 2008.
In ending, Mr Matsuura reminded the audience of the importance of social and economic advancement of people for peace and security, as indicated in the United Nations Charter. “There can be no social and economic advancement without knowledge, no knowledge without education, science and research. Our knowledge of the Earth system is our insurance policy for the future and in this interdependent world we must work as one to find ways of using the Earth resources in a sustainable and equitable way”, he said.
Author(s): Office of the Spokeswoman - Source: Flash Info N° 017-2008 - Publication Date: 15-02-2008