Twenty years since world leaders gathered in 1992 at the landmark Rio ‘Earth Summit’ and committed to addressing the world’s sustainability issues through national action and international collaboration, heads of state will gather again in Rio de Janeiro between 20 – 22 June at Rio+20 to assess the progress and secure renewed political commitment for sustainable development from both government and non-governmental organisations.

The higher education sector has been highly visible on the road to Rio lobbying for the realignment of priorities, funding and activities to support sustainability.

A group of over 30 agencies, organisations and associations have come together to influence Rio+20 discussions. These stakeholders from across the globe are actively engaged in sustainable development at higher education level.

The partnership is led by academics at the University of Gloucestershire engaged with the Copernicus Alliance of Universities. Professor Daniella Tilbury and Dr Ingrid Mula have been leading the six-month long process which has culminated in the HE Treaty for Sustainability. The Treaty has been accepted as a formal commitment of civil society by the UN.

The Treaty, the latest in a series of documents which emerges out of a need to rethink higher education and its role in a transition towards a more sustainable society. It has been written at a time when there is mounting concern for the future of people and planet but also fresh opportunities to act through commitments such as the Sustainable Development Goals.
Professor Daniella Tilbury said: “The cross-cultural dialogue and development process underpinning this document has served to build collaborative links and ownership. It has paved the way for a new consolidated platform for cooperation beyond the Rio+20 event in June 2012. It is envisaged that the document could lead to joint implementation projects and the sharing of best practices as well as modalities that are less bureaucratic.”
“Those signing this Treaty are seeking pathways and possibilities for progressing sustainability in higher education. They are committing to contribute towards societies that are fair, participatory, future facing and peaceful and able to restore the integrity of Earth’s ecological systems, as well as promote human development in an equitable and inclusive manner.”
The Copernicus Alliance brings together 326 universities from across Europe who are committed to re-orienting universities so that they can make a meaningful contribution to sustainability.
These Universities have signed the Copernicus Charta which identifies ten change pathways for sustainability in higher education including: institutional strategic frameworks, sustainability values and ethics, education of university employees, education for sustainability for students and communities of practice, interdisciplinary problem-solving and networking, technology transfer and partnership building for sustainability.

Source: University of Gloucestershire