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Sanibel resident and Nobel Laureate address UNEP Climate Change Education Conference

By Staff | Oct 23, 2009

FGCU faculty member Peter Blaze Corcoran, a resident of Sanibel, spoke alongside Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Wangari Maathai at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) on Aug. 31 in Nairobi, Kenya.

Their keynote address was to an invited audience of one hundred diplomats, United Nations officials, local dignitaries, and scholars from African universities gathered for a “Symposium on Climate Change Education and Sustainable Cities.” The symposium was part of the annual meeting of the Inter-Agency Committee (IAC) which manages the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (UNDESD).

“We know what to do. Why aren’t we doing it?” asked Maathai, who in 2004 became the first woman from Africa to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. Born in Kenya, she is also the first woman from East Africa to earn a doctorate. In 1977, she founded the Green Belt Movement, which for over 30 years has worked to improve the lives of poor women through a holistic approach to sustainable development.

Maathai urged her audience to bridge the gap between ethical principles and practice, stating, “There are enormously thought-provoking words in this document. What we should do, instead of just reading through, is to reflect on what the words mean so that we can be moved to action.”

The conference marked a powerful opportunity to elevate the role of the Earth Charter within the Decade and within UNEP. In her capacity as a global ambassador for the Earth Charter, Maathai articulated the rationale, significance, and inspiration of the Earth Charter in education for sustainability.

Maathai and Corcoran also challenged UNEP and the IAC to adopt the Earth Charter as an organizing principle for the remainder of the Decade.

The Earth Charter is a declaration of 16 ethical principles for building a just, sustainable, and peaceful global society. The drafting of the Earth Charter involved the most inclusive and participatory process ever associated with the creation of an international declaration. More than 4,500 organizations have endorsed the document, including many governments and international organizations.

Corcoran also directs FGCU’s Center for Environmental and Sustainability Education. In his speech, he reflected on the Earth Charter, describing its development and drafting process.

“The Earth Charter reminds us that we have an ethical responsibility to secure the bounty and beauty of Earth for generations to come.”

The longtime islander also recognized Maathai’s great contribution to a better future for Africa, adding, “She touches our hearts and minds with her courage, with her commitments to environmental education and self-determination for Africa, and her stubborn hope that governments and intergovernmental agencies will bring about the people’s desire for peace through environmental sustainability.”

Corcoran was invited to organize the keynote address in his capacity as an informal advisor to UNEP’s program “Mainstreaming Environment and Sustainability in African Universities.” He also advises the United Nations as a member of UNESCO’s Reference Group for the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development.

The one-day climate change symposium focused on the role of education in building sustainable cities. The IAC for the UNDESD is a multilateral forum that brings together representatives from all UN agencies and programs, including the World Bank.

The Center for Environmental and Sustainability Education at Florida Gulf Coast University works toward realizing the dream of a sustainable and peaceful future for Earth through scholarship, education, and action.

For further information on the Center and its initiatives, please call 239-590-7166.