UK Natural Science Chairs are miles ahead

The first ever conference of UNESCO Chairs and UNITWIN Networks in the Natural Sciences has been held in Geneva in July 2017 to mark the 25th anniversary of the UNITWIN UNESCO Chairs Programme.

The conference was attended by nearly 100 representatives of the 170 UNESCO Natural Sciences Chairs from across the entire globe. These included the UNESCO Chairs in Water Sciences (University of Birmingham: Prof. David Hannah), Sustainable Mountain Development (University of the Highlands and Islands: Prof. Martin Price), as well as the coordinator of the UNITWIN Cooperation Programme in Humanitarian Engineering (Conventry University: Dr. Lizzie Miles).

The aim of the conference was to build synergy and cooperation between the Chairs, UNESCO and the wider United Nations family.

Prof. Price comments that “this was a unique opportunity to bring together representatives of Chairs that, despite their very diverse thematic and geographic emphases, are committed to international collaboration. The many parallel sessions, workshops and social events led to the strengthening of existing links and the exploration of new ones.”

The meeting concluded with the adoption of the Geneva Milestone: a blueprint to strengthen the contributions of UNESCO Chairs toward the implementation of the 2030 United Nations Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The 2030 UN Sustainable Development Agenda has the potential to represent a significant step forward in recognising science, technology and innovation (STI) as a driving force for sustainable development. UNESCO argues that as the only UN agency that includes science in its mandate, it finds itself at the heart of this new initiative, and can draw upon its unique global network of field offices, international scientific programmes, centres, institutes, and the UNESCO Chairs and UNITWIN Networks this new initiative forward.

The newly adopted Geneva Milestone states that UNESCO Chairs (with the support of UNESCO National Commissions), will work together to increase collaboration with policymakers and other stakeholders, including civil society, local communities, mass-media and the private sector. This collaboration will enable the establishment of multi-stakeholder strategic partnerships to allow focused research and training towards the Sustainable Development Goals. The Milestone asks that each Natural Science Chair identify the main Sustainable Development Goals where they make the most substantial contribution, and indicate specific fields of action where they could provide advice to stakeholders and policy-makers. You can read more about the Conference here.

Attending the Conference as part of the UK representation was the UNESCO Chairholder in Water Sciences at the University of Birmingham, Professor David Hannah. This UNESCO Chair aims to develop a transformative approach to tackle ‘wicked water problems’ – these are the multifaceted, interconnected problems that are very difficult to solve due to lack of data and changing human needs amongst other reasons. The Chair also brings together researchers from a range of disciplines, policy makers and the public to raise awareness of water scarcity and global water-related issues.

In fulfilling the aims of the Geneva Milestone, Birmingham University’s Chair’s activities map most directly onto UN Sustainable Development Goal 6 “Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all”. The Chair’s ongoing and planned activities also fall within the priorities and themes of UNESCO International Hydrology Programme’s eight phase, related to the overarching objective for “Equitable and sustainable development” ( Also, the Chair is aligned strongly with the International Association of Hydrological Sciences current scientific decade “Panta Rhei”, dedicated to research on change in hydrology and society (–W-Groups/Working-Groups/

David ( would be pleased to discuss with colleagues opportunities to get involved with these Chair activities, as well as the wider UNESCO family.