University receives UNESCO backing to enhance global geoscience awareness

The University of Plymouth is launching a global initiative aimed at enhancing awareness of the role geoscience can play in addressing some of society’s greatest challenges.

Professor Iain Stewart, Director of the Sustainable Earth Institute, has successfully applied to create a UNESCO Chair in Geoscience and Society based at the University.

His role will be to support academics from earth sciences, psychology, education and the arts to undertake work in India, South America and other parts of the world, developing expertise in disaster risk reduction, geo-energy, resource management and environmental degradation.

It will also be to establish new research partnerships and links with professionals in the energy, mining and construction sectors, while enhancing geoscience awareness among communities and the general public.

The initiative, which links to several of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, will be formally launched in June when Professor Stewart delivers the inaugural Sterling Lecture during Sustainable Earth 2018 – an annual international conference taking place at the University.

Professor Stewart said: “Many of society’s biggest challenges require global solutions that can only be achieved through sharing knowledge across both borders and subject areas. We already possess a great deal of expertise in how geoscience can address challenges facing the developing world. The support of UNESCO gives us the opportunity to share that more widely and take the research being carried out in Plymouth to new global audiences.”

Dr Beth Taylor, Chair of the UK National Commission for UNESCO, commented: “UNESCO’s inspirational mission is to promote peace, security and sustainability through international dialogue and co-operation, and its international network of university chairs is a key element in achieving this goal. I am proud of the role played by UNESCO chairs in the UK, in fields as diverse as water science, cultural protection and refugee integration. Iain Stewart’s work in geoscience and society will add a new dimension to this rich mixture. It is a great pleasure to welcome Iain, and the University of Plymouth, into the UNESCO family.”

Launched in 1992, the UNITWIN/UNESCO Chairs Programme involves over 700 institutions in 116 countries, and promotes international inter-university cooperation and networking.

This successful application builds on the University’s existing links to UNESCO, which included students and academics play a leading role in the 7th International Conference on UNESCO Global Geoparks, held in Torquay in 2016.

It also complements existing research being conducted with funding from the Global Challenges Research Fund, which includes projects focussing on soil erosion in Tanzania and the forecasting and response to earthquake aftershocks.

Through the new programme, the University will establish close working links with international agencies, national bodies (including the British Council, Foreign & Commonwealth Office and British Geological Survey), and in-country non-governmental organisations.

It will develop regional networks of excellence in ‘geo-communication’ through concerted training courses, workshops and online materials and initiate interdisciplinary research projects that integrate geoscience, social science and communication science.

It is also launching the world’s first Masters-level course in Sustainable Geoscience, starting in September 2018 with the aim of setting geoscientific concerns in the wider national and global sustainable development framework.