Closing ceremony of the International Year of Global Understanding (IYGU) reflects on connecting local actions for global understanding

The closing ceremony of the International Year of Global Understanding (IYGU) takes place today in Jena, Germany.

The International Year of Global Understanding (IYGU) – jointly proclaimed by the International Social Science Council (ISSC), International Council for Philosophy and Human Sciences (CIPSH) and the International Council for Science (ICSU) – on the basis of a UNESCO resolution at the 2015 World Social Science Forum in Durban, South Africa, is today celebrating its closing ceremony. The involvement of the ISSC, ICSU and CIPSH in IYGU underwrites broad collaboration across the social and natural sciences and the humanities, from across disciplinary boundaries and from all around the world. IYGU was and is the first major common project of the three Science Councils.

2017 is a year to harvest the benefits of the IYGU. The half-day closing ceremony will wrap up this successful and event-packed international year with a showcase of the year’s highlights. At the same time, the organizers will outline possible scenarios for a fruitful continuation of all the IYGU’s important achievements. The two keynote speakers, Klaus Töpfer, former UNEP Executive Director, and Carlos Torres, UNESCO Chair on Global Learning and Global Citizenship Education at UCLA, will be joined at the closing ceremony by senior representatives of UNESCO and the three international science councils.

The International Year of Global Understanding was developed and designed in close cooperation with Anthony Giddens, the late Ulrich Beck and the late John Urry, as well as with Saskia Sassen. The program was coordinated by the initiator and Executive Director of the IYGU, Benno Werlen, at the General Secretariat at the Friedrich Schiller University Jena (Germany), in cooperation with more than 40 Regional Action Centers, the Global Center for Arts and Global Understanding in Paris, and another 20 institutional partners all around the world, organizing far more than 1,000 specific events in 2016. This network has been established in cities such as Hiroshima, Washington, Brasilia, Beijing, Maçao, Coimbra, Genoa and Hamilton.

According to Eliezer Batista, one of the founding fathers of the 1992 and 2012 Rio Summits

The premises of the International Year point out that there is a clear and unequivocal connection between local actions and challenges at the global scale. In other words, global sustainability relies on each of us, and our everyday actions at the places where we live. It takes into consideration that every people has its history and traditions, which make necessary to recognize that there are culturally distinct ways to reach global sustainability.

Noble Prize laureate Yuan Tse-Lee adds

The bottom-up approach of the IYGU complements the global negotiations on climate that attack the sustainability crisis from above beautifully with coordinated solutions from below – by getting individuals to understand and change their everyday habits. This twin approach elevates our chance of success against this crisis, the gravest humanity has ever seen.

Adama Samassekou, former Minister of Education in Mali, Founder of the MAYA association and President of the World Conference of the Humanities, added

The dominant model that favors the culture of having, of profit and of unlimited exploitation of nature leads our planet to its doom: it becomes urgent to promote new daily behavior attitudes rooted in the culture of being, as the foundation for a harmony with the environment in its widest sense. This is the reason why we needed the International Year of Global Understanding.

The outcome document of the 2017 World Humanities Conference, organized by CIPSH and UNESCO, mentioned IYGU as one of its references and stressed the relevance of the humanities for the “understanding of long-term processes, such as the challenges related to environmental changes and global migrations”.

From its preparation the IYGU has brought together scientists and scholars from the humanities, from a total of 58 disciplines organized under the umbrella of the three international Councils, represented in more than 190 countries around the world. As stressed by John Crowley, Chief of Research, Policy and Foresight of UNESCO’s Social and Human Sciences, the IYGU was and is

An ambitious and particularly highly successful project in bringing together communities from many different disciplines enhancing the understanding of global processes, building on the contributions of the natural sciences, the social sciences and the humanities. (…) The IYGU contributed greatly to understand, to make sense of the emerging new world on the basis of the globalization process.

Well over 1,000 IYGU-specific events have taken place, from events at some of the biggest arts performing festivals in the world; science and technology festivals and television documentaries; to summer/winter schools; scientific colloquia; non-governmental organization- and community-based activities; story-mapping, drawing, poetry and arts competitions and more, reaching tens of millions of people around the world. Besides these activities an impressive number of books, papers and teaching materials have been produced as open-access publications, as well as transdisciplinary study programs.

In 2016 “Global Understanding” has become a global brand thanks to the International Year of Global Understanding. This is not only documented by the huge increase in ‘hits’ in searches for the term returned by Google, but especially by UNESCO’s proclamation of its annual World Science Day 2017 as “Science for Global Understanding.”

UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova said

This year’s theme for the World Science Day for Peace and Development, Science for global understanding, encompasses UNESCO’s approach to develop scientific cooperation between and within societies, combining global sustainability and local actions and knowledge.

“When it comes to science policy, a higher recognition is hardly conceivable for an International Year,” says the Executive Director of the IYGU, Benno Werlen, who initiated the year in the name of the International Geographical Union (IGU), which is a member of both ISSC and ICSU.

The “Global Understanding” project is far from over. A podium session at the closing ceremony will discuss the possible futures for the Global Understanding project, reaching from a collaboration of UNESCO Chairs to the possibility of making the 2020s “Sciences Decade for Global Understanding” (SDGU).

Prof. Werlen is available for further interviews upon request.


IYGU General Secretariat
Friedrich Schiller University Jena
Department of Geography
c/o Prof. Dr. Benno Werlen
Loedergraben 32
07743 Jena

Phone: +49 – 3641- 948840
Mobile: +49 – 178 – 4723660

About Prof. Benno Werlen:

Prof. Benno Werlen was born in Switzerland in 1952. After studying Geography, Ethnology, Sociology, and Economics, he received his Ph.D. and served as a research assistant at the universities of Kiel, Fribourg, and Zurich. Having completed his habilitation in the natural sciences, Werlen taught at the ETH Zurich and at the universities of Salzburg, Geneva, and Nijmegen. As a visiting fellow, he spent time at Cambridge University, the UCLA, and the London School of Economics. Werlen has been professor of Social Geography at the Friedrich Schiller University Jena since 1998; he has been a member of the European Research Council since 2008.

Further information on the International Year of Global Understanding is available at