At the opening plenary session of the 7th World Environmental Education Congress (WEEC) in Marrakesh, June 12 2013, the head of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) emphasized the importance of environmental education as a key driver of empowerment. Over 1,800 participants from more than 100 countries attended the Congress, which was themed around "Environmental Education in Cities and Rural Areas: Seeking Greater Harmony". Two lecturers and a PhD student from Rhodes University, Environmental Learning Research Centre attended this congress. The Congress was hosted by the Kingdom Morocco under the leadership of the Mohamed VI Foundation for Environmental Protection, in collaboration with the WEEC Permanent Secretariat in Italy.
"Environmental education is about knowledge and empowerment-the knowledge and power to understand, the knowledge and power to make connections," said the UN Under Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner. "With the work of the Foundation and the leadership of His Majesty and HRH Princess Lalla Hasnaa, there is great momentum in making environmental education part of the ethic, part of the development discourse, part of the public debate of the future of Morocco's development pathway." Mr. Steiner met with Morocco's Environment Minister and HRH Princess Lalla Hasnaa to boost environmental cooperation during the opening of the Congress.
UNEP in February, during its first Governing Council meeting under universal membership, signed a memorandum of understanding with the Mohamed VI Foundation for the Protection of the Environment, which is chaired by Princess Lalla Hasnaa. The memorandum had a component on environmental education, and the meetings were aimed at shaping concrete activities that will help foster Morocco's strong African leadership on environmental issues and the green economy. During the WEEC, UNEP also launched the first graduate course on Disaster, Environment & Risk Reduction, which aims to increase awareness among graduates on the links between environment and development.
Additionally, UNEP held side events on the Global Universities Partnership on Environment and Sustainability (GUPES). There are 340 members under the partnership, which looks to increase the mainstreaming of environment and sustainability practices and curricula in universities by developing innovative approaches around education, training and networking. Rhodes University is involved in this partnership. UNEP is working to bring more universities into the partnership. A Greening Universities Toolkit was also launched on this occasion, which aims to provide universities with practical approaches in minimizing their environmental footprints.
Efforts to expand UNEP's Research4Life partnerships with universities were endorsed by participants to facilitate improved access to scientific information and environment research. GUPES builds on the experience of the Mainstreaming Environmental and Sustainability in African Universities (MESA), which has been ongoing since 2004. These efforts are part of UNEP's flagship contributions to the ongoing UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development, which comes to an end in 2014.
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