2016 declared Year of Global Understanding

Three international science organisations have announced that 2016 will be the International Year of Global Understanding, aiming to show “how to translate scientific insight into more sustainable lifestyles”

The International Year of Global Understanding (IYGU) initiative, announced at the World Social Science Forum in Durban earlier this month, will include research projects, education programmes and information campaigns, running throughout the year and across the globe.

The year is intended to emphasise the link between local, everyday actions and global problems such as climate change and food security — with a focus on practical, science-based solutions, said the organisers in a statement. “On each day in 2016, the IYGU will highlight a change to an everyday activity that has been scientifically proven to be more sustainable than current practice,” the statement says.

“On each day in 2016, the IYGU will highlight a change to an everyday activity that has been scientifically proven to be more sustainable than current practice.”

The initiative is being backed by the International Council for Science, the International Social Science Council and the International Council for Philosophy and Human Sciences.

“I hope the focus of the year will not be so much about generating more research grants for Northern institutions, but about translating existing research and helping to get it into the hands of poor communities and development practitioners,” says Rob Cartridge, head of practical answers at the NGO Practical Action in the UK.

Around 50 regional centres across all continents will organise local events, says the IYGU’s executive director Benno Werlen, a geographer at Germany’s Friedrich Schiller University in Jena. The project will cost around €1.5 million (around £1.1m), says Werlen, adding that he is seeking sponsors for some of that sum.

Proposed by the International Geographical Union, the IYGU does not have the status of an international year observed by the UN. The initiative aims to “raise the voice of science” and is the “only international year [on the horizon] that has the support of the scientific community,” says Werlen.

Several prominent scientists and policymakers have expressed their support, including chemistry Nobel laureate Yuan Tseh-Lee from Taiwan, who praised the IGYU as a useful counterpoint to top-down policy discussions.

“While global negotiations on climate attack the sustainability crisis from above, the IYGU complements them beautifully with coordinated solutions from below — by getting individuals to understand and change their everyday habits,” Tseh-Lee said in a statement.

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Anantha Duraiappah, director of UNESCO’s Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development in India, says the year could be a good opportunity for scientists to work with policymakers and generate interest in science among students.

But he points out that it is hard for this kind of project to attract attention. “I really think that there is an overkill of these events and the world is undergoing an International Day, Year and Decade fatigue,” Duraiappah says.

Meanwhile, Cartridge sounds an optimistic note. International years “can be a good way to galvanise action and highlight an issue,” he says.

“This one seems to be coming with a range of important backers, so fingers crossed it will deliver some real benefits.”

First published by SciDev