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Launch of The Jena Declaration: A call for a paradigmatic change in sustainability policies

30 September 2021

Walter Rosenthal, President, Friedrich Schiller University Jena

Six years ago, the United Nations agreed on 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) that the world had to achieve by 2030 to ensure a secure and prosperous future for all. Despite many impressive efforts to reach those goals, we will miss this target in time. In October 2020 a group of experts gathered to identify obstacles to the attainment of the SDGs. They concluded that the increase and intensification of the means used so far will not suffice. The summary of the results of this meeting, The Jena Declaration (TJD), thus, calls for a radical change in strategy and for a global movement to propel the necessary change.

According to TJD principles, the needed change is two-fold. First, it is important to understand that sustainability is about more than ecology. Much of today’s thinking about sustainability is rooted in the idea that the human and natural realms are separate – that nature is humankind’s ‘environment’. But the opposite is true: with our bodies, we are part of nature! And as the way we act depends always on our cultural background, also the way we transform nature for our purposes is culturally embedded. To take this basic human condition seriously, sustainability policies must approach the key agents of social change, ordinary citizens, in a respectful way. Achieving social change requires understanding of the everyday routines and habits of people as well as of their specific regional contexts. Such understanding leads to the second call of TJD: A change of strategy from top-down to bottom-up policy.

The aim of TJD is to enable people to change their regionally differentiated and culturally embedded ways of living. To this end, it encourages relevant organizations (e.g. the UN, UNESCO, research and education institutions and foundations) to support bottom up approaches in policy and research. Many influential organizations and individuals have already signed on to the TJD principles.

The October 2020 conference “Humanities and Social Sciences for Sustainability”, from which TJD emerged, was hosted by the UNESCO Chair in Global Understanding for Sustainability at Friedrich Schiller University Jena and organized in partnership with the Canadian and German UNESCO Commissions, the International Council for Science, the International Council for Philosophy and the Human Sciences, the World Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Club of Rome. Over the last months, most of the conference partners and some 70 organizations – including the Coimbra Group – from the fields of science, education, the arts, the private sector, nongovernmental organizations, and a rapidly growing number of opinion leaders from around the world have endorsed the declaration.

The September TJD launch event emphasized the participation of youth and the power of the arts to motivate change. Performances included musical performances from South Africa and Iran, as well as the ‘Earth Plastic View’ and ‘Humanities, Arts & Society’ projects. Young activists from Uganda, Bangladesh, and Germany supported TJD principles by calling for a change in sustainability policies.

Three future events for the Americas, Africa, and Asia are scheduled. Coimbra Group members are welcome to join and participate in these events aimed at strengthening international cooperation for sustainable living across the globe.

Implementation of the declaration will take place along the three programme lines “Art”, “Education” and “Civil Society”. These will be coordinated by a World Secretariat established at the University of Jena in cooperation with 3 other German partner organisations – and many partners worldwide. I want to use the opportunity to thank Prof. Benno Werlen, UNESCO Chair in Global Understanding for Sustainability at our university as the main initiator of the declaration and coordinator of the World Secretariat.

The time is now ripe to invite members of the Coimbra Group to reach out for strong support from as many co-signatories as possible. Let´s work hand in hand together in order to find sustainable solutions for today´s challenges.