The UNESCO-Cousteau Ecotechnie Programme (UCEP) is an international initiative to promote interdisciplinary education, research and policy-making in the field of the environment and development. It is a joint effort of UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Programme (MAB)and The Cousteau Society.
The word Ecotechnie was coined by Captain Jacques-Yves Cousteau from the Greek words oikos, which means “home,” and tekne, meaning “the art of doing.” Ecotechnie is a term that comprises existing interdisciplinary efforts in the fields of environment and development, including but not limited to Ecological Economics, Human Ecology and Eco-technology. Ecotechnie thus aims holistically to consider ecology, economics, social sciences and technology in order to understand the long-term consequences of management and development decisions.
In 1992, Captain Cousteau was an official guest at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development. The following year, he was appointed to the UN High-Level Advisory Board on Sustainable Development and agreed to serve as advisor on environmentally sustainable development to the World Bank. That same year, the President of France named him Chairman of a newly created Council on the Rights of Future Generations; Captain Cousteau resigned this post in 1995 to protest France’s resumption of nuclear testing in the Pacific. In 1994, Captain Cousteau was influential in launching the UNESCO-Cousteau Ecotechnie Programme. He stressed that the absence of a long-term vision regarding environmental issues is a flaw of modern societies. He argued that societies are in need of a new kind of decision-makers, better educated to understand the interconnection between mankind and nature, and who are concerned about the future and acknowledge values beyond economics. Under this program, 16 university Chairs now carry his name.
The need for UCEP is based on the fact that while environmental problems and
sustainable development require integrated solutions incorporating economic, ecological, social, cultural and technological considerations, decision- makers tend to base their decisions on short-term benefits and often ignore long-term environmental, social and cultural costs. Sectionalism and specialization permeate society in general and, together with vested interests in politics, industry and the corporate sphere, form barriers that effectively block change toward more long-term, integrated decision-making favouring the environment and sustainability.
Emphasis on the development or differentiation of scientific disciplines within universities has certainly obscured the opportunities for joint work between social and environmental scientists in fields that go beyond their disciplinary frontiers. To enable future decision-makers to face the complexity of development problems through an integrated, long-term perspective involving awareness of local, regional and international issues, incentives must be created to build bridges between disciplines and to reinvigorate ingrained working methods at the university level.
Since education is a key instrument for development, UCEP’s mission is to reduce barriers to change through new incentives and by providing future decision and policymakers with integrated, multidisciplinary education, training and research.
Ecotechnie’s approach consist therefore of:
• Recognizing the multidisciplinary nature of a problem;
• Having a long-term perspective;
• Improving the effective balance between conserving and using resources;
• Increasing informed public participation in decision-making process;
• Promoting the equitable sharing of resources and reduce the risk for conflicts;
• Fostering respect for cultural, social and biological diversity;
UCEP acts mainly by bringing international recognition to university institutions and research centres that have embarked on establishing interdisciplinary education and research activities which combine ecology, economics, social sciences and technology. It does so by creating UNESCO-Cousteau Ecotechnie Chairs in the framework of the UNITWIN/UNESCO Chairs program. One significant purpose of the Chairs is to promote regional networking among universities that are active in the fields of environmental education for sustainable development.
Even though it is UCEP’s firm belief that the implementation of the Ecotechnie approach must suit national needs, and that educational and research programs therefore will have different profiles in different countries, joint activities and exchanges of experiences and information at the regional levels can be highly beneficial.
The regional networks, coordinated by the Ecotechnie Chairs, are open to all interested institutions active in Ecotechnie-related approaches. UCEP Networks serve to promote partnerships and capacity building through multidisciplinary environmental education and training by bringing together experts, professors and students from different disciplines to participate in the development of interdisciplinary curricula and seminars. The networks also provide a forum that promotes discussion and communication about the curricula, training courses and research projects, and constitute a bridge that facilitates the exchange and transfer of Ecotechnie related information between educators, researchers, policy-makers and students.