“Earth University wants to bring together all audiences, from activists to business leaders” – vert.eco
Jacques Huybrechts is the founder of the University of the Earth, a large gathering held at UNESCO in Paris on November 25th and 26th. To whom green, talks about his approach to make it an open and action-oriented university.
Why did you create Earth University in 2005?
It’s a project that’s come a long way since it was born on top of the Earth in 1992 with a cry of excitement from then-Greta Thunberg: Severn Cullis-Suzuki. I told myself that climate would be a major theme in the coming years. In 1990, I graduated and started organizing conferences – I created Success City with two friends to give students the opportunity to meet inspiring men and women for their futures.
After Rio, I said that I would use my know-how to bring people together on the topic of ecology. I went to see how I could finance it, but there was no interest – except from the media, who are very aware of these issues, like Libe. I left the project in boxes and in 2004 I met the UNESCO teams and they told me: “We are looking for a project for the 60th anniversary of the United Nations.” I said: “I have”! The first edition welcomed several hundred people. We quickly accepted tenors: Pierre Rabhi, Nicolas Hulot, Dominique Bourg. The most watched edition was during COP21 in 2015, as we were able to be listed as one of the official events. 10 days after the attacks in Paris, we were able to bring several thousand people.
What are your three “takeaways” from next week’s issue?
The first is undoubtedly the arrival of Aboriginal leaders on November 25. This is a “Meeting under the hood” session that we have created in collaboration with Arte and a production company that makes films about five forest rangers from around the world, which will be screened in Ushuaia. Twyla Edgi Masuzumi, a young Canadian Dene woman; Mundiya Kepanga from Papua and Benki Piyako, a leader of the Ashaninka community in Brazil, will come to warn of the encroachment of their territories and the threats to their communities. This is the first time these Guardians have met.
The second highlight, for me, is “my blue and green planet: how to protect it?” is a three-hour program for children aged 8-12 with their parents. “. Finally, there will be a public presentation of the global competition on adaptation and the fight against global warming, as well as the presentation of the Fondation de France prize to 29 committed young people. This is a very youth-oriented publication.
The university has been operating since 2005. Is there a need to hold big discussion summits today?
Yes, it is useful, provided that several dimensions are reconciled. The university primarily promotes awareness. Then we have before us the goal of moving from education to knowledge of the issues. We are far from fully understanding the mechanisms of global warming and biodiversity loss. However, it is this understanding that allows us to go beyond the fact of being exposed to crises and brings us to the third dimension: taking action. And the most difficult: why, with whom, how, individually, collectively? How to attract these audiences to collectives?
Another ambition of the university is to bring together all audiences, from activists to business leaders. With this publication, we are expanding the historical and assured audience. We have integrated new formats to appeal to teenagers and organize a “Green Comedy Show” with stand-up on green issues. Thanks to about fifty allies, we went looking for high schools and clubs. Obviously, we won’t be able to reach a certain audience, but we can’t answer everything. In particular, we can’t replace COPs who think it’s useful. I would like everyone who comes to say to themselves: I know more and I do more individually and collectively.
The university is funded by large companies such as the distributor Casino or the construction group Bouygues, how do you express this funding with the issues to be discussed?
Yes, we have private funders from big companies, but we have set limits for ourselves. I did not look for banks like BNP or TotalEnergies. Ideally, I would prefer that we have a Biocoop, except that they don’t have the funds to finance such a project. We ask our partners to actively participate and therefore take a proactive approach to improve their impact. After the event, we will review their commitments over the next two years. I will ask Bouygues, Nature et Découvertes, Egis and others what has changed. For Casino it is more complicated. They have a lot of progress because the whole mass distribution and consumerist logic can be criticized. But we must remember that you have an impact on the planet from the moment you start doing business, so even the most dedicated companies are not perfect.
A few months ago, Casino was sued by NGOs over deforestation. I will arrange a meeting between the Casino and the local leaders. They agree, and that’s one of the roles we can play with the University. After that, companies don’t wait for us to act.