» In science we trust: Celebrating 20 years of Flemish commitment to building a sustainable ocean
16.05.2018 - Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission

In science we trust: Celebrating 20 years of Flemish commitment to building a sustainable ocean

© Jurgen de Witte - Guided exhibition during the FUST Ocean event in Brussels, Belgium (14-15 May 2018).

On 14 and 15 May 2018, UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) and the Government of Flanders celebrated twenty years of cooperation on ocean matters by co-organizing a guided exhibition and seminars to highlight some of the achievements made possible through the UNESCO/Flanders Fund-in-Trust for the support of UNESCO's activities in the field of Science (FUST).

The FUST project portfolio recognizes the importance of strengthening collaboration between the Government of Flanders and UNESCO to achieve common global objectives, such as peace building, the eradication of poverty and sustainable development – objectives that are more relevant than ever today.

“For the first time in history, we are working together toward a global platform of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Belgium and Flanders are making major contributions toward SDG 14 on the ocean, and the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development will provide an opportunity for breakthrough in achieving the 2030 Agenda,” said Vladimir Ryabinin, IOC Executive Secretary, in the opening speech to the event.

Johan Hanssens, Secretary-General of Flanders’ Department of Economy, Science and Innovation (EWI), and Mark Andries, Chief of Cabinet of the Minister-President of Flanders, further highlighted the importance of ocean science and cooperation to achieve the SDGs, noting that the FUST project funding is a vessel for Flanders’ engagement with the international community: “We have developed our ocean work around blue clusters where governments, companies and scientific institutions work together to develop sustainable solutions.”

Taking place in Brussels, Belgium, the FUST Ocean event focused on five on-going key projects related to the ocean and coastal areas:

“FUST has never been a traditional donor-recipient arrangement. It has always been based on honest collaboration between equal partners: Flanders, IOC-UNESCO and all the partner institutions, including both North-South and, increasingly, South-South cooperation,” pointed out Peter Pissierssens, Head of the IOC Project Office for IODE in Oostende, Belgium, and IOC Capacity Development Coordinator.

The Permanent Commission for the South Pacific (CPPS), a long-time partner of the IOC, notably in the framework of the SPINCAM project, “has extended its partnership to cover a wide range of areas – from coastal management to ocean observations – where we can support governments at all levels in achieving the SDGs,” added Ambassador Mentor Patricio Villagómez Merino, Secretary-General of the CPPs.

Over the course of two days, project representatives presented the most recent results and impacts, while also engaging with members of Flanders’ academia and international cooperation sectors.

“It is a shame that FUST projects are not at the top of the minds of Flemish researchers. The interest is there to engage the international community, and we have the ambition of becoming truly international universities,” said Prof Dr Peter Lievens, Vice-Rector of International Policy and LERU at KU Leuven.

Prof Ir Ann Peters, Director Research at Hasselt University, was followed up on this point, arguing that in order “to bridge the gap between Flemish universities and FUST projects, we need increased communication.”

IOC initiatives such as the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030), OBIS and ocean literacy could help address these concerns.

In parallel to the FUST Ocean event, an exhibit featuring the projects’ achievements was open to the public from 14 to 17 May to generate contacts between the Flemish scientific community and the FUST-funded projects, ensuring a virtuous circle of knowledge generation and international cooperation.

The projects’ steering groups also met on 16 and 17 May to review progress and to discuss the way forward.

The general cooperation agreement Flanders signed in 1998 with UNESCO marked the very first time a regional government entered into a formal agreement of this kind with the organization. One year later, on 19 September 1999, UNESCO and Flanders’ Department of Economy, Science and Innovation implemented the agreement by setting up the Flanders UNESCO Science Trust Fund (FUST) to support UNESCO activities in the field of water science through its International Hydrological Programme (IHP), Man and the Biosphere Programme (MAB) and Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC).

For more information, please contact:

Peter Pissierssens (p.pissierssens(at)unesco.org)




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