Liette Vasseur’s passion for the environment knows no borders, whether she’s examining crops in Ecuador, helping an Ontario town deal with shoreline flooding or co-writing the first international guidelines on ecosystems governance.
The Brock University biologist has headed up dozens of conservation and research projects throughout the years, working with farmers, government ministers, students, presidents of global organizations and many others while doing so.
Now her leadership in the field has been taken to a new level, with Vasseur being named President of the Canadian Commission for UNESCO (CCUNESCO).
“Dr. Vasseur’s broad knowledge and experience in such areas as the environment, culture, women and communities here and around the world will be a priceless asset to the Commission, an organization dedicated to building a society of peace, equity and shared knowledge,” Simon Brault, Director and CEO of the Canada Council for the Arts, said June 6 while announcing the two-year appointment.
CCUNESCO, operating under the Canada Council for the Arts, seeks to connect Canadians to the broader work of the Paris-based UNESCO, whose work “contributes to a peaceful, equitable and sustainable future that leaves no one behind.”
UNESCO’s more notable initiatives include designating World Heritage Sites, Geoparks and Biosphere Reserves, engaging with youth, encouraging women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), and promoting reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.
“I’m quite humbled,” Vasseur said of her appointment. “It is a genuine honour to have been chosen as the new President of the Canadian Commission for UNESCO. The Commission does remarkable work in ensuring that UNESCO’s activities have a real impact in Canada and abroad.”
Vasseur is no stranger to this international stage. In 2014, she was awarded a UNESCO chair for Community Sustainability: From Local to Global, which was renewed this year.
Last year, CCUNESCO appointed Vasseur to head up its Sectoral Commission on Natural, Social and Human Sciences, an 11-member group of Canadian scientists, academics and others providing knowledge and expertise on a range of issues.
The group is producing reflection papers on topics important to creating a long-range vision of how Canadians and the federal government can implement various actions related to sustainability. These include social and environmental impacts of climate change; conservation of natural heritage and water resources; inclusion of newcomers and vulnerable groups; reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people; youth engagement; and measures to fight discrimination, racism, violence, bullying and radicalization.
In her new role as President, a major focus will be the enhancement of Indigenous culture and knowledge in many of CCUNESCO’s activities. Other priorities include advocating for women’s involvement in STEM and engaging youth in UNESCO’s various projects and networks, she said.
“This appointment demonstrates the high regard in which Professor Vasseur’s research and strong leadership are held, nationally and internationally,” said Brock’s Vice-President, Research Tim Kenyon.
“It is also emblematic of the commitment of Brock University’s researchers to have their expertise make a powerful difference in the world. Scholars, evidence-based policy makers, and citizens from around the globe are fortunate to have Professor Vasseur serving in this influential role under the auspices of the United Nations.”
Vasseur, a member of Brock’s Environmental Sustainability Research Centre and the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies, covers a range of conservation issues in her work.
Present and past research projects include: assessing the impacts of climate and environmental changes and examining potential avenues of solutions for future development along the Town of Lincoln’s Lake Ontario shoreline; investigating the roles of biodiversity in agricultural systems in communities in China, Ecuador and Canada; and combining ecological and genomics studies of insect pests such as the diamondback moth and tea green leafhopper in China.
Vasseur holds a number of high-profile leadership positions, including: Past-President of the Canadian Coalition of Women in Engineering, Science, Trades and Technology; Vice-Chair (North America and Caribbean) of the Commission for Ecosystem Management of the International Union for Conservation of Nature; and lead of the thematic group on Ecosystem Governance.