Walter Erdelen

Former Assistant Director-General, UNESCO
Walter-Erdelen Speaker

Walter Erdelen

Former Assistant Director-General, UNESCO


Walter Erdelen is a German ecologist and biogeographer. He worked for UNESCO in the positions of Assistant Director-General and Strategic Advisor. He has high reputation in international science, science diplomacy and science policy, in particular as regards sustainable development. He is specialized in planning, communicating and negotiating processes, e.g. in the UN system, from the level of ambassador and minister to heads of state and government. Walter has also successfully collaborated with a multitude of actors in civil society.

Walter Erdelen, born in 1951, studied zoology, botany, genetics and chemistry. He received his PhD in ecology and zoology and did his “habilitation” in biogeography. He taught and carried out research in Germany and abroad, in particular in tropical regions of Asia and Africa. After having worked at the Bandung Institute of Technology in Indonesia, he took up the post of Assistant Director-General at UNESCO. This included heading the organization’s Natural Sciences Sector, one of its five program sectors. The sector’s focus is on science for Sustainable Development and includes programs in science policy and global change, the basic and engineering sciences, water sciences, the environmental and earth sciences as well as local and traditional knowledge systems.

Walter Erdelen introduces new perspectives and contexts. He fascinates his audience through mental journeys, away from day to day life towards the extraordinary. Transdisiciplinarity is often the choice rather than classical discipline-based approaches. Innovative items are communicated. The audience’s interest for the new (“terra incognita”) and curiosity are fostered.

He communicates not only issues but also how the international community addresses them. This takes place in a world of global environmental crises, especially as regards climate change, the loss of our diversity of life, the development of a global civil society, the continuum between national and international politics, rapid development in the sciences and technology, the multitude of transboundary problems and the continued persistence of a north/south gap between industrialized and developing nations. Sustainable Development has turned into a major challenge for the present and future generations of humankind. “Glocal” has become the new buzzword.


  • Sustainable Development in 2020, 2030, 2050. And then?
  • Can the United Nations save the World?
  • Global challenges in the age of mankind (the Anthropocene)
  • Biodiversity: Loss of biological diversity – Are we destroying our natural heritage?
  • Glocal: Linking the local to the global
  • Homo sapiens – Education and planet Earth
  • Science in the 21st century – quo vadis?
  • Networks and holistic concepts – Have we arrived in the third millennium?


  • International book publications on: Complex Systems and World Problems, Tropical Ecosystems, Landscape Management in Sri Lanka, Conservation and Sustainable Use of Reptiles in Indonesia, Sixty Years of Science at UNESCO.
  • Book translations from German into English and vice versa. Director of Publication of “A World of Science” (Newsletter of UNESCO’s Natural Sciences Sector, published in English, French, Spanish, Arabic and Russian).
  • A number of scientific publications and reviews in international scientific journals, forewords in international book publications.




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