Constructive Progress on Heritage plus Preparations for the next Programme cycle at UNESCO’s Executive Board
UNESCO’s Executive Board concluded its 191st session on Friday, 26 April. The talks were noteworthy both for an agreement to dispatch a UNESCO mission to the Old City of Jerusalem – a World Heritage Site - and for progress in defining the Organization’s next medium-term strategy and programme priorities for the coming four years.
During the session, Israel and Palestine agreed that a UNESCO mission of experts could assess the state of conservation of the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls. The last monitoring mission took place in 2004 and the World Heritage Committee has been requesting a new one for the last three years. It will now proceed in mid-May. The Executive Board unanimously congratulated the parties for this achievement.
“This is UNESCO working at its best,” stated its Director-General, Irina Bokova. “The agreement is a small but important step to resolving long-standing issues in the Middle East. By cooperating in this manner, Member States are building a culture of peace in a very practical way.”
The Executive Board also agreed on a medium-term strategy to 2021. It contains a new mission statement and designates "peace" and "equitable and sustainable development" as overarching priorities for the Organization. Africa and Gender Equality remain its two global priorities. The strategy will now be reviewed and adopted by the UNESCO General Conference in November 2013.
The Chairperson of the Executive Board, Alissandra Cummins, praised the commitment of members to reach consensus on these decisions, rather than take strong individual positions: “It is only when there is willingness to work together with the courage of conviction that we are able to advance and progress. Let us hope we can learn from this process. It is also my fervent hope that this move from rhetoric to constructive action will encourage the Board to continue taking decisions that facilitate progress and pragmatic results on the ground.”
The Executive Board also agreed on a way to set programmatic priorities if UNESCO is faced with reduced cash flow. The Organization’s budget for 2014-15 may be reduced from $653 to $507 million because some Member States have withheld contributions ever since UNESCO voted to admit Palestine last year. To be prepared for this possibility, the Board agreed to work with the Director-General to prioritize programme activities, so that appropriate cuts can be made if necessary. A Board working group was formed and will submit recommendations to a special session of the Executive Board on 4 July.
The Chairperson of the Board stressed that a stable and predictable source of funding is necessary to preserve UNESCO’s programme, stating: “This is a strong impetus for all Member States to maintain the viability of the Organization through the timely payment of dues.”
During the session, Member States expressed strong support for UNESCO’s new leadership role across a wide range of areas, including:
- steering the UN Secretary-General's "Global Education First Initiative" (GEFI);
- leading the Secretary-General’s new Science Advisory Board;
- mobilizing contributions from the UN system for the International Year of Water Cooperation (2013) at the request of the UN General Assembly; and
- creating in inter-agency task team on Culture and Development within the UN Development Group.
This task team will provide advice to the International Congress Culture: A key for Sustainable Development in Hangzhou, China this coming May.
The Board also discussed UNESCO's contribution to the global objectives that will replace the Millennium Development Goals when they expire in 2015. With Unicef, UNESCO has put forward a target for the proposed new goal “Ensuring equitable access to quality education for all.” Board members recognized the need to define targets and indicators across the entire field of education - as well as for culture, communication and the sciences, especially water and biodiversity.
Also during the session, the Board reviewed the “roadmap” that UNESCO created to implement the recommendations of its external auditor. 18 Roadmap targets have been achieved so far and several others are close to realization. Included in the reform package is a new partnership strategy that defines UNESCO’s engagement with eight different types of partner. A large majority of members expressed appreciation at the reform achieved so far.
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