22.12.2010 - Irina Bokova

2010, International Year of Biodiversity, is coming to an end… Happy New Year 2011, International Year of Chemistry!

© UNESCO/Michel Ravassard – Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO

Message by UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova

These successive “international years” highlight the crucial role of science in understanding our environment and for development and peace. They show the international community’s determination to engage deeply with these subjects. They also underline UNESCO’s driving role in these processes, as the only United Nations agency specializing in the sciences.

UNESCO has worked throughout the year to organize conferences and travelling exhibitions, placing biodiversity at the heart of its programmes -- not only in science, but also in culture, given the close links between cultural diversity and biodiversity. Those efforts contributed significantly to the outcome of the 10th ordinary meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 10), held in Nagoya (Japan) in October 2010. A new ten-year strategic plan was adopted, along with a new international Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from Their Utilization.

The activities carried out to mark these “international years” lay milestones for the long term. Their impact extends far beyond the limits imposed by the calendar. At its 185th session in October 2010, the Executive Board of UNESCO decided to launch an ambitious programme on biodiversity, in particular by strengthening the Programme on Man and the Biosphere (MAB). This groundbreaking programme, launched in the early 1970s, laid the foundations for what is known today as “sustainable development.” We will now step up efforts to encourage biodiversity research and conservation in the 564 biosphere reserves that stretch across 109 countries.
Biodiversity is our most fundamental natural resource. It supports processes that we all often take for granted, such as air quality, climate regulation, water purification, parasite and disease control, pollination and the prevention of erosion. Human well-being and survival are hardly conceivable without flourishing biodiversity. This must be a goal that we all work towards, together.

The 2011 International Year of Chemistry will be a springboard for our greater ambitions in the sciences. Chemistry is everywhere in our daily life -- in the food we eat, the clothes we wear and the energy we use. As is biodiversity, chemistry is part of the often overlooked “silent environment” that we must understand better.

On the initiative of Ethiopia, the United Nations declared 2011 International Year of Chemistry (IYC 2011) and entrusted its organization to UNESCO. We shall seize this opportunity to redouble efforts in our fields of action – including science cooperation and diplomacy, building the research capacities of States and quality science education for all. Celebrated in the 100th anniversary year of the award of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry to Marie Curie, 2011 is an ideal moment to pay tribute to and promote women’s contribution to science.

Science in general and chemistry in particular is a strategic lever for development. It is also a remarkable instrument of peace, through international cooperation among researchers worldwide.

This potential of science must be better known. We must consider together how to make greater use of this.

How, for instance, can we develop ‘green chemistry’ in the service of sustainable development? Discoveries in chemistry can help us rise to the challenges of climate change and develop alternative sources of energy. Chemistry can facilitate access to unpolluted water sources -- a challenge that will affect future stability in many regions. The celebration of the International Year of Chemistry should be understood in the context of United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005-2014). Above all, it must lead to more effective decision-making and the development of practical applications. 

How can we share better the benefits of chemistry? Science and chemistry concern all of us and must not remain the exclusive preserve of experts. We must improve and accelerate science and chemistry education, train today the chemists of tomorrow and enable everyone to understand chemical processes and gauge their impact. These are the first steps to building knowledge societies. We must provide genuine resources to everybody, girls and boys, so that they can take part.

These are my wishes for 2011. This year again, through a conference series, the launch of an experiment in schools across the world on the theme of water and special emphasis on this theme in its programmes, UNESCO will work to make these wishes come true.

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