06.05.2014 - ODG

United Nations General Assembly underscores culture as key to the Post-2015 Development Agenda

© UN Photo/Devra BerkowitzA View of the Trusteeship Council Chamber as Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson (right, on screen) addresses the opening of the General Assembly’s thematic debate on “Culture and Sustainable Development in the Post-2015 Development Agenda”. (05 May 2014)

Ministers and senior policymakers from around the world joined UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova, Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations, Jan Eliasson, and H.E. Khaled Khiari, Acting President of the United Nations General Assembly in calling for culture to be integrated into the Post-2015 development agenda at a special thematic debate in New York on culture and sustainable development.

Speakers at the day long event, mandated by United Nations Resolution 68/223, underscored through country level testimonies and global data how culture, in its manifold expressions ranging from cultural heritage to creative industries, from sustainable tourism to cultural infrastructure, drives and enables the social, environmental and economic pillars of sustainable development. They also recognized that it is ‘the thread that binds together the social fabric of our societies’ in the words of the Acting President of the General Assembly. The role of culture as an element of reconstruction and reconciliation in the aftermath of conflict was a key theme of the speeches by Mali and Cote d’Ivoire.

“All countries are looking for effective strategies to foster transformative change, building on the lessons of the Millennium Development Goals. Sustainable development calls for ownership. This is where culture can help, to foster participation, to craft a more balanced and meaningful development model for the people, by the people,” said Irina Bokova.

Warning the audience of the dangers of repeating the mistakes of 2000, when culture was omitted from the Millennium Development Goals, the Director-General underscored culture’s double role as a tool both for eradicating poverty and enriching individual and community identity.

Culture’s role as a means for widening development pathways, fighting poverty, combating inequalities and promoting human rights was firmly outlined by the European Union, while the strategic importance of the creative economy as ‘an infinite resource’ for achieving sustainable development was emphasized by the Ministers of Culture of Turkey and Brazil. In this regard, Marianne Fay, Chief Economist of the World Bank Sustainable Development Network, spoke of the World Bank Group’s goal of reducing the percentage of people living on less than USD1.25 a day to 3 percent by 2030, and to foster income growth for the bottom 40 percent of the population in every country by creating jobs.

Noting that one billion travellers had moved around the globe in 2012 alone, Taleb Riffai, Secretary General of the UN World Tourism Organization demonstrated how the nexus between tourism and culture offers an immense opportunity to contribute to inclusive economic growth, social development, stability and heritage preservation.

Speaking on behalf of the Group of Friends of Culture, a coalition of some 30 countries the Vice Minister of Culture of Peru emphasized that the Group “consider[s] essential that the SDGs shall reflect amongst its targets the importance of cultural and creative industries for promoting inclusive and sustained economic growth and decent jobs for all, and of cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue for promoting peaceful and inclusive societies.”

The Right Honourable Michäelle Jean, Former Governor-General of Canada, and UNESCO’s special envoy for Haiti, and H.E. Rose-Anne Auguste, Haiti’s Minister for Human Rights and the fight against Extreme Poverty provided moving testimonies from Haiti of how a government ‘can never accord too much importance to the culture and language of its people’.

H.E. Hao Ping, President of UNESCO’s General Conference underlined the importance of culture as a resource for facing the multiple challenges facing societies around the world and the foundation for building a more harmonious and sustainable future.   Along with Ministers from Haiti, Korea, Peru and the Group of 77 and China among others, he observed that the ways in which people learn, acquire and transmit knowledge are closely linked to their geographical, historical and linguistic backgrounds; and that educational curricula that take the local context into account are most likely to be effective in providing quality education and cohesive societies.

Citing evidence drawn from UNESCO led projects in Cambodia, Nicaragua, Mozambique and Egypt, the Chairperson of UNESCO’s Executive Board, H.E. Ambassador Mohamed Sameh Amr, recalled that the Organization’s Member States had resolved to see culture find its rightful place in the Post-2015 Development Agenda, and voiced concern that the objectives agreed by Member States in Paris do not always get the attention and acceptance they deserve in New York.

Ministerial statements were complemented  by an interactive panel discussion featuring Farida Shaheed, UN Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, Marianne Fay, Chief Economist of the World Bank Sustainable Development Network, Felipe Savadogo, Permanent Representative of the Organization internationale de la Francophonie to the United Nations, Trudie Styler, Actress and Film Producer, and Charles Vallerand, General Secretary of the International Federation of Coalitions for Cultural Diversity, which highlighted the power of culture for poverty eradication, quality education, human rights, gender equality, sustainable environmental management and more liveable  and competitive cities.

In her concluding remarks, the Director-General noted the overwhelming support for bringing culture in from  the margins to centre stage in the elaboration of the Post-2015 agenda and expressed the hope that the views expressed during the day’s fruitful deliberations would be heard by the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals meeting this week in New York.

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