On 28 February 2013, H. E. Mr Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, President of the Republic of Iceland, visited UNESCO, marking the first visit of an Icelandic President to the Organization, and held a long and rich bilateral meeting with Ms. Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director-General.
The Director-General welcomed the President and recalled the longstanding cooperation between the Organization and Iceland, particularly in the fields of culture and the sciences.
“Iceland is a unique example of the power of resilience through investing in culture,” pursued Irina Bokova, underscoring the contribution of Ms. Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, former President of Iceland and a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for Linguistic Diversity and Multilingual Education and a staunch advocate of the role of languages to sustain cultural diversity and mutual understanding. The Director-General underlined also Ms. Finnbogadóttir’s contribution as a member of the International Jury of the Félix Houphouët-Boigny Peace Prize.
“UNESCO has always held a special place in Iceland for its unique mandate in culture and education,” said President Grimsson. “Culture and languages are very closely related to the building of the Icelandic Republic and the foundations of its independence”.
He went on to indicate that “culture lies at the core of Iceland’s financial recovery,” and has become the major economic asset of the country. In this regard, he praised the Director-General for her strong advocacy of the central role of culture for development in all societies and provided examples of the flourishing cultural enterprise and cultural tourism in Iceland, as well as the development of publishing, design and arts institutions -- such as the 2010 national glass Harpa Concert Hall designed by world-famous architect Olafur Eliasson, a model of sustainable design and ecological architecture, testifying to the wealth of the Icelandic culture, its booming creativity and innovation.
Underlining the current widespread financial crisis in Europe, the President invited the Director-General to strengthen her advocacy as to the importance of culture to achieve sustainable development and suggested to her to convene a conference of finance ministers to address the role of culture in financial recovery. He offered to showcase the successful experience of Iceland in this context and to share Icelandic research and expertise with the wider research community.
Irina Bokova invited the President to join UNESCO at the congress that will be organized in Hangzhou on culture and development, emphasizing the power of culture for resilience, as shown in Haiti following the earthquake, for reconstruction and national unity, as recently demonstrated in Mali, and for its economic and social drive through employment and the creative industries, as testified in a number of emerging economies, such as Brazil and China.
The President also addressed issues of high concern to him and his country in relation to climate change. He referred to three core areas where Iceland could provide its longstanding expertise – notably, renewable energy, research on the Arctic Seas and oceans. “The future of the oceans is key to Iceland”.
He informed the Director-General of his country’s strong investment in the capacity-building of Asian and African scientists, and Iceland’s readiness to engage with UNESCO in a more prominent way to mobilize international cooperation on climate change and oceans. He underscored, with regard to the latter, the fast pace of change affecting the species and fishing communities worldwide.
The Director-General voiced her concern following the Rio+20 Conference and debates at the 2013 Davos Economic Forum about the insufficient recognition in decision-making and public policies of the need to ensure ocean sustainability. She informed the President of UNESCO’s efforts in the context of the UN Oceans Compact through its Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC), focusing notably on the implications of coastal hazards and acidification. She welcomed the opportunity to join forces with Iceland in advancing advocacy in this regard, and to discuss concrete avenues in the context of next June’s General Assembly of the IOC. The President concurred with the need to enhance the level of concern and the message with the wider international community and emphasized the importance of scientific data collection and sharing.
In concluding, the President raised Iceland’s interest to up-scale its work in the area of World Heritage, referring to the wish to submit the Vikings’ traditional turf houses for nomination on the World Heritage List in a near future. He recalled that the vernacular architectural tradition dates back to the settlement in the 9th century, adapting to the local climate, its environmental resources and the society’s requirements on the island.
The Director-General welcomed the President’s emphasis on the importance of World Heritage as a bridge between built heritage and communities, as well as between the preservation of built cultural heritage and the safeguarding of ancestral traditions.