Constructive Progress on Heritage plus Preparations for the next Programme cycle at UNESCO’s Executive Board

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© UNESCO

UNESCO’s Executive Board concluded its 191st session on Friday, 26 April. The talks were noteworthy both for an agreement on the protection of the Old city of Jerusalem 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 examine the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The last monitoring mission took place in 2004 and the World Heritage Commission has been requesting a new one for the last three years. It will now proceed in 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 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.  

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 reviewed 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.  

In her closing remarks the Chairperson of the Executive Board, Alessandra Cummins, praised the dedication of its members and their re-found focus on consensus to achieve results: “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.”