In addition to being a standalone policy area, culture cuts across the broad spectrum of public policies, acting as an enabler and driver to achieve a variety of development prospects. This transversal dimension of culture echoes the rationale of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which promotes a holistic, webbed approach to sustainable development across its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 Targets ; the 2030 Agenda addresses sustainable development as a set of interrelated variables highlighting the close linkages and synergies between different public policy areas. Although culture does not have a dedicated SDG, it contributes to all 17 SDGs – from poverty alleviation to quality education, employment, social justice and environmental protection – and is explicitly reflected in several targets.
This page puts the spotlight on transversal approaches, exploring the manifold ways through which culture interacts with other development areas and how it can bring about synergies, through innovation and cultural agency as an enabler of change towards forging new approaches to meet the Sustainable Development Goals. Based on UNESCO’s work in the fields of culture, education, social and natural sciences, information literacy, and communication, this page presents concrete examples and initiatives linking culture with other development areas with a view to maximizing the impact of UNESCO action to address which call for an intersectoral and interdisciplinary response.
Culture & Sustainable Development
With the 2030 Agenda, the international community has recognized – for the first time – the role of culture in sustainable development. The Agenda explicitly and implicitly refers to culture across many of its goals and targets. The role of culture is particularly reflected in Goal 11 focused on human settlements and its Target 11.4 to ‘strengthen efforts to protect and safeguard the world’s cultural and natural heritage', as well as in Goal 4 focused on education and its Target 4.7 aimed at ensuring ‘that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including … through education for sustainable development,… promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development’. Culture is also reflected transversally across several SDGs.
Poverty Reduction & Growth
The 2030 Agenda emphasizes the multidimensional nature of poverty and aims atinclusive economic growth. Youth employment, jobs, economic diversification and the contribution of sustainable tourism are all emphasized in Goal 8 addressing economic growth. UNESCO’s work to ensure enabling conditions for flourishing cultural and creative industries (CCIs) contributes directly to Goal 8. CCIs are estimated to generate nearly 30 million jobs worldwide. Several CCI fields employ disproportionately high numbers of young people, are quite labour intensive and are characterized by very high added value, thus responding well to criteria highlighted in Goal 8.
Learning & Knowledge
SDG Target 4.7 focuses on the social, humanistic and moral purposes of education. It acknowledges the importance of cultural diversity and the contribution of culture to sustainable development. UNESCO actively promotes a holistic vision of education through the concept Education for Sustainable Development, which encompasses inter-disciplinary learning and promotes competencies such as critical thinking, imagining future scenarios and collaboration.
Gender Equality & Empowerment
Realizing gender equality is a precondition for progress across all SDGs. Achieving full sustainable development is not possible if half of humanity continues to be denied its basic human rights and opportunities. Gender dynamics are social and cultural constructs. Culture is therefore a powerful lever for achieving gender equality. There is strong evidence that portrayals of women in cultural products influence attitudes and behaviours. For example, a study in 2016 found that 25 per cent of women in Brazil reported that they had found the courage to leave abusive relationships thanks to strong female role models in film and television.
Environment & Biodiversity
Climate change is the defining issue of our time. The grave climate emergency, rapid loss of biodiversity and other forms of environmental degradation have contributed to this multifaceted crisis, and impact efforts to safeguard humanity's cultural and natural heritage, including its intangible cultural heritage. Solutions are interrelated and must act on several fronts, including addressing underlying structures and concepts.
The pledge to leave no one behind is a defining feature of the 2030 Agenda. Inclusion has been a longstanding priority for UNESCO as a whole, and UNESCO’s Management of Social Transformations (MOST) Programme is at the forefront of reflection and policy advice on the multidimensional issue of inclusion. MOST’s Inclusive Policy Lab offers policymakers in all fields an array of instruments, including UNESCO’s Analytical Framework for Inclusive Policy Design. Accessing and participating in cultural life are crucial elements in creating a sense of belonging, shared identity, and enhancing well-being.
Today 1.2 billion youth — the largest generation of young people in history — are navigating their transition into adulthood. Youth empowerment is a cross-cutting and essential issue for the achievement of all the SDGs. UNESCO seeks to nurture the capacity of youth as agents of change, engaging youth as active participants in the design and implementation of policies.
Peace Building & Dialogue
As stated in the 2030 Agenda, which highlights the interrelation between sustainable development and peace, ‘There can be no sustainable development without peace and no peace without sustainable development.’ We must build resilient communities capable of maintaining peace in the event of both crisis and long-term stressors, such as demographic changes, rapid urbanization and growing inequalities. Promoting the equal dignity of all cultures while fostering global citizenship is at the heart of the UNESCO Culture Sector’s work in this area. UNESCO’s Culture Conventions provide a platform for the recognition and safeguarding of cultures, while passing the powerful message that cultural and natural heritage, in all their diversity, belong to humanity.
UNESCO for Sustainable Cities
UNESCO is committed to enhancing the sustainability of cities through policy advice, technical assistance and capacity building, drawing on its longstanding normative and operational experience in the fields of education, sciences, culture, communication and development. Thanks to multi-disciplinary cooperation among all its sectors, as well as its broad network of experts across the globe, UNESCO has become a leading agency in the effective implementation of the New Urban Agenda and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.The UNESCO Cities Platform gathers eight UNESCO networks and programmes, and reflects the transversal approach the Organization’s work with cities towards implementing the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals. It includes the following programmes: