UNESCO’s General Conference, the governing body that brings together the Organization’s 195 Member States and nine Associate Members, opened today with the election of Hao Ping, the Vice Minister of Education of China, as President of its 37th session. The opening was also marked by the acceptance of Anguilla as a new Associate Member.
Mr Hao, who succeeds Katalin Bogyay (Hungary), President of the 36th session of the General Conference (2011-2013), stressed the enduring importance of UNESCO’s mission, in education, the sciences, culture and communication.
Speaking of unsustainable models of industrialization developed over the past two centuries, the President stressed the “urgent need to revolutionize ways of development while relying on innovations that are offered by science and technology.”
“The General Conference is where we stand as one, it is now and here that we can make outstanding progress,” the President said before invoking the universal dream of “a world of peace, equality, justice and harmony.”
The Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, whose nomination by the Executive Board of UNESCO for a second four-year term at the head of the Organization last month is expected to be confirmed by the General Conference, also spoke during the opening session: “UNESCO is today more in demand, more relevant, more performing. And we must not relent; we must forge on to meet the full ambitions of our mandate, to craft a single agenda for sustainability, for human dignity and development, to strengthen the multilateral order as the only answer to the challenges facing the world.”
The opening of the General Conference, which ends on 20 November, was also marked by the participation of Princess Marie of Denmark, Patron of the National Commission of Denmark for UNESCO. In her address, the Princess voiced her pride to be fully engaged in UNESCO’s work and advocacy to countering gender-based violence, and promoting quality education and sustainable development.
Several Heads of State and some 150 ministers and delegates from the 195 UNESCO Member States are attending the General Conference. This session will shape the Organization’s strategy and direction for the next eight years.
It takes place at a particularly critical time for UNESCO. The Organization is in the midst of a major reform, aimed at making it more relevant, more effective and more responsive to global challenges facing peace and development.
Since the last General Conference in 2011, UNESCO overcame a financial crisis caused after the withholding of major contributions totaling 22 per cent of its budget. The present session of the General Conference is expected to approve the draft programme and budget for 2014-2017 that reinforce the reform initiated two years ago.
Highlights of the General Conference include:
· The Leaders’ Forum on 6 November will be attended by Heads of State and High-Level government representatives. Their discussions will focus on defining the post-2015 international development agenda in the areas of education, science, culture and communication. Participants include Laura Chinchilla, President of Costa Rica; Moncef Marzuki, President of Tunisia, and Algirdas Butkevicius, Prime Minister of Lithuania. Addresses will also be made by Mohammad Javad Zarif, Foreign Affairs Minister of Iran, Abdulaziz Othman Altwajiri, Director-General of the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO) and Marie-Madeleine Mborantsuo, President of Gabon’s Constitutional Court.
· The Global Priority Africa will be explored through multiple fora, including an information meeting on the UNESCO General History of Africa Project; the launch of Women in African History: an E-Learning Tool; and the launch of Science, Engineering, Technology and Innovation.
· The first BRICS-UNESCO Ministerial Consultation Meeting on Education on 6 November, 8am to 9am in the Restaurant on the 7th floor.
· A scientific colloquium on 6 and 7 November on the discovery of the Toumai skull from Chad, believed by many to belong to the oldest known human ancestor. On 11 November, Idriss Deby Itno, the President of Chad, will present a replica of the skull to UNESCO, during a ceremony with the Director-General Irina Bokova.
· Taking stock of the Global Partnership for Girls’ and Women’s Education, 8 November, 1pm to 2pm, Room 11.
· The High-Level Panel on Climate Change Impacts on Water Resources and Adaptation Policies in Mountainous Regions (13 November).
· On 7 November, Rafael Correa, President of Ecuador, will address the plenary session of the General Conference (3pm, Room 1). The Grand Master of the Knights of Malta will also address the Conference on the same day (12.45pm), marking the 900th anniversary of the Order’s creation.
· The election of UNESCO’s Director-General will take place on 12 November. The Organization’s Executive Board has nominated Irina Bokova for a second four-year term. The investiture ceremony will take place on 18 October (Room 1).
· Three major reports will be launched during the General Conference. On 14 November (2pm, Room 11), a special edition of the UN’s Creative Economy Report, “Widening Local Development Pathways”, will be presented. On the 15th, UNESCO’s Social Science report entitled “Changing Global Environments” will be released. This latter includes contributions from over 150 social scientists, such as anthropologists, economists, development experts, geographers, political scientists, psychologists and sociologists. On 18 November, the launch of the UNU/UNESCO/University of Tokyo Report on “Sustainability Science: Promoting Integration and Cooperation”.
The full programme of the General Conference, along with all Conference documents is available here.