UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, UNDP Administrator Helen Clark and government ministers from around the world have called for culture to be given top priority in the post-2015 global development agenda. Their overwhelming support for culture as a central pillar of development emerged during a thematic debate on the subject initiated by the President of the 67th session of the UN General Assembly, Vuk Jeremić at UN Headquarters in New York, on 12 June 2013.
“We need to fully acknowledge the power of culture, as we shape a new global agenda to follow 2015,” said UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova, in her address to some 250 participants. “No society can flourish without culture and there can be no sustainable development without it.”
Irina Bokova recalled that culture was largely forgotten from the Millennium Development Goals in 2000. Several following speakers stressed that much has changed since then and provided evidence from their own countries to show how culture is providing a motor for economic growth, social inclusion, equality and sustainable development.
They also highlighted the need to develop statistical data to inform global policy about the impact of culture on human development. “Currently information is not regularly collected; it is not standardized and therefore not comparable. Without proper information, the public will continue to undervalue the contributions of culture. If we are going to make a paradigm shift, we need urgent global attention on culture with the relevant statistics,” said Frank Anthony, Guyana’s Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports.
Experiences shared by the Ministers ranged over cultural industries; infrastructure; tourism; cultural heritage; sustaining oral traditions; preserving languages; countering youth violence; developing arts education and innovation; sustaining critical and creative thinking; fostering peaceful coexistence in growing multicultural societies and in national unity processes.
Participants highlighted that despite the economic and financial crisis, culture stands as a strong and viable economic sector, generating incomes and jobs, and contributing to poverty alleviation in a number of countries, and a growing portion of GDP in emerging economies. For example, in 2012, cultural production brought 3.8 % of the GDP of Argentina; generating $56 million each year, this sector far exceeds the contribution of the nation’s fisheries and natural resources industries.
The High Representative of the Alliance of Civilizations Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser and the President of the UN General Assembly, Vuk Jeremić, both raised the strong linkage between culture and peace-building, emphasizing that culture provides peoples and communities with a strong sense of identity and belonging, hence the need to ensure that it is integrated in educational curricula. Several other ministers echoed the need for development strategies and policies to build on the multi-ethnic, multi-lingual and multi-cultural identity as a defining feature of many countries, and stressed the intrinsic linkage between culture, equity and social justice.
The G-77 and China, the European Union and the Community of Latin America and Caribbean States (CELAC) requested an explicit reference to culture as an enabler and driver for development in the post-2015 agenda, emphasizing that it plays a central role in accelerating the MDGs, as highlighted in the Hangzhou Declaration (May 2013).
The UN General Assembly debate was followed by an informal ministerial session targeting specific areas to be addressed in the forthcoming high-level deliberations to define Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
On the same day, Irina Bokova, was invited to interact with the Open Working Group (OWG) on SDGs during a working breakfast hosted by the Permanent Representative of Hungary to the UN, co-chair of the OWG on the SDGs, to discuss key targets in Education and Culture. Members referred to UNDP’s MDG accelerating framework in relation to Education for All, while underscoring the need to integrate quality education and devote adequate attention to learning outcomes. Members also agreed on the setting up of an action group tasked with defining ways and means to reflect culture as an enabler of sustainability in the global development agenda.
“As we make a last big push, and as we define the contours of a post-2015 development agenda, it is not enough to set global targets for all – we need to adapt to each context,” concluded UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in his address to the General Assembly. “Too many well-intended development programmes have failed, because they did not take cultural settings into account. We must identify new models of participation. Culture is at the top of this agenda.”