UNESCO, the national authorities of China and the municipality of Hangzhou are organizing an International Congress on the critical role of culture for sustainable development. Entitled “Culture: Key to Sustainable Development” the international Congress which will take place in Hangzhou, China, from 15 to 17 May will set a landmark in the global debate on shaping the 2015 global development agenda and beyond.
UNESCO has long advocated that culture is essential to sustainable development, because of the resources it embodies for individuals and communities as a source of innovation and creativity.
“Culture is what makes us who we are, it gives us strength, and it provides answers to many of the challenges we face today,” said UNESCO Director-General of UNESCO. “This power is increasingly recognized by countries across the world. We need now determined political will to act on this recognition, to mainstream culture in all development strategies and programmes at global, regional and local levels, to integrate culture within national development goals. This calls for the development of clear indicators and targets, to measure the impact of culture on sustainable development, so as to inform decision-making and development policies.”
For UNESCO, culture must be seen as a driver of development, led by the growth of the cultural sector and creative industries and the benefits arising from safeguarding tangible and intangible cultural heritage, as well as the benefits of investing in creativity. It is also an enabler for sustainable development -- the context in which development policies can move forward, through local ownership, with efficiency and impact.
The facts speak for themselves. Today, cultural heritage, cultural and creative industries, sustainable cultural tourism, and cultural infrastructure generate substantial revenues, notably in developing countries thereby fighting poverty and unemployment. Cultural and creative industries represent one of the most rapidly expanding sectors in the global economy with a growth rate of 17.6 % in the Middle East, 13.9 % in Africa, 11.9% in South America, 9.7 % in Asia, 6.9 % in Oceania, and 4.3 % in North and Central America, according to a 2008 study by PricewaterhouseCoopers.
The sector requires limited capital investment, yet it has a direct impact on communities, including especially vulnerable populations, women and marginalized groups. In Ecuador, for example, studies show that formal and private cultural activities contributed 4.76% to the 2010 GDP. In the same year, 2.64% of the country’s employed population worked in cultural occupations, almost 60% of the latter being women, according to a 2012 study by UNESCO and the Government of Ecuador.
There is far more to the power of culture for development than economic growth. Non-monetary benefits of culture-led development include greater social inclusiveness and rootedness, resilience, innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship for individuals and communities.
Cultural factors influence lifestyles, consumption patterns, values related to our interaction with and stewardship of the natural environment. It also encompasses local and indigenous knowledge systems and environmental management practices which provide valuable insight and tools with which to tackle ecological challenges, such as the loss of biodiversity, and land degradation, and climate change, not to mention its key role in enabling people to lead satisfying intellectual, emotional, moral and spiritual lives.
The International Congress “Culture: Key to Sustainable Development”, which will bring together 450 policy-makers, leaders from development institutions, representatives of the private sector, civil society, academia, and the arts, is the key moment to examine all of these aspects of culture for development and to lay the ground for a strong post 2015 development agenda.
The Congress will adopt the Hangzhou Agenda on Culture and Sustainable Development, and is expected to yield evidence-based arguments for ways by which culture can strengthen sustainable development, providing substantive input to the discussions on the framework for the post-2015 development agenda.
The Hangzhou Congress will feature high-level thematic discussions and panels on a wide range of subjects including: “Culture in the post-2015 sustainable development agenda”, “Peace and Reconciliation: how culture makes the difference”, “Culture, Wellbeing and Human Development”, “Cultural Approaches to Addressing Poverty”, “Culture: a driver and an enabler of social cohesion”, “Culture: An enabler for environmental sustainability”, “Sustainable Cities, Heritage and Creativity” and “Public Private Partnerships in the culture sector”.
At a time of economic crisis, as well as cuts in public spending on culture, the Congress will be the opportunity to broaden the debate about development to harness culture’s transformative power in crafting a new post-2015 global development agenda. The goal is to inspire governments, civil society, businesses and communities to harness the power of culture in addressing the world’s most pressing challenges.
Jeff Lee - email: jj.lee(at)unesco.org