Several Heads of State and some 150 ministers and delegates from all 195 UNESCO Member States will gather in Paris over the next 15 days for the Organization’s General Conference. This 37th session will shape the Organization’s strategy and direction for the next eight years. The Conference is also expected to confirm another four-year term for Irina Bokova as Director-General. She was nominated for a second term by UNESCO’s Executive Board last month.
This session of the General Conference is held at a particularly critical time for UNESCO. The Organization is in the midst of a major reform, aimed at making UNESCO more relevant, more effective and more performing in response to global challenges to peace and development.
Since the last General Conference in November 2011, the Organization has sharpened the focus of its programmes; positioned itself closer to the field; broadened its range of partnerships with the private sector, civil society and other intergovernmental organizations; and reinforced its role within the United Nations system.
In Education, UNESCO is accelerating the Education for All (EFA) movement to speed up progress towards universal primary education in the run up to 2015, the target date for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). It is working to increase political commitment to the EFA goals and to define the vision for education in the sustainable development goals that will follow the MDGs - with a particular focus on providing quality education.
Strengthening the linkages between science and policy to address the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development is also central to UNESCO’s work. It is for this reason that the Secretary-General of the UN, Ban Ki-moon, asked the Director General to chair the Scientific Advisory Board that he has established to provide advice on science, technology and innovation to him and the executive heads of relevant United Nations organizations.
Guided by the conviction that culture is at the heart of development – a lever for economic growth and social inclusion -UNESCO is advocating relentlessly for the integration of culture in the international sustainable development agenda. At the same time, the Organization is building on its unique set of international conventions aimed at safeguarding cultural heritage, protecting cultural diversity as a wealth of humanity and promoting cultural assets for future generations, while bolstering creativity and cultural industries worldwide - amongst these, it will provide enhanced outreach and support to to their implementation, especially the 1970 Convention against the illicit trafficking of cultural objects.
The defense of press freedom and freedom of expression is also another focus of UNESCO’s work through support provided to governments and civil society organizations for the growth of independent and pluralist media, the development of legal frameworks and the improved training of journalists, as well as through the promotion and implementation of a UN-wide plan to improve safety for journalists.
UNESCO has overcome a financial crisis that occurred after the withholding of contribution from major donors to the amount of 22 per cent of the Organization’s budget, a loss of $220 million over the three years from 2011 to the present. To address this cash shortfall, the Director-General accelerated the reform process leading to further efficiency gains, and raised $75 million through an emergency fund. Today, the Organization’s books are balanced.
The General Conference is expected to approve a programme that reinforces the reform and gives shape to the policies needed to achieve the sustainable development goals that will guide the international community in the coming years. It will also be asked to approve an expenditure plan of $507 million for the Organization for the next two years.
President of the General Conference, Katalin Bogyay (Hungary), Chairperson of UNESCO’s Executive Board Alissandra Cummins and Director-General Irina Bokova will open the event on the morning of 5 November, in the presence of Princess Marie of Denmark. One of the first tasks will be to adopt the Conference agenda and elect a new President. The Executive Board has proposed China’s Vice Minister for Education, Hao Ping.
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.
- 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.
- 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”.