Culture for sustainability

Director General of UNESCO for Diversity of Cultural Expression

Published on 11 May 2012

Author(s): The Daily Star/Irina Bokova

Type:  Statement

Cultural diversity is a reality of this globalised world. We need now better policies to make the most of it.

From music and film to publishing and multimedia, the story is the same everywhere. Cultural and creative industries are driving innovation, creating jobs and forging social cohesion. This drive is especially powerful in Bangladesh, where the protection of culture and language stands at the forefront of the country’s development and social cohesion.

Culture means jobs, and growth, and participation. Its potential for sustainable development carries special meaning in the Asia-Pacific region. In the coming years, Asia will record the highest growth rate of all regions in the entertainment and media industry, with more than a 9% compound annual growth rate. Despite a global economic crisis, cultural and creative industries are alive and growing in the region and across the globe.

This is not an accident. Many countries in the region are putting in place strategies and policies to develop their creative economies. These must be taken further. Cultural diversity holds keys to releasing the creative energies societies need today. We need new ideas and approaches to move the world towards a more sustainable future. We need new skills to live and work together, and new forms of citizenship for a rich and plural environment.

This calls for integrated cooperation mechanisms and more participatory governance structures for culture. It requires a deeper statistical understanding of the importance of cultural sector to development. It demands greater awareness-raising about the cultural dimension of development and capacity-building for development actors, cultural entrepreneurs and artists.

The government of Bangladesh is bringing together in Dhaka this week leading policymakers from across the region for a first "Forum on Diversity of Cultural Expressions Ministerial." This is timely and bold. The Forum will explore strategies to bring culture to the forefront of political agendas.

We have strong ground to build on. In 2005, countries around the world adopted UNESCO’s landmark "Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions." This is the first standard-setting instrument that recognises the distinctive nature of cultural goods as vehicles of identity, and the first to place culture and development at its core of action. The Convention is our tool to build a world that thrives on diversity.

Step by step, states are using the Convention’s mechanisms to build the cultural infrastructures they need. 122 Parties are putting in place strategies and policies to develop their creative economies. On this basis, Cambodia, for instance, has created new platforms of dialogue for the development of a new cultural policy.

More states must come on board. To date, only 12 of 44 countries in the Asia-Pacific region have ratified the 2005 Convention. This Forum in Dhaka is an opportunity to encourage wider efforts by all states to ratify the Convention.

The stakes are high, today and for the century ahead. Culture was left out of the Millennium Development Goals in 2000. We cannot let this happen again. Culture must lie at the heart of the global development agenda we set to follow 2015.

This is why, for more than a decade, Unesco has worked tirelessly to place culture at the forefront of development strategies and cooperation. We are gaining ground. Thanks to our advocacy, international community is increasingly acknowledging the role of culture in sustainable development. It is our shared responsibility to design development strategies that are sensitive to the cultural specificities of peoples, in order to gain their full support and participation. This starts today.

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