UNESCO has the broadest remit of any agency of the United Nations. It includes biosphere reserves and the well-known World Heritage Sites, as well as adult education and the restitution of cultural property that was illicitly appropriated during war.
There are five programme sectors: Education, Culture, Natural Sciences, Social and Human Sciences and Communication and Information. Current areas of focus are Africa and gender equality; this is reflected in all of UNESCO’s projects and programmes.
UNESCO Education programme
Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stipulates that “everyone has the right to education”. Education is essential for the development of societies and in combatting poverty and the spread of AIDS. It is a pre-requisite for children to be able to enjoy their right to a fulfilling life.
Within the United Nations system, UNESCO coordinates the global Education For All programme as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. SDG 4 of the Agenda aims to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all by 2030. Some 8,500 pupils worldwide engage in the international UNESCO Associated Schools Network.
UNESCO Culture programme
The priorities of UNESCO’s culture programme are protecting and preserving cultural heritage, and maintaining and promoting cultural diversity and dialogue between cultures. The UNESCO Convention on the Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions (2005), Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (2003) and Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (1972) provide the international legal framework for UNESCO’s cultural activities. Through its Memory of the World programme, UNESCO seeks to safeguard the world’s documentary heritage in archives and libraries.
UNESCO Natural Sciences programme
UNESCO promotes international and intergovernmental cooperation in the fields of both the natural sciences and the social and human sciences.
The themes it addresses range from oceanography to UNESCO biosphere reserves, to human rights, ethics and philosophy. Closer scientific cooperation has often been a first step towards peace. Scientific cooperation is absolutely necessary for sustainable development and joint efforts to address global challenges. In its activities in this area, UNESCO primarily supports networks and strategies that enable developing countries to build up their own research infrastructure.
A particular focus is Africa. Germany’s Federal Foreign Office and the German UNESCO Commissions are particularly active on the continent through numerous Projects.
UNESCO Communication and Information Programme
UNESCO’s Communication and Information programme aims to provide universal access to information and knowledge, to implement information technology as a driver of development and to promote press freedom.
UNESCO helps to create a pluralistic press around the world by training journalists and developing an independent media in developing countries and conflict regions. It promotes information technology as a driver of development to overcome the ‘digital divide’ between poor and rich countries.