United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization

Director-General opens UNESCO Future Forum on the impact of the financial and economic crisis on multilateralism

On Monday 2 March 2009, the Director-General of UNESCO, Mr Koïchiro Matsuura, opened the first UNESCO Future Forum* on the theme, “The Global Financial and Economic Crisis: What Impact on Multilateralism and UNESCO?”.

The event brought together more than 20 international experts and decision-makers to discuss the ramifications of the crisis for international cooperation in the areas of development, the provision of basic social services, gender equality, and the environment, in particular climate change.

Ambassador Olabiyi Babalola Joseph Yaï, Chairman of UNESCO’s Executive Board, also addressed the opening session of the Forum, and a message was read out from Ambassador George Anastassopoulos, President of the General Conference of UNESCO. Keynote speeches were delivered by Aart de Geus, Deputy Secretary-General of the OECD, Abdoulie Janneh, Under Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), and Mohan Munasinghe, Vice-Chair of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and Chairman of the Munasinghe Institute for Development, Sri Lanka.

“The world faces a global crisis of unprecedented scale. No one can safely anticipate the extent of the damage. But one thing is sure. The crisis affects everyone. And those who will be hardest hit are those least responsible. As always, it is the poor who will suffer the most. For them, the financial crisis compounds the food crisis, the energy crisis, the development crisis. We have to admit that, taken together, these crises provide compelling warnings that our patterns of development are simply not sustainable. Yet we must also recognize that with this period of crisis comes a unique opportunity for change. We must seize this chance, and use it to bring about more inclusive societies, more stable and equitable growth, and more responsible habits of consumption – financially and environmentally”, the Director-General said in his opening statement**.

Warning against the dangers of a return to political and economic protections, Mr Matsuura insisted that the crisis could only be resolved through international cooperation and solidarity. He urged the need to reaffirm the principles and practices of multilateralism, and to make the multilateral system more inclusive, effective and coherent. However, he said it was not enough to address the structures of global governance. “We also have to look at the moral foundations of our international community. Our institutions are only as strong as the values that underpin them. (…) The financial crisis is also an ethical crisis. It compels us to re-examine the aspirations that govern our global society”, the Director-General said.

Turning to the issues on the agenda, Mr Matsuura argued that the primary duty of the multilateral system, in particular the UN, was to protect the poorest and most vulnerable. “We cannot allow rich countries to use this crisis as an excuse to turn their back on the world’s poor. Measures to revive growth and fix the financial system must be coupled with greater efforts to tackle the structural problems of extreme poverty and inequality”. The Director-General called on donors to urgently deliver on their aid commitments. He also appealed for greater investment “in those fundamental elements of society – education, the sciences, culture and communication – that make human development possible but which are often the first to be hit in a recession”.

Mr Matsuura took the example of education to show how a counter-cyclical injection of resources could not only help spur a recovery but also support more vigorous growth in the future. He made special mention to the importance of promoting girls’ education. “Girls often bear the brunt of economic shocks. They are the first to be taken out of school and put to work. Yet we also know that educating girls has a huge multiplier effect on development – with positive impacts on health, fertility rates, household income and more. Polices that keep girls in school during a downturn – such as cash-transfer systems – are both a matter of social justice and good economics”.

On the question of the impact of the financial crisis on climate change, the Director-General said that “there would be nothing more dangerous than to let the crisis deflect us in our resolve to address this threat and reach a robust climate deal in Copenhagen in December”. Welcoming proposals for a “new green deal”, Mr Matsuura underscored the importance of sustained investment in science and innovation. “Yes, we need to increase spending on green technologies. But, we also need to strengthen the capacity of countries – especially developing countries – to drive the research for even better solutions and better understanding of climate change”.

However, the Director-General argued the need to go one step further. “To tackle climate change – or any of the global crises we face – it is not enough to develop smarter technologies to mitigate their effects or stronger regulations to control the damage. We have to change the attitudes and behaviours behind them. This takes time. It isn’t something that can be calibrated in terms of a stimulus effect. But without a deeper shift in priorities – towards greater solidarity and respect for each other and our planet – our growth and development will remain vulnerable to crises like those we face today”. Mr Matsuura said that UNESCO had been working towards such a shift in priorities since its creation and that, in response to the current crisis, the Organization “must redouble its efforts to advance education for all; to mobilize science for development; to address emerging social and ethical challenges; to promote cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue; and to ensure the free exchange of knowledge and ideas”. These, he said, were “the foundations upon which true freedom and prosperity lie”.

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Author(s): Office of the Spokesperson - Source: Flash Info N° 033-2009 -  Publication Date: 05-03-2009

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