United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
CULTURAL DIVERSITY ESSENTIAL FOR SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT, MAINTAINS UNESCO

Johannesburg/Paris - How can we alleviate poverty while promoting cultural and biological diversity? What political and legal measures need to be taken at the national and international levels to promote cultural diversity and protect biodiversity? Which measures should be taken to protect indigenous and local communities in the face of globalization?

These are some of the questions to be addressed at an official side event at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg (South Africa) on September 3 (Intercontinental Hotel, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.). UNESCO will organize the debates and discussions in cooperation with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the French government. UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura will take part, as will Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of UNEP and President Jacques Chirac of France. Several other Heads of State and Government will also participate, including President Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique and the Vice President of Iran, Massoumeh Ebtekar, as well as Nobel Prize laureates Rigoberta Menchu of Guatemala and Wole Soyinka of Nigeria.

"At Johannesburg, we must take a major leap forward by recognizing that culturally diverse visions of human well-being are essential to truly understand and protect the environment while meeting the needs of this generation and those of the future," says Mr Matsuura.

Many discussions and debates over biodiversity are dominated by a narrow technical perspective, which neglects or ignores the surrounding cultural, political and ecological contexts. "It is not enough to simply classify and quantify the number of plant and animal species," says the Director-General. "We must grasp the links between how different cultures shape the environment and vice versa."

The roundtable will examine the correlations between cultural and biological diversity and the common threats facing them, notably unsustainable patterns of consumption and production. It will also examine the threats that may be posed by globalization to cultural diversity and traditional knowledge, in particular that of indigenous and local communities.

Seven out of nine top countries for linguistic diversity are also among the top 17 countries for biological diversity, according to the UNESCO publication, Sharing a World of Difference, produced with the non-governmental organizations World Wide Fund for Nature and Terralingua. The publication, to be released in September, also found that 13 out of the 17 biological megadiversity countries - Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, India, Australia, Mexico, Brazil, Democratic Republic of Congo, the Philippines, the United States, Malaysia, China, Peru and Colombia - figure among the top 25 countries for endemic languages spoken exclusively within their respective borders. These languages are generally spoken by indigenous peoples and minorities with a wealth of information concerning the surrounding ecosystem. However, these communities are being increasingly impoverished by the same economic forces that threaten biodiversity.

Previously the notion of sustainable development embraced economic, environmental and social parameters, yet largely ignored those pertaining to cultural issues. A change in strategy is clearly a must, UNESCO believes, if the promotion of cultural diversity is to be given a central, rather than peripheral, place in the debate.

This is why UNESCO developed and adopted in 2001 the Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity*, which states that: "Cultural diversity is as necessary for humankind as biodiversity is for nature. In this sense, it is the common heritage of humanity and should be recognized and affirmed for the benefit of present and future generations."

This has been a longstanding principle in the Organization's diverse projects to promote sustainable development. For example, the Man and the Biosphere Programme** began 30 years ago to set up biosphere reserves around the world. Each one serves as a kind of "living laboratory", in which the local community develops its own ways of benefiting from and conserving biodiversity.

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The official event, entitled, Cultural Diversity, Biological Diversity & Sustainable Development, will take place on September 3, from 13:00 to 15:00 at the Mareola South Room, Intercontinental Hotel, Fleet Street, Sindhurst, Sandton.

*www.unesco.org/culture/pluralism/diversity/html_eng/index_en.shtml
**www.unesco.org/mab


Contact: Amy Otchet, Bureau of Public Information
In Johannesburg, cell phone: (+27) (0)828 580 718
E-mail: a.otchet@unesco.org

Isabelle Le Fournis, Bureau of Public Information,
In Johannesburg, cell phone: (+33) (0) 614 6953 72
E-mail: i.le-fournis@unesco.org



 
Author(s) UNESCOPRESS
Source Media Advisory No.2002-31
Publication Date 27 Aug 2002
© UNESCO 1995-2007 - ID: 5643