Culture, defined as “set of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features of society or a social group, and that it encompasses, in addition to art and literature, lifestyles, ways of living together, value systems, traditions and beliefs” (2001 UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity), is an enabler and driver for sustainable development.
Spanning from archaeological sites, historical buildings and ancient monuments to a wealth of festivals, crafts making and indigenous knowledge, from film, music, theater to visual and performing arts, culture contributes to inclusive economic development and poverty reduction. Cultural heritage, cultural and creative industries, sustainable cultural tourism, and cultural infrastructure can serve as strategic tools for revenue generation, particularly in developing countries given their often-rich cultural heritage and substantial labor force. Culture-led development also includes a range of non-monetized benefits, such as greater social inclusiveness and rootedness, resilience, innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship for individuals and communities, and the use of local resources, skills, and knowledge. Respecting and supporting cultural expressions contribute to strengthening the social capital of a community and fosters trust in public institutions. Cultural factors also influence lifestyles, individual behavior, consumption patterns, values related to environmental stewardship, and our interaction with the natural environment. Local and indigenous knowledge systems and environmental management practices provide valuable insight and tools for tackling ecological challenges, preventing biodiversity loss, reducing land degradation, and mitigating the effects of climate change.
As an enabler for development, culture empowers people with capacities to take ownership of their own development processes. When a people-centered and placed-based approach is integrated into development programs and peacebuilding initiatives, when development interventions in fields ranging from health to education, gender empowerment and youth engagement, take the cultural context into account, including diverse local values, conditions, resources, skills and limitations, transformative and sustainable change can occur.
The discussion on culture and sustainable development has dated back to the early 70s when the discussion focused on the protection of World Heritage within the scope of the 1972 Convention for the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage and the 1982 World Conference on Cultural Policies – the first conference that officially acknowledged the links between culture and development. A series of events taking place from the end of the 1980s until now further debated and acknowledged the potential role of culture in achieving sustainable development, with milestones including the 1995 World Commission on Cultural Development report “Our Creative Diversity”, 1998 UNESCO Intergovernmental Conference on Cultural Policies for Development, the 2008 Creative Economy Report, followed by its 2010 and 2013 versions, 2013 Hangzhou Declaration “Placing culture at the heart of sustainable development policies” and Rio+20 outcome document “Future We Want”.
The role of culture in sustainable development has been specifically addressed by a number of UN General Assembly’s Resolutions, which invite Member States and relevant stakeholders to, among others, “raise public awareness of the importance of cultural diversity for sustainable development…” and “to ensure a more visible and effective integration and mainstreaming of culture into social, environmental and economic development policies and strategies at all levels”.
World Heritage Sites
The most notable goal to which World Heritage and other heritage sites contribute to is SDG 11, particularly Target 11.4 on protecting natural and cultural heritage. The 1972 Convention for the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage provides a framework for achieving this target. The 259 World Heritage Sites in 36 countries in the Asia and the Pacific region (182 cultural sites, 65 natural sites, and 12 mixed sites), representing almost 24 per cent of the World Heritage List, provide a platform to develop and test new approaches that demonstrate the relevance of heritage for sustainable development. A Policy on the integration of a sustainable development perspective into the processes of World Heritage Convention aims to assist the States Parties, practitioners, institutions, communities and networks, to realize the contribution of World Heritage and other types of heritage to the three dimensions of sustainable development, namely environmental sustainability, inclusive social development and inclusive development, together with the fostering of peace and security.
World Heritage and other heritage sites, being buildings and historic places, monuments and archaeological parks, contribute to inclusive economic development in driving forward equitable growth and generation of decent employment (Target 8.3) through providing work related to the restoration of buildings and sites, and sustainable tourism (Target 8.9 and 12.b). Revenues and jobs generated by tourism are often considered an important benefit of the World Heritage status. However, if not properly managed, tourism development will bring many negative impacts not only to the sites, but also the communities living in and around the sites. UNESCO’s World Heritage and Sustainable Tourism Program assists the countries to develop and implement adequate tourism policies and activities, with a view to protect the heritage and to bring benefits to the communities.
World Heritage and other heritage sites also contribute to environmental sustainability – by protecting natural resources such as water and biological diversity (Targets 6.6, 14.5 and 15.1) and supporting heritage resilience (Targets 2.4 and 11.4). Heritage sites harbor options for society to mitigate and adapt to climate change through the ecosystem benefits, such as water and climate regulations, that they provide and the carbon that is stored in World Heritage forest sites. Heritage sites can also serve as climate change observatories to gather and share information on applied and tested monitoring, mitigation and adaption practices. The global network of World Heritage also helps to raise awareness on the impacts of climate change on human societies and cultural diversity, biodiversity and ecosystem services, and the world’s natural and cultural heritage.
To date, the World Heritage Education Program has contributed to SDG 4 through training of over 1,250 teachers and educators at the national, sub-regional, regional and international levels, and the organization of over 40 international and regional Youth Forums with over 2,000 young participants. The program gives young people a chance to voice their concerns and to become involved in the protection of our common cultural and natural heritage. It seeks to encourage and enable tomorrow’s decision makers to participate in heritage conservation and to respond to the continuing threats facing our World Heritage. The World Heritage in Young Hands Kit aims to incorporate World Heritage into the school curriculum as a way of delivering core subjects and transversal themes in classroom and extra-curricular activities. Available in 37 languages, the kit promotes discussion and listening to others, resulting in the re-affirmation of identity, mutual understanding and respect for diversity.
Heritage sites and properties can promote inclusive social development, contributing to wellbeing and equity (Target 10.2), the respect of fundamental rights (Target 16.10), communities’ involvement (Target 16.7), and gender equity (Target 5.5). They also contribute to peace and security by facilitating conflict prevention and resolution (Target 16.a). World Heritage Forest Program contributes to the realization of SDGs 13 and 15, while World Heritage Marine Program contributes to SDG 14.
Living heritage (also known as intangible cultural heritage) includes traditions or expressions inherited from our ancestors and passed on to our descendants, such as oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals, festive events and practices concerning nature and the universe or the knowledge and skills to produce traditional crafts. The 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage acknowledges the importance of intangible cultural heritage as a mainspring of cultural diversity and a driver for sustainable development. Safeguarding intangible cultural heritage can contribute effectively to sustainable development within each of the dimensions of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, economic, social and environmental while also contributing to peace and security. A recently adopted chapter of the Operational Directives for the implementation of the Convention furthermore offers guidance to State Parties on how to integrate the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage into their development plans, policies and programs to achieve the 2030 Agenda.
Knowledge and practices transmitted from generation to generation in areas as wide as agriculture and dairy farming, pastoral, fishing, hunting, food systems including production, preparation and preservation, among hers, contribute to food security (SDG 2). Traditional agriculture systems are still providing food for some two billion people today. With the pressure of rapidly-growing markets, industrialization and urbanization, there is a tendency in many countries to abandon traditional foodways in favor of industrial food production. There is a potential to work with various groups and communities, especially youth, to identify and document traditional foodways, to raise awareness the endangered diversity of traditional foodways, and to strengthen sustainable food production systems. GIAHS Program identifies and safeguards Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems and their associated landscapes at the global, national and local levels. It contributes to the continuous agro-ecological and social innovation combined with careful transfer of accumulated knowledge and experience across the generations.
In a similar vein, medical traditional knowledge and practices contribute significantly to ensuring an adequate healthcare system to communities (SDG 3), especially those who live in remoted areas far away from hospitals and health clinics. Aged-old knowledge of the communities in dealing with the environment and natural resources also relevant and beneficial in ways we are dealing with issues related to climate change (SDG 13) or environment protection.
Traditional knowledge and practices also contribute to other SDGs such as SDG 6 on clean water and sanitation. For example, the cooperative water management system of canals and weirs, known as subak, is integral to the Cultural Landscape of Bali Province: the Subak System as a Manifestation of the Tri Hita Karana Philosophy in Indonesia. Consisting of ﬁve rice terraces and their water temples that cover 19,500 ha, the property maintains the subak system of egalitarian farming practices that dates back to the 9th century. Bali has about 1,200 water collectives, and between 50 and 400 farmers manage the water supply from one source of water that meets the needs of its 4.5 million residents. As a World Heritage property, its Outstanding Universal Value recognizes and protects this unique and sustainable water management system.
Integrating intangible cultural heritage in school curricula has proved to provide innovative and creative pedagogical approaches which enhance the quality of the lessons and improve learning outcomes (SDG 4). It also enriches standardized textbook knowledge with local practices and contexts, at the same time provide students with a new appreciation for the local heritage and its importance which is often forgotten. Learning with Intangible Cultural Heritage: Guidelines for Educators in the Asia-Pacific Region provide teacher educators and teachers with an understanding of the concept of intangible cultural heritage and explains why it should be integrated into the curriculum in tandem with the principles and perspectives of Education for Sustainable Development. The guide provides examples of how the teaching and learning of intangible cultural heritage for sustainable development has been creatively incorporated into several disciplines – such as mathematics, science, music and social studies – in various cultural settings.
Traditional craftsmanship provides opportunities for productive employment and decent work, contributing to SDG 8. Other forms of living heritage such as rituals and festivals provide opportunities for the communities to gather, strengthening social cohesion and inter-generational connection. Transnational nomination of intangible cultural heritage to the 2003 Convention’s Lists of Intangible Cultural Heritage, such as the recent inscription of Korean wrestling of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the Republic of Korea, promotes international collaboration, peace building and reconciliation (SDGs 16 and 17).
Cities are also a rich platform to promote the contribution of culture to sustainable development. The New Urban Agenda adopted in 2016 also places special emphasis on the role of culture in building sustainable cities. Launched by UNESCO in 2015, the Culture for Sustainable Urban Development Initiative seeks to demonstrate the link between the implementation of the UNESCO Culture Conventions and the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, an ambitious, universal agenda for creating a more peaceful, prosperous and equitable world. Culture: Urban Future, the Global Report on Culture for Sustainable Development analyses the situation, trends, threats and existing opportunities in different regional contexts, and to present a global picture of tangible and intangible urban heritage conservation and safeguarding, along with the promotion of cultural and creative industries as a basis for sustainable urban development.
UNESCO Creative Cities Network is joined by 52 cities in the Asia and the Pacific in the seven creative fields: Crafts and Folk Arts, Media Arts, Film, Design, Gastronomy, Literature and Music. By joining the network, cities commit to sharing their best practices and developing partnerships involving the public and private sectors as well as civil society in order to maximize the impacts of creativity and creative industries, to improve access to and participation in cultural life, in particular for marginalized or vulnerable groups and individuals and to fully integrate culture and creativity into sustainable development plans.
Cultural and Creative Industries
Cultural and creative industries, ranging from film to theater, book publishing to design, provide an important platform for promoting the SDGs. A new report shows that cultural and creative industries account for 29.5 million jobs worldwide (1% of world’s active population) and generate US$2,250 billion a year, i.e. 3% world GDP. Cultural and Creative Industries’ revenues exceed those of telecom services and employ more people than the car industry in Europe, Japan and the USA combined (29.5 million vs. 25 million).
The 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions has aligned its implementation mechanisms with the principles and objectives of the 2030 Agenda. The Convention lays a particular emphasis on SDGs 4, 5, 8, 10, 16 and 17 that have been incorporated within its monitoring framework, along its four main goals. The Convention works to expand jobs and entrepreneurship (Target 8.3) in the creative sector, build skills for employment (Targets 8.3 and 4.4) in the creative fields, and stimulate accountable and participatory governance (Targets 16.6 and 16.7) of the culture and creative industries. It is committed towards achieving a balanced flow of cultural goods and services (Target 10a) as well as supporting the mobility of artists and cultural professionals (Target 10.7). The Convention encourages official development assistance commitments towards the culture sector (Target 17.2), enhances policy coherence for sustainable development (Target 17.14) and takes part in capacity building for implementing the SDGs (Target 17.9). By encouraging policies which are conducive to gender equity and artistic freedom, the Convention also contributes to human rights and fundamental freedom (Target 16.10).
The 1980 Recommendation on the Status of the Artist also contributes to social inclusion (Target 10.2) and fundamental freedoms (Target 16.10), by calling upon Member States to improve the professional, social and economic status of artists through policies and measures related to training, social security, employment, income and tax conditions, mobility and freedom of expression.
UNESCO’s Aschberg Program provides assistance to support a balanced ﬂow of cultural goods and services (Target 10a), and to promote the mobility of artists and cultural professionals from the global South (Target 10.7), in accordance with World Trade Organization agreements. The program offers in-country training for trade negotiators and provides technical assistance in the creation of a legislative base to ensure freedom of movement.
Within the framework of “Education for All” and “Quality Education” goals (SDG 4), UNESCO is endeavoring to mainstream the arts, creativity and culture in educational systems throughout the world. UNESCO promotes two main approaches to Arts Education, which can be implemented in parallel. The “learning through the arts/culture” approach demonstrates how we can utilize artistic expressions and cultural resources and practices, contemporary and traditional, as a learning tool. The “learning in the arts/culture” approach stresses the value of cultural perspectives, multi and inter-cultural, and culturally-sensitive languages through learning processes. The benefits of introducing the arts into learning environments showcase a balanced intellectual, emotional and psychological development of individuals and societies. Such education not only strengthens cognitive development and the acquisition of life skills – innovative and creative thinking, critical reflection, communicational and inter-personal skills, etc – but also enhances social adaptability and cultural awareness for individuals, enabling them to build personal and collective identities as well as tolerance and acceptance, appreciation of others.
Cultural Goods and Objects
In a global context where illicit trafficking of cultural goods is on the rise, especially in conflict or post conflict areas, and increasingly used as a source of funding by criminal groups, the 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property is at a central position to ensure the global security and peace-building agenda at the core of SDG 16 on peaceful and inclusive societies. The Convention directly contributes to Target 11.4 on cultural heritage and Target 16.4 on the recovery of stolen assets. By conducting awareness raising campaigns targeting the general public or tourists, the Convention also takes part in Target 4.7 on skills for sustainable development. Through capacity building and exchange workshops, it also contributes to the prevention of violence (Target 16.a).
By focusing on underwater cultural heritage, the 2001 Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage cuts across environmental and social pillars of sustainable development. The Convention supports education for sustainable development (Target 4.7) through ocean literacy and ocean heritage teaching and helps to make coastal societies sustainable and to protect their cultural identity. Underwater cultural heritage can provide vital evidence how human populations have adapted to, or have been impacted by climate change in the past, thus contributing to education for climate adaptation (Target 13.3). Similarly, underwater cultural heritage is important for understanding the historic relationship between humanity and the ocean, lakes or rivers. Research and safeguarding activities contribute to improved conservation of littoral and marine areas for future generations, and increase the economic and social benefits of sustainable tourism, thus encouraging conservation and sustainable use of aquatic resources (Targets 14.5 and 14.7).
The 2015 Recommendation concerning the Protection and Promotion of Museums and Collections, their Diversity and their Role in Society underlines the essential role of museums as spaces for cultural transmission, intercultural dialogue, learning, discussion and training, thus contributing notably to social inclusion (Target 10.2) and skills for sustainable development (Target 4.7). The inaugural meeting of UNESCO’s High Level Forum on Museums was held in Shenzhen, People’s Republic of China, in November 2016. The Forum convened over 50 world-class museum directors and thinkers, policy-makers and stakeholders to discuss critical issues for the future of museums. The Shenzhen Declaration adopted at the Forum underscores the social, cultural, educational and economic roles of museums in contemporary societies, as well as their contribution to educating citizens across the globe for a more peaceful world and sustainable development.
Various sessions operated through the UNESCO’s normative framework, such as the Conventions’ Committee meetings, provide the platform for private companies, foundations and institutional partners to share experiences and discuss their contributions to protecting cultural heritage and promoting creativity (Target 17.17).
Tools and Methodologies
- World Heritage Sites
- Living Heritage
- Cultural and Creative Industries
- Cultural Institutions