Nesco and the years ahead

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Michel Batisse

Miollis Group

Association of Former Unesco Staff Members

English adaptation prepared by

Jacques Richardson and Brian Goddard
Printed in France by

UNICOMM, 75005 Paris

Cover design Rolf Ibach

Layout Agnès van den Herreweghe

Association of Former Unesco Staff Members

1, rue Miollis, 75732 Paris Cedex 15, October 1999

This work is free of all rights of reproduction.

The editors would appreciate receiving a copy

of any published mention of the booklet.


Four years ago, a think-and-action "tank" called the Miollis Group1 published a pamphlet, Unesco Faces the 21th Century. The Group consists of members of the Association of Former Staff Members of Unesco (AAFU), who debate the future of Unesco and its rejuvenation. After publishing this document, the Group organised a series of lectures, followed by discussions, on the theme of "Unesco Confronts Globalisation." The subjects were related to the fields of responsibility of the Organisation: education, science, culture and communication. In every case, recognised specialists were called upon to present the current state of their thinking on globality, its consequences, and the corresponding outlook for Unesco during the medium term. At the same time, the Miollis Group continued its work of probing the role, responsibilities, and principles of action of the Organisation, as well as of reform and novel initiatives. Their work is currently being published in a series called "The Miollis Papers." Four of these have appeared, and others follow.
On the eve of the debate to be expected during the 30th session of its General Conference, former staff members wished to express their faith in a renewal of the Organisation and to participate in the overall thinking on this subject by calling upon their irreplaceable heritage: experience. If the symbolic transition towards the third millennium motivates a look at the future, to foresee it and to prepare for it, the event should not signal a break with the past. The Organisation's Constitution remains valid and Unesco preserves its basic guiding characteristic: the ethical vocation.
The following pages aim neither to sketch out a medium-term strategy nor to undertake a programming exercise. Freed of career constraints and motivated by a constructive desire, the retired civil servants prefer to ask some of the questions often ignored or avoided in other settings and to share the fruit of their efforts by submitting a point of view essentially intended to enliven the debate.
To those looking back, it is evident that Unesco has adapted itself during the past half-century to political, social and cultural changes as well as to a technological revolution that have transformed the world system radically at a rhythm unprecedented in the history of mankind. To accomplish this, Unesco has had to invent new programmes, launch innovative ideas, and find novel means of action. Unesco has also searched ceaselessly the elusive equilibrium between the two poles of its activity: mobilising international conscience – Jaime Torres Bodet, second Director-General, from 1948 to 1952, wanted Unesco to become the conscience of the United Nations – and translating into action operational programmes within its different fields of responsibility. Such programmes, whether national or international in scope, must respect the final aim of what we might call hereafter “shared and sustainable development”.
The Miollis Group asked Michel Batisse, a former Assistant Director-General for Science and currently President of the Blue Plan for Environment and Development in the Mediterranean, to be the reflection of its preoccupations by preparing the present contribution, which is of a general character and was reviewed by the Group in June and September 1999. This contribution will be followed by other statements from members of the Group, dealing with particular aspects of the problem, especially matters related to management and to the relationships between Unesco, its Member States and other partners.

Robert Grauman,

Chair, Miollis Group


  1. Significant changes in the world …………………...… 8

  2. Unesco’s reaction ………………………….…………. 11

  3. Possible futures ………………………..…..…...….…... 14

Some major trends …………………………....…... 14

Three possible scenarios ……………..…….…...… 18

  1. A scenario for Unesco ……………….…..……..…….. 22

The permanent missions …………………….……. 23

Programme priorities ………………….………….. 25

Some principles for action ……….……...…….….. 27

More than fifty years after its founding, Unesco – as all the organisations in the United Nations system – faces a world profoundly different from the one that witnessed its birth. Numerous problems endure, but the technical, economic, social and political changes that have transpired since 1946 are fraught with major consequences for the future of the human race. These are expected to weigh heavily on the role and activities of Unesco in the coming decades.
The Organisation must undertake henceforth a detailed examination of the place it might occupy in a new emerging world in order to contribute effectively, within the framework of the United Nations, to the common well-being of humanity. This concerns its permanent missions, its programming, its network of relationships as well as its management.
It is useful in this respect to identify the changes, past or present, that seem the most significant – both for the world as a whole and in terms of their direct or indirect consequences on international cooperation and on Unesco. It is pertinent to probe, next, the future, exploring the approaches that might ensure peace, justice, well-being and prosperity for all. Given such a conception of the future, it should then be possible to sketch the path ahead for Unesco in terms of both priority of action and management methods.
This is the procedure that has been used in the current contribution. The presentation is based on a life-long experience within the Organisation, acquired especially around mainly concrete programmes and specific themes. This approach has benefited from constructive commentary offered by several former colleagues. It is however a personal view that might therefore be deemed subjective. It strives to present in candid terms the reflections and hopes of someone who has devoted his professional life to serve – freely – the ideals and the tasks of Unesco.

1. Significant changes in the world
Most of the major changes that have occurred in recent decades were in fact interlinked within what today constitutes the "world system," where the most diversified and dispersed events are part of the total dynamics. It would be useless to try to specify their causes and effects or to try to establish a hierarchy of their importance. Let it suffice to enumerate pell-mell the following changes that may be considered, admittedly in a subjective way, to be the most significant.
(i) Population growth, principally in the developing countries, whereby the world's population grew from 2.5 billion individuals to 6 billion within fifty years. Life expectancy rose from an average of 46 to 65 years.
(ii) Decolonisation (including that of the former Soviet empire), accompanied by an awakening of nationalism. This led to a rise in the number of Member States from 50 to nearly 200, all very unequally weighted – compromising thereby the original functioning of the United Nations on the basis of "one country, one vote," while seriously raising the problem of public aid for development.
(iii) The failure of the ideology of centralised planning, opening the way to a growing domination of market forces. This has caused a relative impotence of States confronted by a multiplication of international institutions and economic and social actors (transnational firms, local and regional authorities, non-governmental organisations, mass media, and so forth). This leaves the impression, clearly excessive, that there is but one economic way to organise the world.
(iv) The globalisation of information and communication, truly a mutation of civilisation. This leads to an opening-up of cultures together with an inexorable rise in material expectations, producing tensions if they cannot be satisfied.
(v) The parallel immediacy of expanding financial markets, true driving forces of economic globalisation, accompanied by “virtual” capital flows generating instability and inequalities.

(vi) The intensified movement of goods and materials as well as of people by air or car, contributing to a uniformisation of ways of life.

(vii)  Instantaneous transmission by the media of events independently of their real importance to a public captive of publicity, propaganda, and headlines. This incites feelings of dissatisfaction and anxiety that can sway people to democracy as well as to demagogy or authoritarian systems.
(viii)  Intensification of the economic and social gap, between the industrialised countries of the "North" and the developing nations of the "South", all the more apparent since the end of the East-West conflict. To this is added a growing break within all nations, stemming essentially from the above mentioned changes, between rich and poor people.
(ix)  The convergence of major technological breakthroughs, based first on progress made in physics (nuclear energy, transistors, lasers, space exploration, computers, numeration) and then in biology (antibiotics, hormones, oral contraceptives, microbiology, genetic engineering). Their social, environmental and ethical fall-out is serious, uncertain, unanticipated and sometimes alarming.
(x)  As concerns the environment and natural resources, the emergence of complex and sometimes surprising problems affecting the planet as a whole or in part and requiring cooperative management – possibly orchestrated by global or regional agreements – in fields such as climatic change, protection of the ozone layer, mastering energy, water supply, waste elimination, the different forms of pollution, food contamination, protecting biological diversity, desertification, and the like.
(xi)  The rapid "artificialisation" of the land, with the degradation of ecosystems and landscapes, destruction of tropical forests, disappearance of traditional rural populations, massive migration to towns and cities, multiplication of large urban and littoral concentrations together with their concomitant social and environmental stress.
The combined effect of all these changes results in the profound transformation of human societies since the Second World War. Today there appear to be three major trends:

(i)  A desire for individual freedom, material comfort, control over fertility; for justice, democracy and peace. This leads to a general rise in demands in favour of human rights, minority rights, sexual equality, participation in decision-making, a re-examination of the nature of work, leisure and retirement, etc., a desire prevalent primarily in the industrialised nations but also (to the extent possible) in the developing countries.

(ii)  In contrast, a dissatisfaction on the part of large segments of the world's population who are left behind by the benefits of both the market and globalisation, dissatisfaction due to unemployment, poverty, inequality, insecurity and technological servitude; all this generates drop-out or flight behaviour (lack of culture, political apathy, commercialised sports, drugs, sects, violence, intolerance, fundamentalism, and so on), affecting especially youth and education.
(iii)  A growing awareness, although not yet a bold one, by the most wide-awake populations of the oneness and the limits of the "Blue planet," as well as of the commonality of the fate of the entire human species beyond its physical, economic and cultural diversity. This appears to be reflected, particularly in world conventions.
The political and cultural universe is not limited to the values
and will of the Western world; despite certain appearances,
the world theatre has become more complex,
more encumbered, more artificial and less predictable.
Contrary to what some of the founders of Unesco hoped, contrary too to what globalisation and the decline of certain ideologies might seem to announce, the political and cultural universe is not limited to the values and will of the Western world. Indeed, despite certain appearances, the world theatre has become more complex, more encumbered, more artificial and less predictable. The scene being played is dominated by the major technological developments that have upset the cultures and traditions of everyday life. Their perverse effects have been neither foreseen nor mastered, and their assimilation has not been confirmed in the minds of the immense majority of spectators. The actors themselves have multiplied, giving free rein to the forces reducing or destabilising the traditional roles of States – requiring a redefinition of the decision-making processes. The era of well developed intergovernmental cooperation among sovereign States existing at the birth of the United Nations must make room for the new arrivals (local and regional authorities, transnationals, NGOs, advocacy groups, foundations, and civil society as a whole), and to the new forms of intervention (Internet, telecommunications, cooperative networks, twinning arrangements, financial sponsors, and others). Now is the moment when the international cooperation on which Unesco was built must move towards a form of "world governance", the workings of which remain to be defined and set in motion to achieve a new coherence.
2. Unesco's reaction
Faced with such a catalogue of change, some may think that the Constitution itself needs revision and modifications to bring the Organisation's missions up to date. But such a revision – which belongs properly within the framework of a recasting, albeit hypothetical, of the entire United Nations system – runs the risk of raising destabilising controversy and resulting in compromises of little advantage to Unesco. Such a revision would seem, furthermore, unnecessary. The Constitution has already proved that it offers no obstacles to change in the Organisation’s strategy and programmes, thanks to its broad vision of humanity's intellectual and moral solidarity and to the close link that it establishes between peace and development,.
A quick look at Unesco's activities since its founding reveals clearly, that in view of all the changes mentioned it has not remained motionless within the general framework of its very broad mandate. It would be interesting, as a matter of fact, to look at how Unesco's programmes have adapted themselves over the years in an effort to respond (even incidentally) to specific problems not explicitly foreseen at the outset.
There is agreement today, for example, that all of Unesco's activities in the field of the environment have played an innovative role, led to important results, and ensured exemplary international cooperation. These include the major intergovernmental scientific programmes such as the Man and the Biosphere Programme (MAB), the International Hydrological Programme (IHP), and the programmes of the Intergovernmental

Oceanographic Commission (IOC). Yet neither the terms environment nor natural resources appear in the Constitution, since the global importance of these questions was barely perceived when it was drafted.

By the same token the role assumed by the Organisation concerning issues in the broad field of communication – today exacerbated by the globalisation of information – led to placing this domain at the same structural level as those of education, science and culture in order to be able to react opportunely to the raising of the stakes, hopes and risks which go with it.
It would be useful, moreover, to try to assess to what extent Unesco achieved effective results in following the significant changes already mentioned, whether to accelerate their rhythm or (on the contrary) to mitigate their negative effects. Here, only a few specific examples can be given, demonstrating some of the pioneering contributions made by Unesco to recent changes in the world.
In the vast field of education, Unesco's promotion of the very concept of continuing education and vocational training responds directly to the need to accompany and follow through changes occurring in all countries, and in the minds of everyone, taking into account the rapid changes in knowledge and technology. Unesco’s campaigns supporting literacy and aid to the development of educational systems, as well as the mobilisation of financial means essential to education committed during the World conference at Jomtien (1990), derive from this concern to generalise access to education.
In science, one should note that as early as 1948 it was Unesco – together with France – that founded the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and did the groundwork for today's European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN). In 1968 it was Unesco who organised the Intergovernmental Conference on the Rational Use and Conservation of the Resources of the Biosphere, the first initiative towards formulating today's “sustainable development” concept. Unesco, too, favoured the development of national science policies, backed the establishment of scores of engineering schools and, in the domain of ethics urged the adoption in 1997 of the Universal Declaration on the Human Genome. It was Unesco who convened scientists, political personalities and governmental leaders in 1999 in Budapest to outline a new compact on "science and society."
In the shifting and sensitive field of culture, one recalls that the dialectic between the universal and the particular has constantly lain at the base of the Organisation’s action. Unesco is involved, at one and the same time, in the dynamic process of the globalisation of knowledge of cultural works and in the preservation of national cultural identity as well as of physical and non-physical national heritage. One can say that Unesco has thus contributed to restricting the uniformisation of culture (especially in its written and audiovisual forms), while enriching the sum of the world's culture through a better appreciation of its diversity. No one will overlook, in this respect, the major campaigns to safeguard monuments or the implementation of the Convention on the Protection of the World Natural and Cultural Heritage.
Less known perhaps is Unesco's continuing effort in the field of communication and information exchange. A preliminary concern here was an equitable distribution of knowledge and facilities in the area of information technology, expressed as early as the 1959 conference on information processing. This became an effort in effective cooperation within the framework of the International Programme for the Development of Communication, combined with the search for social significance, rigour, balance and ethics in message content.
Intensified links with NGOs, the struggle against racism and apartheid; emphasis on the cultural dimension of development; the decentralisation of action at the level of the Member State; aid to developing countries in the form of "operational activities"; global research programmes on arid regions, water resources, oceans, mineral resources and ecological systems; the establishment of biosphere reserves; numerous meetings and declarations on major societal problems. All these and a good many more could be further explained to show how this continuing interrelationship with world change, too little recognised, involved and was encouraged by Unesco.

3. Possible futures
At the beginning of a new century, it seems clear that the upsetting events characterising the past fifty years have yet to show their full impacts and full effect. The era of sweeping change affecting humanity and the planet is not over, inasmuch as such relative stability can ever come about.
The era of sweeping change affecting humanity and also
the planet is far from over, inasmuch as such relative
stability can ever come about.
At the same time other changes, other upsetting events may occur; it is hard to advance forecasts for the medium or long term concerning a world system whose complexity and instability we experience by the day. However, the system is characterised by a certain number of major trends, and these may be projected upon a not too distant horizon. In the field of prospective analysis, a number of tentative forecasts extend until the year 2025. This is therefore the time-span that is used here – neither too close so that change might be too small nor too remote so that sight be lost of what it means on the human scale. As to the major trends themselves, a fair number of these are no more than a continuation of the changes already noted, yet it is possible to try to evaluate their future consequences.
Some major trends
Population growth is the first of the major trends. Its inevitable mid-term continuation will, in the final analysis, carry the most weight in quantifying peoples’ needs and the impacts of these requirements on both the physical world and the economy. Since 1965 there has been a general decline in fertility in all countries. The fertility rate has fallen below the rate of population renewal in some sixty countries, including all industrialised countries, leading to population ageing. Yet, because of the inertia common to any demographic change, world population in 2025 will fall somewhere between 7.3 and 8.4 billions – with an especially marked rise in Africa where those under 15 years of age will number 40 per cent and in Asia where they will be 30 per cent of the population.

At the same time life expectancy will continue to rise, despite a persistence of malnutrition and diseases such as tuberculosis, malaria and AIDS among the less fortunate elements of the world's population. This increase in longevity, combined with massive applications of the information technologies in business and at home, will necessarily lead to questioning the traditional values concerning work and leisure (in the industrialised countries in particular), especially since some industrial sectors will continue to shift their activities to countries with lower labour costs, and since unemployment will not disappear.

Food, energy, water and raw-material requirements will quite naturally parallel an increase in population. If, according to FAO, it is expected that world food production will follow as it has – somehow or other – for the past fifty years, it is equally probable that distribution problems will here and there maintain recurrent stress, but that such difficulties will be overcome, more or less, by both public authorities and the NGOs; in large regions of Africa food stress will, however, continue to be chronic. Difficulties in closing the food gap, none the less, will result more from lack of information among the poorest rural population than from technical limitations.
As for energy, world consumption should at least double despite the control policies adopted (more or less willingly) to conform with the Convention on Climate Change by the industrialised nations which are the principal emitters of CO2. This consumption will remain primarily based on fossil fuels with an increased use of natural gas. This is likely to raise slightly the planet's average temperature. Resort to new sources of energy, such as solar and wind, will continue to remain relatively weak, whereas the nuclear source – thanks to improved reactor processes – is likely to remain active.
In the case of water, one can estimate that at least a good thirty countries will encounter circumstantial difficulties followed by structural stress by the year 2025. Household and industrial needs will be met one way or the other, with an increasing accent on recycling, desalination, or the drilling of deep wells. Agricultural needs, on the other hand, will dictate radical changes in terms of irrigation in order to reduce the largely dominant proportion it represents of the total consumption – especially where or when water resources are minimal. These changes include renovation of irrigated areas in order to reduce water losses; the introduction of improved water-distribution techniques; the selection of new crop varieties; and the imposition of socially acceptable water charges.
When it comes to raw materials, the main ores will remain accessible. Concerning wood supply, an important diminution of tropical-forest areas is to be expected (despite conservation efforts and the replanting already under way), leading to severe reduction of their rich biological diversity. This will result from forest penetration by the extraction industries and the inappropriate cultivation of their fragile forest soils. The temperate forests will be less threatened but, on land as in the sea, the protection of species and ecosystems will remain disquieting.
Urbanisation will continue to develop considerably throughout the world. Until 2025, population growth among the poor, globalisation of agricultural trade, and the hope for a better life will lead to accelerated rural exodus in the developing countries and, everywhere, to the
"littoralisation" process – the expansion of settlements along coastlines. The average rate of urbanisation in developing countries would grow from some 15 per cent in 1950 to nearly 60 per cent by 2025. In the industrialised countries this rate would increase from 60 to 80 per cent. If the latter will continue to experience serious management problems in their major conglomerations and suburbs, it is worrisome to consider the enormous difficulties which can be foreseen in the megalopoles and shantytowns of developing countries. At the same time heavy pressure to migrate towards the industrialised countries can be expected, especially because of this massive urbanisation, the persistence of poverty, and ease of travel.

Technologically, it is clear that a marked growth of the information technologies can be anticipated which will, in turn, spur the globalisation and virtualisation of economic, social and cultural exchanges. These will open up immense new possibilities for contact and exchange while running the risk of dealing with distorted or chaotic information. Also to be anticipated are major upheavals in agriculture and medicine – as well as in civil and criminal law – resulting from the astonishing performance of genetic engineering. Tomorrow's society will in fact, have to rely on science and technology to remedy the problems that science and technology themselves have generated and that society did not know how to foresee.

Given this inexorable expansion of technology and the complexity of the globalisation process, one wonders if a lessening of the weight and role of the State might continue, and thus if such a reduction is not a major trend in itself. This question is evidently important for Unesco and for all intergovernmental organisations. Whatever might be the inadequacies, errors and weaknesses of nation-States, however, they will remain – and for a long time to come – "the only possible alternative to chaos.” Such is the force of circumstances that, in the absence of any other credible system of collective security, public order and cultural framework, one can assume that the nation-State will maintain its specific position during the period under consideration in spite of the multiplication of the actors involved – even in those areas where States might regroup or decentralise into autonomous entities.
If the ideal of universal progress, based on education, science and reason and embodied in the Enlightenment's utopia,
remains alive, it faces the indifferent empire of technology, the limits of the planet's tolerance, and finally the characteristics of human nature in search of ever-growing advantages.

Be this as it may, a multiplication of the number of nation-States can be anticipated. A certain balkanisation now seems inevitable, encouraged by claims of cultural, religious or linguistic identity, by the "right of peoples to self-determination," and by the naïveté or the interests of external powers. The economic regrouping of States, which is favoured by globalisation, is not an obstacle to this trend; political sovereignty – occupying a seat at the United Nations – in its way acts as compensation for economic dependence. Thus an increase in the number of States, for the most part mini-States unable in practice to assume the responsibilities of sovereignty, will not fail to raise once again the question of balanced votes inherent in any re-organisation of world governance – as well as that of the increased pertinence of action at the regional level.
It is necessary to recall, furthermore, that it would be vain to expect that the gap between the standards of living in industrialised countries and in developing countries might be bridged in the near future. If the ideal of universal progress, based on education, science and reason and embodied in the Enlightenment's utopia remains alive, it faces the indifferent empire of technology, the limits of the planet's tolerance, and finally the characteristics of human nature in search of ever-growing advantages. This results in the inevitable persistence of large pockets of poverty, marginality and inequality that will continue to keep tensions high between countries as well as within them – even if there should be hope that interethnic violence or new forms of terrorism can be contained and world peace assured.

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