UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), as a specialised agency of the United Nations, has the task of contributing to the preservation of peace and security by promoting international cooperation in education, science, culture and communication. The Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) actively participates in various UNESCO bodies and programmes and is supported by the International Bureau.
In response to Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine, UNESCO is tracking the destruction of educational institutions in Ukraine and is coordinating numerous activities through UNESCO's , newly formed during the pandemic, such as providing hardware for remote learning. A UNESCO to Ukraine ensured the implementation of the measures taken on site and identified needs.
UNESCO is a forum for international cooperation and for the exchange of information, experience and ideas. Since 1945, it has been setting up best practice examples, advising governments through expert missions and ministerial conferences, and promoting the exchange of knowledge.
An important function of UNESCO is the elaboration of normative instruments at the intergovernmental level. It has adopted numerous international conventions, recommendations and declarations, the best known of which is the 1972 Convention Concerning the Protection of Cultural and Natural Heritage.
As a forum for global intellectual cooperation, UNESCO has the broadest programme spectrum of all UN specialised agencies. This includes the areas of education, science, culture as well as communication and information. The Federal Government cooperates with UNESCO in various fields and has also committed itself to supporting it in the Coalition Agreement. The BMBF is particularly active in the fields of education and science and promotes cooperation.
UNESCO makes an important contribution to improving education worldwide. In the context of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), it has set itself the task of implementing SDG4 in particular. SDG 4 calls for ensuring quality, inclusive and equitable education for all people worldwide and throughout their lives. To achieve SDG 4, UNESCO Member States adopted the Global Education Agenda 2030 in 2015. UNESCO coordinates the implementation of this agenda within the UN framework. It also documents and evaluates implementation in the annual (GEM-R) and in the (SCOPE) database.
Another initiative is the global UNESCO programme 'Education for Sustainable Development: Towards achieving the SDGs' (ESD for 2030). Under the leadership of the BMBF, the Federal Government has established a for the implementation of the World Programme of Action and a youth forum, called . The aim is to anchor the idea of sustainable development in all areas of the education system so that the guiding principle of ecologically, economically and socially sustainable development is taught and learned in kindergartens and schools as well as in universities, further education and cultural institutions or research institutes.
For UNESCO, quality of education is not only meeting certain performance standards, but also means that tolerance, solidarity and respect for human rights must be taught in schools. In the UNESCO project schools, 300 of them in Germany alone, the curriculum includes: 'Learning to live together in a pluralistic world in cultural diversity'. In the network of UNESCO chairs, more than 750 chairs and over 40 UNITWIN networks in over 116 countries are currently cooperating to anchor UNESCO's goals in education and science.
UNESCO provides a global forum where science and policy interact to formulate guidelines for sustainable development. UNESCO does not conduct research itself and is not a research funding agency. It supports its Member States in capacity building (training of personnel and equipping of institutions), it promotes international research cooperation, open data exchange and it defines global standards. In doing so, it is guided by the general objectives of the UNESCO Science Programme:
- Promoting peace through scientific cooperation;
- to help developing and newly industrialised countries build research infrastructures in order to participate in technical and economic progress;
- develop scientific knowledge for concrete, locally adapted sustainable development goals, including through improved environmental management;
- raise ethical questions about global change and new technologies.
UNESCO’s normative instruments are meant to create worldwide standards. At the November 2021 General Conference, two recommendations were approved in the area of science. The aim of the is to ensure that access to scientific knowledge is as free as possible. Approaches such as open access, open data and open source are intended to make payment barriers fall. With the , the international community gave itself for the first time a common framework for the political design and regulation of artificial intelligence. The UNESCO text stimulates innovation in more than ten policy areas such as education, research and international cooperation.
The science program is supported by a large number of stakeholders. In addition to the UNESCO Secretariat in Paris, which is primarily responsible, UNESCO regional and country offices (e.g. the Regional Bureau for Science and Culture in Europe in Venice) and UNESCO scientific institutes (like the for Water Education) are involved.
A central instrument for achieving the goals of the UNESCO science programme are intergovernmental, long-term scientific programmes on specific research subjects and in certain disciplines:
- (IHP) – dedicated to water research and management, and related education and capacity development;
- (IOC) – promoting international cooperation in marine sciences to improve management of the ocean, coasts and marine resources;
- (MAB) – aiming to establish a scientific basis for enhancing the relationship between people and their environments;
- (IBSP) – Physical and Mathematical Sciences, Chemical Sciences, Biological Sciences, science communication;
- – fostering positive social change towards inclusive and sustainable development.
Four of these long-term programmes (IHP, MAB, IGCP and IOC) are supported by national committees in Germany.
Currently, 194 states are members of UNESCO. The Federal Republic of Germany joined UNESCO in July 1951.
UNESCO members © DLR
According to its constitution, UNESCO has three organs. The General Conference is the assembly of all Member States, which meets every two years. Each Member State has one vote in the General Conference. It is the supreme decision-making and supervisory body of UNESCO. The General Conference sets the objectives and general guidelines for UNESCO's work. It convenes conferences of States and adopts recommendations or conventions. The General Conference elects the members of the Executive Council and appoints the Director-General on his or her proposal.
The Executive Council consists of 58 member states and meets five times a biennium. It reviews UNESCO's work programme and makes recommendations to the General Conference.
The Secretariat implements the UNESCO programme operationally. In November 2017, Audrey Azoulay of France was elected Director-General to head the Secretariat. The Secretariat’s headquarter is in Paris and has more than 50 field offices worldwide.
UNESCO is financed mainly from the compulsory contributions of its member states. UNESCO has a budget of 1.5 billion US dollars for the years 2022 and 2023. Germany is currently the third largest contributor to UNESCO after Japan and China. The German payments for 2022 and 2023 each amount to around 20 million euros. In addition, UNESCO receives extraordinary contributions, trust funds for specific projects and programmes, funds from other multilateral agencies, and voluntary contributions from member states and donations.