Seventy-five years ago today, on 16 November 1945, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) was founded in London. With the horror of the Second World War not yet a memory, UNESCO was founded with the purpose ‘of advancing, through the educational and scientific and cultural relations of the people of the world, the objectives of international peace and of the common welfare of mankind’ (Preamble to the Constitution of UNESCO, London 1945).
Conference to establish UNESCO, Institute of Civil Engineers, London, 1945
Education was identified as the key to international peace and highlighted in this founding phrase from the UNESCO constitution:
‘That since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed’.
UNESCO can trace its origins in the transformative power of education back further, to the very midst of the Second World War in 1942. At this point London was the home to 7 Allied Governments in Exile, as well as France’s Free French Committee, including ministers for education. Even during the dark days of war, it was these men and women who had the foresight and hope to recognise the need for a new system of education, once the war was over. In fact, 3 years to the day before the founding of UNESCO, the President of the Board of Education for England and Wales met with colleagues from Belgium, Czechoslovakia, France, Greece, Netherlands, Norway, Poland and Yugoslavia, to make plans to establish ‘a permanent organisation for co-operation in the field of education’ (reflections of G.F. Pompei, President of the Executive Board of UNESCO, 1968-70).
Fast forward to 1960 when the building of the Aswan High Dam in Egypt put at risk hundreds of ancient artefacts. The Governments of Egypt and Sudan appealed to UNESCO to help which resulted in a high profile 20 year campaign to save the irreplaceable ancient culture of the Nubia region. This campaign contributed to the establishment of the 1972 World Cultural and Natural Heritage Convention which is still the basis of international efforts to recognise and protect our cultural heritage.
‘Art is indivisible. There is no German Beethoven, only Beethoven, no Russian Dostoevski, only Dostoevski, no British Shakespeare, only Shakespeare. Great art is not for an age, but for all time.’ Dr Horace King, 18 November 1960
Jump forward another decade to 1970 and the UNESCO Man and the Biosphere scientific programme was launched, combining research, education and training for the rational and sustainable use and conservation of the resources of the biosphere and to improve the relationship between people and their environment across a global network of demonstration sites. In 1976 the UK had its first Biosphere Reserves established: North Devon and Benn Eighe in the Western Highlands (renamed Wester Ross in 2016).
North Devon Biosphere Reserve
As a scientific programme within the UNESCO family, all global Biosphere Reserves maintain education as one of the three core objectives:
- Conservation of nature and culture;
- Sustainable development;
- Education, learning & awareness.
In 2014 we were fortunate enough to be welcomed into the UNESCO family, as the Brighton & Lewes Downs UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, known as The Living Coast. We are proud to be part of the global UNESCO network, reaching millions through GeoParks, World Heritage Sites, Creative Cities, Biospheres and related specialist programmes and initiatives. Globally UNESCO sites now cover 10 million km2, bringing people and communities together to look after the planet for future generations