On 24 March, the UNESCO Director-General opened an International Conference in Bergen, Norway, on the UNESCO 1972, 2003 and 2005 conventions, entitled “Synergies for Development -- Using natural and cultural heritage in sustainable development.”

The Conference is organized by the University of Bergen, in cooperation with the National Commission of Norway for UNESCO, the City of Bergen, the Hordaland County Council and the County Governor of Hordaland. The goal is to explore the synergies between the UNESCO Culture Conventions and their importance for sustainable development. For this, the Conference brought together officials, including from local communities, along with university researchers, civil society and experts from many different regions of the world.

The Director-General gave a keynote speech after the International Conference was opened by the University Rector, Mr Dag Rune Olsen, University of Bergen and Ms Tora Aasland, President of the National Commission of Norway to UNESCO.

“There was a time when culture was not uttered in the same sentence with development,” said Irina Bokova. “Culture was associated with traditions and customs sometimes seen as obstacles to development, or it was linked with elitist art and narrowly defined in scope. Thankfully, this is changing, and it is changing quickly.”

The Director-General explored the new creative economy that is emerging across the world, where the role of culture is increasingly recognised as a powerhouse by many countries. In this context, she underlined the global advocacy led by UNESCO to integrate culture into the global development agenda, and especially the post-2015 agenda.

“Culture is a driver of sustainable development, led by the growth of the cultural sector, creative industries, sustainable tourism, and the arts and crafts,” said the Director-General. “It is also an enabler of sustainable development -- the context in which development policies can move forward, through local ownership and through social inclusion, with greater efficiency and impact.”

The Director-General thanked Norway for its support to UNESCO, embodied in its engagement in the UNESCO Culture Conventions and Norway’s leadership in supporting capacity-building for safeguarding tangible and intangible cultural heritage, in the region and across the world – in the Nordic World Heritage Foundation, a UNESCO category 2 Centre, in its contributions to the Fund for Intangible Cultural Heritage, in promoting capacity-building for intangible cultural heritage in countries in Africa, Asia, the Maghreb, and the Caribbean.

Irina Bokova argued that the UNESCO Culture Conventions are the interface between culture and development – the meeting points between the systems of meaning through which women and men understand the world and the tools with which they shape it.

“Each Convention is unique -- but together, they embody a singular approach to understanding heritage and building on its importance.”

She thanked the organizers of the International Conference for exploring how to create greater synergies between the work of the Conventions, underlining the measures she has already taken precisely in this direction.