Monday, September 28, 2009

I am on vacation

and may not be posting for a couple of weeks. Expected return about October 12.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

"UNESCO must reclaim science leadership"

Irina Bokova
UNESCO Chief designate

David Dickson has an excellent editorial in SciDev.Net that concludes:
Real change in science programmes, as elsewhere within the agency, will require strong and visionary leadership.

The good news from this week's election is that the final ballot, in which Bokova beat Hosni by 31 votes to 27, provided a clear outcome. A stalemate at this stage — each candidate had secured 29 votes in the previous round — could easily have undermined the authority of the eventual winner.

Less satisfactory is that, to secure her victory, Bokova is likely to have made serious commitments to those governments who eventually voted for her (she visited 45 countries in her campaign).

Accommodating these promises in a coherent and focused reform agenda will be a challenging task — but an essential one if UNESCO is to reclaim its leadership position in science and technology for development.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Editorial: The United States Has to Revive Participation in the Global Network of Bioreserves

The saola, a species discovered in 1992
never seen in the wild by a scientist
down to a couple of hundred
or perhaps a couple of dozen animals
no one knows which!

A recent editorial in Science magazine by Harold Mooney and Georgina Mace states:
Global responses to the deterioration of biodiversity have been slow to emerge, but next month the United Nations (UN) Environment Programme hosts a meeting* in Nairobi, Kenya, to discuss the next steps in establishing a new science/policy interface for biodiversity and ecosystem services.The response in this arena still lags far behind negotiations related to climate change, but the meeting is a chance to boost international action, based on strong scientific evidence. An important motivation for creating this interface is meeting the goals of international multilateral agreements, including the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, and the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. Unlike the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which has the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, these environmental conventions lack a pre-convention science assessment and have no provision for subsequent government-endorsed, independent science. The meeting in Nairobi will debate, among other issues, how best to make up for this crucial omission.

Why is a robust biodiversity science/policy interface so important? The human population continues to mine the natural capital of Earth to support its growth, but the impact of this loss on human well-being is not widely understood in either public or policy spheres. Biodiversity is the building block of ecosystems that capture carbon and energy and cycle water and nutrients from the soil. These processes, and the structure of ecosystems that control them, benefit society with food, fuel, clean water, and climate regulation—so-called ecosystem services. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA), supported by UN agencies and nongovernmental organizations, concluded in 2005 that 60% of ecosystem services worldwide have become degraded, mostly in the past 50 years, primarily because of land-and ocean-use practices.

We lack information on global and local trends in most biodiversity components at the level of genes, species, and ecosystems, as well as baselines and standards for their assessment. We will certainly miss the CBD's target for reducing the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010 and also miss the 2015 environmental targets within the UN Millennium Development Goals to improve health and livelihoods for the world's poorest and most vulnerable people. Changes in ecosystems and losses of biodiversity have continued to accelerate. Even the most conservative estimates suggest that an area of tropical rainforest greater than the size of California has been destroyed since 1992, mostly for food and fuel. Species extinction rates are at least 100 times those in pre-human times and are expected to increase.
The UNESCO program on People, Biodiversity & Ecology is an important part of the world scientific community's organization to understand biodiversity and how it may be protected. Specifically,UNESCO has created the World Network of Biosphere Reserves which innovate and demonstrate approaches to conservation and sustainable development. They are of course under national sovereign jurisdiction, yet share their experience and ideas nationally, regionally and internationally. There are 553 sites that have been added to this network by the governments of the countries in which they occur, including 49 that were added to the network by the United States in the early days of the program. (The United States was very much involved in the network in its early days, and was indeed influential in its conception.)

U.S. scientists remained involved in the UNESCO program even after the United States had left UNESCO, and indeed the State Department included funds in its budget to support such involvement for a number of years. However, participation dropped off and reached a nader during the Bush administration even as the United States returned to membership in UNESCO. It is now time to restore U.S. participation in the program. Perhaps most important is for U.S. scientists involved in ecosystems approaches to protecting biodiversity to return to full scientific participation with their peers in the other 106 countries with bioreserves in the network. It is also urgent to review the status of the U.S. bioreserves included in the network and the status of research within them.

The United States had a national committee for liaison with the program, but that committee was abolished at the request of the Executive Director of the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO several years ago. The UNESCO Secretariat requires a point of contact in the United States for the program, and with the abolition of the national committee that responsibility devolved on a State Department employee who is not a scientist. A scientist working in the field of biodiversity and/or bioreserves should be identified and made the point of contact as soon as possible. Ultimately, however, a committee should be again created in order to include a broad range of expertise on biodiversity and bioreserves; no one scientist has a broad enough view of the field to understand the full scale of relevant U.S. scientific efforts. That committee should also provide information and recommendations to the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO, as do committees alread in Oceanography and Earth Sciences.

John Daly
(Note the opinions expressed in this editorial are those of the author alone, and do not necessarily represent those of Americans for UNESCO or any other organization.)

Friday, September 25, 2009

"What's wrong with UNESCO"

Nature magazine, one of the world's most influential scientific journals, has published an editorial subtitled "The new director-general needs to buck all expectations and transform the agency." The anonymous editorial decries what its author deems the failure of UNESCO to follow up adequately on the 2007 evaluation of its science programs and calls on UNESCO to focus its limited staff and resources on a few areas of science in order to have more impact.
Yet despite its shortcomings, UNESCO is uniquely placed in being the only UN agency with an explicit mandate to promote science. And its intergovernmental status, although often a handicap, potentially gives it the power to convene the world's best expertise to take forward important agendas.

UNESCO has made a start along those lines. Its advice to Nigeria on building a science system is credited as a factor in the Nigerian government's $5 billion commitment to science in 2006. UNESCO has the potential to become a leader in such areas, providing policy analysis and benchmarking for less scientifically advanced countries. This seems a better road to promoting infrastructure than its current smattering of tiny grants in its International Basic Sciences Programme. UNESCO should give up the hopeless notion that it can be a research funder, and focus on policy and leverage.

The outgoing director general Koïchiro Matsuura, a Japanese diplomat, has reformed UNESCO's finances and recruitment practices. But he brought little vision or change to the science programme. His successor should take the 2007 review as the starting point for a root-and-branch review of the science programme, persuade the member states to weed out all activities that have little or no impact and create a culture of performance, transparency and evaluation. An upcoming wave of retirement at the agency provides an opportunity to bring in fresh blood.

The history and culture of UNESCO do not bode well for serious change. But business as usual is not an option if UNESCO is to have a scientific raison d'être.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

"Media Literacy 101: Of Toilets, UNESCO and Demand-Side News"

The Eiffel Tower out the window of UNESCO's 13th floor ladies' room.

Susan Moeller has an article in The Huffington Post based on her participation in a UNESCO meeting of those interested in including curriculum in K through 12 education to help kids evaluate what they see in the media. (Moeller suggests that people treated to the views of Paris from UNESCO's headquarters, such as the one above, may tend to feel that they are especially favored.) She sees the long term effort to improve "media literacy" of the public as complementary to the Obama administration efforts to help media news, analysis and opinion sources survive the social transformations being driven by the Internet Revolution. I recommend the article.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Irina Bokova Selected to be new UNESCO Director General

In the fifth round of voting of the Executive Board, the Bulgarian Ambassador to France and Permanent Representative to UNESCO has been selected to be the new Director General. Her nomination must be confirmed by the General Conference in October.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Tomorrow is a very important day for UNESCO's future

Tomorrow will be the fifth and final round of voting for the new Director General of UNESCO. The Executive Board has voted four times, reducing the original slate of nine candidates to the final two: Irina Bokova and Farouk Hosny. On the fourth round these two were tied 29 votes to 29 votes -- the 58 countries represented on the Executive Board split down the middle.

Tomorrow will see either the first woman and first citizen of a former Communist nation elected of the first Arab. It is seen as quite important by the international community that high level positions in intergovernmental organizations not be monopolized by any country or cultural group.

The Director General of UNESCO, like the President of the United States, serves a four year term, and can be reelected once and only once. Thus the new UNESCO Director General, who will take office in November (after ratification of the Executive Board Choice by the General Conference in October), may well have a term of office closely linked in time with that of Barack Obama.

For UNESCO, the next few years should be critically important.
  • The benchmarks for the Education for all program and the Millennium Development Goals were set for 2015, and UNESCO should lead the global effort over the next few years to set new global objectives for education.
  • The new international climate convention under negotiation should add new urgency to UNESCO's scientific programs, especially those focusing on understanding water resources, biological diversity and the oceans.
  • The need for UNESCO-moderated, inter-cultural dialog continues to be acute, not only in Africa and the Middle East, but in Asia, between Russia and the West, between the emerging economic powers and the established economic powers, and in Latin America.
  • The Information Revolution continues to underlie global aspirations to achieve a global information society -- aspirations which UNESCO can help member nations realize through its functions as a clearinghouse for ideas and a catalyst for cooperation.
All of these priorities would appear also to be priorities of the U.S. Government, and specifically of the Obama administration.

Irina Bokova is currently the Bulgarian Ambassador to France and to the Principality of Monoco as well as Bulgaria's Permanent Delegate to UNESCO. In this latter role she has gained considerable expertise about UNESCO. She has served as Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bulgaria and early in her career on the Bulgarian delgation to the United Nations in New York. In 1991, after the fall of Communism, Ms. Bokova served as a member of the Constituent Assembly helping to write the new Bulgarian Constitution. She was a founder, and served as Chairperson from 1997 to 2005 of the European Policy Forum, a civil society organization. She has written a number of scholarly publications. Initially educated at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, she was later the recipient of a two year NATO fellowship on democratic institutions, and has studied at the University of Maryland and Harvard University. She speaks English, Russian, Spanish and French as well as her native Bulgarian.

Farouk Hosny is currently the Egyptian Minister of Culture, a position that he has held for some 22 years. Early in his career he served as Egyptian cultural attache in France for seven years. He also served in several roles in the Egyptian cultural program in Rome, including as Director of the Egyptian Art Academy and as Cultural Councelor for the Egyptian embassy. He cites major achievements of the Ministry of Culture during his term of office including development of Pharaonic archaeology, the creation of a new museum and the Library of Alexandria, a nationwide system of local libraries, and a national literacy program. He is an abstract artist whose works have shown internationally. He holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Alexandria. He speaks Arabic, French, Italian and English (which he describes as "fair")

In contrast to that of Irina Bokova, the candidacy of Farouk Hosny has been very controversial. Two issues have been especially frequently treated in the media (both of which are disputed by Minister Hosny):
  • He has been subject to charges that he holds anti-Jewish and anti-Israeli views. He has stated that he opposes the normalization of Egyptian-Israeli relations that would lead to a restoration of cultural exchanges until progress was made in Israeli-Palestinian relations.
  • There is also opposition based on the record of censorship of the Egyptian Ministry of Culture during his administration.
Both candidates have been campaigning hard. Ambassador Bokova has visited 45 countries, making presentations to senior officials of those nations in company with senior representatives of the Government of Bulgaria. Minister Hosny has been campaigning for two years, with the strong support of his government.

Prior to the irruption of the controversies over Government Hosny, he was thought to be the front runner in the race, in large part due to support of Arab, other Islamic and African nations that had been sought be the Government of Egypt.

In the first four rounds of voting, Minister Hosny's support grew from 22 to 29 votes. In those same rounds, Ambassador Bokova's support grew from 8 to 29 votes. Essentially, as candidates with fewer votes withdrew from the race, most of their supporters went to Ambassador Bokova rather than to Minister Hosny.

The State Department does not announce publicly its votes in United Nations elections since they are to be held by secret ballot. However, it is widely believed that the U.S. delegate has opposed the Hosny candidacy.

John Daly
(The opinions expressed in this posting are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Americans for UNESCO or any other organization.)

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Assistant Secretary of State Brimmer at the Human Rights Council

The United States is pleased to join the rest of our colleagues on the Human Rights Council. It is with a sense of mutual respect that we take our place on the Council, next to the friends and partners we will work with to forge common ground on one of the most fundamental roles of the state: to protect and advance human rights.

The charge of the Human Rights Council ties closely to the United States’ own history and culture.

Freedom of speech, expression and belief. Due process. Equal rights for all. These enduring principles have animated some of the proudest moments in America’s journey. These human rights and fundamental freedoms are, in effect, a part of our national DNA, just as they are a part of the DNA of the United Nations.

And yet, we recognize that the United States’ record on human rights is imperfect. Our history includes lapses and setbacks, and there remains a great deal of work to be done.

But our history is a story of progress. Indeed, my presence here today is a testament to that progress, as is the Administration I serve. It is the President’s hope and my own that we can continue that momentum at home and around the world.

Our decision to join the Human Rights Council was not entered into lightly, and was reached based on a clear and hopeful vision of what can be accomplished here. Our vision is not merely made in America, but rather reflects the aspirations embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the mandate of the Human Rights Council itself.


The United Nations and this month’s General Assembly offer us a venue and a forum for nations to work together to live up to that founding charter and abide by and enforce international rules in service of global peace and security.

I have in my office in the State Department a picture of Eleanor Roosevelt, one of my particular heroines, and she is sitting at a desk working on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I’ve said this before, but I think that channeling Eleanor Roosevelt is not a bad idea. (Laughter.) It reminds us of what is at stake as we move forward with our responsibilities, as does Strobe Talbott’s recent book, The Great Experiment. We have to have effective global institutions. That is not a choice. That is an imperative. It is up to us to determine how to make them effective. The United Nations is a building. It is not able to act in the absence of the decisions made by those member-nations. We, in my view, ignore it and walk away from it at our peril, especially in the 21st century, where interconnectiveness gives voice and prominence to views that could have easily been either ignored or marginalized in the past.
Secretary of State Hilary Clinton
Speech at the Brookings Institution prior to the opening of the 2009 General Assembly of the United Nations

Monday, September 14, 2009

Enigmas of the universe

The new edition of The UNESCO Courier highlights astronomy in this International Year of Astronomy.

400 years ago Galileo took the dark stains on the surface of the moon to be seas. He was wrong. Today, we are sending missions to the moon in search of water. These technological advances have been extraordinary: in the past 20 years 350 planets have been discovered outside of our solar system and several months ago the first images of them reached us via satellite. Yet, the universe remains largely unknown.

From Alhazen Ibn Haitham’s theory about the dark spots on the moon (11th century) to the recent discovery of exoplanets in April 2009, this issue, published on the occasion of the International Year of Astronomy, traces these steps in our long history of observing the stars. Read the editorial

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Who Will Be The Next Director General of UNESCO?

The UNESCO Executive Board begins its meeting next week at which it will choose a new Director General for the Organization. The new Director General should continue the reforms made by his immediate predecessors, while implementing the instructions of UNESCO's governing bodies, and providing leadership in meeting the new challenges facing UNESCO in the coming decade.

There are eight active candidates who have been nominated for the position. While much of the campaign is conducted behind a screen of diplomatic secrecy, there has been a great deal of press coverage of the campaign.

The leading candidate, Farouk Hosny, is the Minister of Culture of Egypt. He has been campaigning actively with the support of his government for two years. In the last few months, however, people have challenged his candidacy, notably in the magazine Foreign Policy and the French dailyL'Monde (in translation also in The Huffington Post) and the Anti-Defamation League. Thus his election is now in some doubt, and there may be several ballots before a candidate receives a majority.

The United States is said to have opposed Hosny during the Bush administration. With the change in administration, the UNESCO election appears to have received little U.S. Governmental attention for some months. More recently, however, the Obama administration seems to have encouraged the entry of several candidates into the race. A French journal today reports that the U.S. Congress might not support funding UNESCO if it were to be headed by Hosny. Were the U.S. to withhold or delay contributions, given that it provides 22 percent of UNESCO's regular budget, the impact would be severe.

Discuss the election on UNESCO's Friends group on Linkedin!