Navigation area

UNESCO – The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) was founded in 1945 as a specialized agency of the United Nations (UN) whose purpose is to contribute to peace and security by promoting international cooperation in the areas of education, science, culture and communication. The UNESCO Constitution was ratified by 20 states on 4 November 1946. Germany has been a Member State of UNESCO since 1951. UNESCO now has 195 Members (2013).

The Governing Bodies of UNESCO are the General Conference, where Members meet at two-year intervals; the Executive Board, which comprises 58 Members and meets twice every year; and the Secretariat in Paris, which is headed by the Director-General. Scientific committees and intergovernmental and international councils provide expert advice for the programmes.

UNESCO's Medium-Term Strategy (C/4 documents), which is adopted every six years by the General Conference, sets out the Organization's strategic vision and programmatic framework. The Medium-Term Strategy 37 C/4 for 2014-2021 lists nine strategic objectives of UNESCO:

  1. Developing education systems to foster quality lifelong learning opportunities for all
  2. Empowering learners to be creative and responsible global citizens
  3. Shaping the future education agenda
  4. Promoting the interface between science, policy and society and ethical and inclusive policies for sustainable development
  5. Strengthening international science cooperation for peace, sustainability and social inclusion
  6. Supporting inclusive social development and promoting intercultural dialogue and the rapprochement of cultures
  7. Protecting, promoting and transmitting heritage
  8. Fostering creativity and the diversity of cultural expressions
  9. Promoting freedom of expression, media development and universal access to information and knowledge

UNESCO's C/5 documents with information on specific UNESCO programmes and projects, including their budgets, are drafted every two years.

The German Commission for UNESCO acts as an intermediary of foreign cultural and educational policy and advises the Federal Government and all other public bodies on UNESCO issues, cooperates in the implementation of UNESCO's programme in Germany, informs the general public, and establishes contact between UNESCO and German experts, organizations and institutions.

Current Developments

Important outcomes of the 37th session of the UNESCO General Conference in Paris in November 2013:
  • The USA's and Israel's suspension of membership dues following admission of Palestine at the 36th session of the General Conference has reduced UNESCO's regular budget by roughly 25 Prozent.
  • As US payments will not be made in the foreseeable future, the General Conference adopted an expenditure plan in addition to the official budget of $653 million. This plan provides for a total of $507 million. The Member States agreed to cut the budgets of all UNESCO programmes by approximately 15 Prozent.
  • Director-General Irina Bokova from Bulgaria was elected for a second term of four years. Her re-election was a convincing vote of confidence (160 yes votes). 185 of the 195 Member States were entitled to cast their votes – ten Members (including the USA and Israel) lost their voting rights because they failed to pay outstanding contributions to the UNESCO budget.
  • Half of the 58 members of the Executive Board were newly elected in accordance with the principle of rotational membership. Germany, which had not been represented on the Board for the past two years, was again elected member for a term of four years.
  • Germany was elected member of the Intergovernmental Bioethics Committee (IGBC) and the International Coordinating Council of UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere (MAB) programme.
  • A number of UNESCO recommendations will be revised in the coming years, including the recommendations concerning technical and vocational education (2001), on the development of adult education (1976), and on the status of scientific researchers (1974).
  • Furthermore, the General Conference proclaimed 2015 as the United Nations International Year of Light to commemorate breakthroughs in optical science and the key role of light in human life.
  • 2016 will be the International Year of Global Understanding, which will include geography-related research activities.
  • UNESCO patronage was granted to 16 scientific institutes working in fields such as world natural heritage, martial arts, conflict-sensitive reporting, earthquake engineering, and water cooperation.

Announcement of the 38th session of the General Conference of UNESCO in Paris in October 2015:

Long-Term Mission


 is the basis of development and peace for UNESCO. In the UN system, UNESCO therefore bears main responsibility for coordinating the Education for All (EFA) action programme. This programme was launched at the World Education Forum in Dakar in 2000 and includes a commitment to achieving six important international education goals by 2015, including primary education for all and the reduction of illiteracy rates.

As a follow-up to the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, the United Nations proclaimed 2005-2014 the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) and mandated UNESCO to implement it. The objective of this Decade is to firmly establish the vision of an ecologically, economically and socially sustainable development in education across the world.

In Germany, the German Commission for UNESCO coordinates the implementation of the Decade for the BMBF. To this end, it has appointed a national committee that selects best practice examples in education for sustainable development as the official German contributions to the UN Decade. The second half of the UN Decade was launched at the World Conference on Education for Sustainable Development. The conference was held in Bonn from 31 March to 2 April 2009 and was organized by UNESCO and the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research together with the German Commission for UNESCO. At this world conference, 900 experts and representatives of UNESCO Member States discussed the results of the first half of the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005-2014) and elaborated strategies for the coming years. The conference participants adopted the Bonn Declaration, which mirrors the discussions and provides strategic orientation for the second half of the Decade.

As a follow-up, the international "Horizon 2015" workshop was held in Bonn in 2012. A closing conference in Japan has been scheduled for 2014. Its aim is to transform the UN Decade into an ESD world action programme.

Ten UNESCO Chairs in Germany form part of an international network for inter-university cooperation (UNITWIN), which currently includes 854 UNESCO Chairs in 134 countries.

There are two UNESCO educational institutes in Germany: The UNESCO Institute for Education (UIP), which has been based in Hamburg since 1951, is making an important contribution to the implementation of UNESCO's Education for All programme and has supported the UN World Literacy Decade (2003-2012). Its aim is to ensure that the learning needs of young people and adults are met. In order to achieve equality between this institute and other comparable UNESCO educational institutes, a decision was taken in 2005 to make the UIP a fully-fledged international UNESCO institute and give it a new name: UIL – UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning.

The UNESCO-UNEVOC International Centre for Technical and Vocational Education and Training (UNESCO – UNEVOC) has been operating in Bonn since 2000 with the support of the Federal Government. The Institute's mission is to support the development of TVET systems throughout the world and promote regional and international cooperation in this field. The Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training (BIBB) forms part of the global network of more than 200 UNEVOC centres in 168 countries (December 2013), which was extended on 16 September 2010 to also include the Magdeburg UNEVOC Centre "Technical and Vocational Education and Training for Sustainable Development".

The roughly 200 German UNESCO Associated Schools are part of UNESCO’s international ASP Network, which comprises 9566 schools in 180 countries. Their curricula place special emphasis on human rights, intercultural dialogue, sustainable development, and a fair distribution of wealth. The main educational goal of the UNESCO Associated Schools is to teach people to live together in a pluralistic world characterized by cultural diversity.


UNESCO operates numerous long-term science programmes which support research to protect the human environment, for example the MAB Man and the Biosphere programme. The United Nations proclaimed the UN Decade on Biodiversity 2011-2020, which added more value to the 621 biosphere reserves in 117 countries (15 of which are in Germany, December 2013). This was done in reply to the recommendation issued by the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) at their tenth meeting in Nagoya, Japan, in October 2010.

International cooperation in environmental research also involves the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC), which coordinates marine research, the International Geoscience Programme (IGCP), which studies geological processes, and the International Hydrological Programme (IHP), which is devoted to the hydrological cycle and smart water resources management.

The International Basic Sciences Programme (IBSP) was launched in 2004 and focuses on areas such as chemistry, physics, mathematics and certain fields of engineering that do not fall within the remit of other UN agencies. Germany is involved in numerous research projects within UNESCO's science programme. In consultation with the German Commission for UNESCO, the Federal Ministries responsible for the relevant areas have appointed national committees for four UNESCO programmes.

In addition, UNESCO operates an intergovernmental programme for the Management of Social Transformation (MOST), under which it supports comparable social science projects that are networked across regions and focus on topics such as urbanization, living together in cultural diversity, and migration.

In its scientific fields of work, UNESCO supports the establishment and development of scientific research and training institutions and international networks for basic scientific and technological research, particularly in developing countries.

Due to the rapid scientific and technological progress which is occurring in the life sciences, there is a great need for international coordination regarding values and norms in this area today. This is the purpose of the meetings of UNESCO's International Bioethics Committee (IBC) and of the Intergovernmental Bioethics Committee (IGBC). The Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights was prepared by the International Bioethics Committee and adopted at the 29th session of the UNESCO General Conference in November 1997. The impact of this declaration was analysed in subsequent years. The Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights was adopted unanimously in 2005.

Ethical aspects of science and technology development are also addressed by the World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology (COMEST). This commission initially focused on issues relating to freshwater, outer space and energy but the subject of ethics in information technology has moved centre stage since the Berlin conference in late 2001.


UNESCO is the only specialized agency with responsibility for cultural matters in the UN system. Its main responsibilities are the protection and preservation of cultural heritage, the promotion of cultural diversity, and intercultural dialogue.

The World Heritage Convention (WHC), which links together the concepts of nature conservation and the preservation of cultural properties, is the most well-known of all UNESCO programmes. The UNESCO World Heritage List currently comprises more than 900 sites including 38 sites in Germany – the Markgräfliches Opernhaus Bayreuth (2012) and Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe (2013) in Kassel were added recently.

The Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage was adopted by UNESCO in 2003 and took effect in 2006. It ensures that UNESCO's long-standing efforts to gather, archive and revitalize cultural traditions, skills and endangered languages will be continued in keeping with binding international provisions.

Communication and information – UNESCO supports access to knowledge and information worldwide for all. It promotes information technology development to overcome the digital divide between rich and poor countries. UNESCO helps establish independent media in developing countries and contributes to diversity in the press sector.

As part of its communication programme, UNESCO supports the development of modern knowledge societies in which freedom of opinion and equal access to information and knowledge are as important as education for all and cultural diversity. The Open Access, Media Development, and Freedom of Expression initiatives and the work under the Information for All Programme (IFAP) and the International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC) reflect these overarching goals.

The Memory of the World programme aims to protect and make accessible original documents. The international Memory of the World Register contains roughly 300 entries, including 17 from Germany (e.g. Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 and, since 2009, the Song of the Nibelungs).


UNESCO's regular budget consists of the direct contributions paid by the Member States. For the years 2014 and 2015, it amounts to $653 million in total. As US payments will not be made in the foreseeable future, the General Conference adopted an expenditure plan in addition to the official budget. This plan provides for a total of $507 million: $83 million for the education programme, $69 million for the science programme, of which $45 million are earmarked for the natural sciences and $24 million for the humanities and social sciences. $41 million have been earmarked for the cultural programme and $24 million for the communication programme. In addition, considerable extrabudgetary funds are available from voluntary contributions by individual Member States.


UNESCO Headquarters in Paris have two locations:

  • 7, place de Fontenoy,F-75352 Paris 07 SP France
  • 1, rue Miollis 75732 Paris Cedex 15 France

    Tel.: 00 33 1 - 45 68 10 00
    Fax: 00 33 1 - 45 67 19 00

Permanent Delegation of Germany to UNESCO
13-15 Av. Franklin D. Roosevelt
F-75008 Paris

Tel.: 00 33 1 - 53 83 46 63

German Commission for UNESCO (Deutsche UNESCO Kommission; DUK)
Colmantstraße 15
53115 Bonn

Tel.: 00 49 228 - 60 49 70
Fax: 00 49 228 - 60 49 730

Additional information

Deutsche Version dieser Seite


United Nations Educational, Scientific an Cultural Organization


© 03/13/2015 00:11 Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung