UNESCO Created (1946)

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) came into force on November 4, 1946.  The international treaty creating the group had been signed earlier, but it became operational with ratification by 20 countries.  It is noteworthy in conservation for its protection of World Heritage Sites.

Near the end of World War 2, European nations began to plan for the reconstruction of the institutions impacted by the Axis occupation of much of the continent.  Their chief initial concerns were to re-establish schools and universities—and assuring that wartime history would be recorded and taught objectively (for example, UNESCO operates a program to teach the history of the Holocaust).  As the war ended, 37 countries convened in London and agreed to the UNESCO Constitution, citing that “ignorance of each other’s ways and lives has been a common cause, throughout the history of mankind, of that suspicion and mistrust between the peoples of the world through which their differences have all too often broken into war.”  Since then, the number of member countries has risen to 195.

The ideals of encouraging education and common understanding of culture have yielded great benefit, but also ongoing controversy.  The United States quit the organization in 1984 under President Reagan, rejoined in 2002 under President George W. Bush, stopped making annual payments in 2011 (accumulating a $550 million debt) and announced in late 2017 plans to quit again.  Much of the U.S. ambivalence to UNESCO involves issues over its treatment of Israeli interests.

For conservationists, however, the centerpiece of UNESCO is the list of World Heritage properties.  In a separate convention enacted on July 12, 1973, the organization recognized a global need to identify and conserve important cultural and natural resources.  Today, 167 countries are party to the convention, which requires member states to propose sites for inclusion on the list, assure that designated sites will be protected and recognize that although sites may be within a single country, they represent a resource for the entire world.

UNESCO lists 1073 World Heritage properties.  The vast majority (about 78%) are cultural resources and about half of those sites are in Europe.  About 20% of the listed sites are natural, and 2% are mixed cultural and natural sites; natural sites are more equally spread across the world, but still with greater number in Europe, Asia and the Pacific.  The U.S. has 23 sites on the list, about half cultural and half natural.  All of the natural sites are also national parks—Yellowstone (one of the original eight sites), Yosemite, Everglades, Glacier, Great Smoky Mountains, Grand Canyon, Carlsbad, Hawaii Volcanoes, Wrangell-St. Elias, Mammoth Cave, Olympic, and Redwood.

The list also identifies sites that, although protected, are in danger.  Fifty-four sites are in danger, 16 of which are natural sites.  Eleven endangered sites are in Africa, and one is in the United State—Everglades National Park.

References:

Rosenberg, Eli and Carol Morello.  2017.  U.S. withdraws from UNESCO, the U.N.’s cultural organization, citing anti-Israel bias.  The Washington Post, October 12, 2017.  Available at:  https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2017/10/12/u-s-withdraws-from-unesco-the-u-n-s-cultural-organization-citing-anti-israel-bias/?utm_term=.adc9fff6f2bd.  Accessed November 3, 2017.

UNESCO.  The Organization’s history.  Available at:  http://www.unesco.org/new/en/unesco/about-us/who-we-are/history/.  Accessed November 3, 2017.

UNESCO.  UNESCO Constitution.  Available at:  http://portal.unesco.org/en/ev.php-URL_ID=15244&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html.  Accessed November 3, 2017.

UNESCO.  World Heritage List:  United States of America.  Available at:  http://whc.unesco.org/en/statesparties/us.  Accessed November 3, 2017.

This Month in Conservation

January 1
NEPA Enacted (1970)
January 2
Bob Marshall Born (1901)
January 3
Canaveral National Seashore Created (1975)
January 4
The Real James Bond Born (1900)
January 5
National Bird Day
January 6
Wild Kingdom First Airs (1963)
January 7
Gerald Durrell Born (1925)
January 8
Alfred Russel Wallace Born (1823)
January 9
Muir Woods National Monument Created (1908)
January 10
National Houseplant Appreciation Day
January 11
Aldo Leopold Born (1887)
January 12
National Trust of England Established (1895)
January 13
MaVynee Betsch, the Beach Lady, Born (1935)
January 14
Martin Holdgate Born (1931)
January 15
British Museum Opened (1795)
January 16
Dian Fossey Born (1932)
January 17
Benjamin Franklin, America’s First Environmentalist, Born (1706)
January 18
White Sands National Monument Created (1933)
January 19
Yul Choi, Korean Environmentalist, Born (1949)
January 19
Acadia National Park Established (1929)
January 20
Penguin Appreciation Day
January 21
The Wilderness Society Founded (1935)
January 22
Iraq Sabotages Kuwaiti Oil Fields (1991)
January 23
Sweden Bans CFCs in Aerosols (1978)
January 24
Baden-Powell Publishes “Scouting for Boys” (1908)
January 25
Badlands National Park Established (1939)
January 26
Benjamin Franklin Disses the Bald Eagle (1784)
January 27
National Geographic Society Incorporated (1888)
January 28
Bermuda Petrel, Thought Extinct for 300 Years, Re-discovered (1951)
January 29
Edward Abbey, author of “Desert Solitaire,” Born (1927)
January 30
England Claims Antarctica (1820)
January 31
Stewart Udall, Secretary of Interior, Born (1920)
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