Circle of Sustainabiity

Intangible Cultural Heritage and Sustainable Development

For the past forty-plus years, “sustainable development” has been a catchphrase in international discourse, especially in the United Nations system. Initially, term was limited to discussions on the three pillars—economic, environmental, and social dimensions—of a society. Over the past decade or so, however, discussion has expanded to include the cultural domain to complement the other three to create what is sometimes referred to as the circle of sustainability. The importance of this cultural dimension of sustainable development cannot be overstated—a society with strong economic, environmental, and social dimensions is nothing without culture as culture is in itself what brings a sense of humanness and creative thought to the other domains of sustainable development.

Given the significance of culture in sustainable development and sustainability, it isn’t surprising that the notion has been included in UNESCO’s 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, with the first draft of the Convention recognizing intangible cultural heritage as a “guarantee of sustainable development.” Further integration of sustainable development has occurred since 2010. The General Assembly of the States Party revised the Operational Directives in 2010; they stipulated in chapter II, paragraph 73, concerning the donors to the Intangible Cultural Heritage Fund, that “No contributions may be accepted from entities whose activities are not compatible… with the requirements of sustainable development….” Further still is the General Assembly’s adoption of chapter IV about raising the public’s awareness of intangible cultural heritage’s importance, which mentions in paragraph 111 that “the media are encouraged to contribute to raising awareness about the importance of the intangible cultural heritage as a means to foster social cohesion, sustainable development, and prevention of conflict….”

The linkage between sustainable development and intangible cultural heritage safeguarding has been a discussion topic among members of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, especially while examining nomination files for inscribing elements to the lists or reviewing the States Party’s periodic reports on implementing the Convention at the national level. As a result of these debates, the Committee recommended developing a new chapter (chapter VI) for the Operational Directives to specifically deal with safeguarding intangible cultural heritage and sustainable development (Decision 8.COM 13.a.).

The initial draft of the new chapter, which was a result of an expert meeting held in Istanbul, Turkey, from 29 September to 1 October 2014, was presented at the ninth session of the Intergovernmental Committee for further discussion. As a result of these discussions, the Committee decided to include a revised draft on the agenda of 10.COM, before submitting the draft to the sixth session of the General Assembly, which will be held from 30 May to 1 June 2016 (Decision 9.COM 13.b.).

The draft presented to the Intergovernmental Committee reflected their cumulative discussions and the results of the Istanbul meeting in addition to the work undertaken by the Secretariat and the developments in intergovernmental negotiations for the 2030 development agenda. After additional discussions and minor revisions, the new chapter was approved (Decision 10.COM 14.a.) and will be presented during 6.GA, which will be held at UNESCO Headquarters in May and June this year. The draft chapter presented for agenda 14.a. can be reviewed at The final version is forthcoming and will be available at before the sixth session.

Michael Peterson (Editor, ICHCAP)

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