Summary of Special Lecture by Ki-Moon Ban, the 8th Secretary-General of the United Nations, at the 2019 World Forum for Intangible Cultural Heritage
Humanity has enjoyed the benefits of nature while also destroying it to a large extent in the process of pursuing their desires. Since the inception of the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) in 1987, we have endeavored to be conscious of our common future and secure resources to be used by our future generations for millions of years to come, while at the same time asking ourselves how the current generation could live in prosperity. These efforts developed into the concept of sustainable development.
Unlike the Industrial Age in the early twentieth century where people pursued rapid economic growth, sustainable development promotes the simultaneous achievement of economic growth, social integration, and environmental preservation in each area, leading to synergy effects. In 2015, the UN announced the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which present 17 goals to be achieved by 2030. While the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are a developmental plan for developing countries, the SDGs are a highly ambitious plan that allows the Earth to survive alongside humanity and, more importantly, governments, businesses, and civil society to create a cooperative partnership for mutual contribution.
The SDGs do not include culture as one of its goals. Still, it is indubitably true that the elements of culture and cultural heritage are diversely reflected in each of the goals, such as inclusive economic growth, environmental sustainability, and peace and safety. Also, the close cooperation between the UN and the UNESCO in the process of adopting the SDGs demonstrates the extent to which humankind regards culture as important and the significant contribution that culture makes to achieving the SDGs.
In particular, intangible cultural heritage (ICH) greatly contributes to the following four SDGs:
The first keyword of sustainable development is “poverty,” and the second and third keywords are “food” and “health,” respectively. This shows that food security is one of the core challenges of sustainable development. ICH largely contributes to this very area. ICH’s various traditional knowledge pertaining to dietary life, such as culinary arts, farming techniques, and hunter-gathering and food collection methods, is linked to sustainable food security, both directly and indirectly. Moreover, ICH is related to gender equality. Women play an important role in the transmission of ICH, and we need to take note of this. Recognizing this, UNESCO has published a brochure concerning ICH and gender equality.
Traditional water control techniques also belong to ICH, and they are related to achieving SDG 6 “Clean Water and Sanitation.” As our ancestors responded to natural and climate challenges before us, their traditional knowledge can be very useful information for our current strategies to mitigate climate change.
Inclusive Economic Growth
ICH largely affects the maintenance of livelihoods of groups and communities. I believe that ICH will help create jobs, and, more importantly, lay the foundation for economic growth by offering decent jobs to people from all walks of life, including the poor and the weak. Moreover, ICH can be excellent resources for tourism. Boosting tourism with ICH can contribute to revitalizing the economy of the community.
Peace and Safety
Humanity can also eliminate sources of conflict in the course of understanding the past through cultural heritage. We occasionally witness horrible massacres arising from ethnic differences all over the world. But if people share their traditional knowledge and way of life with each other, they will be able to understand each other and achieve reconciliation and co-existence. This way, I believe that culture can help ensure Peace and safety.
As shown in many examples, ICH is contributing to society in various ways. To ensure this, governments, businesses, and civil society should work together. Governments should protect ICH through policies and programs; businesses should sponsor ICH as part of their social contribution; and civil society should take the lead in maintaining their unique culture as a member of the community.
Civil society is a spontaneous community. However, modern civil society sadly tends to serve the interests of individuals rather than the community. Inclusive social development pursued under sustainable development will be an effort to restore our civil society as a spontaneous community. I believe that ICH focused on communities will play a significant role in reviving such civil society.