Cultural Policies and Sustainable Development

The concept of sustainable development and its articulation in three dimensions or pillars (economic growth, social inclusion and environmental balance) was developed in the second half of the 1980s. The Earth Summit, held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, confirmed the need to introduce ecological considerations into the development of our societies and strengthen these three pillars as the paradigm of sustainable development.

It is generalised opinion that these three dimensions are not enough to reflect the complexity of contemporary society: researchers and institutions have pointed out in recent years that culture must be included in this development model.

  • In 2001, the Australian researcher and activist Jon Hawkes proposed including a fourth pillar in sustainability: culture. His work The Fourth Pillar of Sustainability. Culture’s Essential Role in Public Planning is considered a work of reference for local cultural policies.
  • Agenda 21 for culture proposes strengthening local cultural policies and integrating culture as a fundamental element of our development model (2004).
  • The UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions (2005) mentions the relationship between culture and sustainable development.

Today, the world is not exclusively facing challenges of an economic, social or environmental nature. Creativity, knowledge, diversity and beauty are essential premises for dialogue for peace and progress, as they are intrinsically related to human development and freedom.

In this context, the United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) Committee on Culture welcomed the invitation of the UNESCO Division of Cultural Policies and Intercultural Dialogue to carry out a brief study to explain the vision of local cities and governments in the process “towards a new model of cultural policy,” a process started in 2009 to bring cultural actors closer to sustainable development. This study is Report 4 of the Agenda 21 for culture, Culture and Sustainable Development: Examples of Institutional Innovation and Proposal of a New Cultural Policy Profile.

The extensive task and activism carried out by Agenda 21 for culture resulted in the UCLG Executive Bureau leading the preparation of a the policy statement “Culture: Fourth Pillar of Sustainable Development”, passed on 17th November 2010, in the framework of the World Summit of Local and Regional Leaders – 3rd World Congress of UCLG, held in Mexico City. This document inaugurates a new perspective and points to the relation between culture and sustainable development through a dual approach: developing a solid cultural policy and advocating a cultural dimension in all public policies.

The UN Conference on Sustainable Development in 2012 (Rio+20) did not recognise a place for culture in sustainable development. Our report 6 on “Rio+20 and culture. Advocating for Culture as a Pillar of Sustainability” details our strategy towards Rio+20, analyses in depth its Outcome Document, and explains why it is insufficient.

The gap between development frameworks and cultural actors is still big. A critical mass of actors (in the UN System, at a national level, in the civil society) that explicitly advocate for the role of culture in sustainable development does not yet exist. But Rio+20 was useful to better connect actors, to better align their strategies, and to agree on the new opportunities to continue the discussion: the post-2015 Development Agenda of United Nations and Habitat III. (if you wish, you may also consult our new page on Post-2015).

It remains to be seen how in the next few years the relation between sustainable development and culture evolves. You can become part of the answer.

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Our document carries the justification for such a goal and puts forward several targets and indicators. It is now time for culture to be at the heart of a positive transformative change.

International Award UCLG - MEXICO City - Culture 21

Banner En  copiaThe jury delivered its verdict, check out the cities that participated at the International Award UCLG - MEXICO City - Culture 21 and discover the winners

You can also consult the detailed Report of the Jury.