UNESCO protects the best parts of human culture.
So far, the Trump administration has ended US support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, threatened to stop funding NATO and the UN, and announced its plans to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement.
Now the US has formally withdrawn from another global arrangement, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO.
The reason? Because the administration thinks that UNESCO has an anti-Israel bias for recognizing a cultural site in the West Bank as part of Palestinian heritage and for admitting Palestine as a full member in 2011.
The State Department also cited “the need for fundamental reform.”
The US initially distanced itself from UNESCO under the Obama administration for perceived anti-Israel sentiments and cut all funding for the program.
But this latest step means that the US has fully withdrawn from the organization.
Here’s why that’s a big deal.
1/ UNESCO Protects and Promotes the Best Parts of Global Culture
Belgian beer, Indian Yoga, Chinese calligraphy, French gastronomy, the Mediterranean diet, Spanish flamenco — these are localized cultural practices that went on to captivate the world
By recognizing these and other things as “intangible” human achievements UNESCO campaigns to ensure their cultural integrity.
Other developments are less well-known and need greater protection, like endangered languages that convey the imaginative power of the human mind and hold distinct cultural quirks.
2/ UNESCO Protects the Best Architectural Achievements
The Great Wall of China stretches more than 5,500 miles, the Church of Notre Dame in France features a rare merging of historic styles, and the Taj Mahal in India is a powerful testament to dynastic might and artistic ingenuity.
UNESCO recognizes these architectural achievements and campaigns to protect them. When the Pyramids in Egypt were threatened by a proposed highway, for example, UNESCO intervened to stop the route.
This is one of the reasons why UNESCO is ardently anti-war, because when conflict breaks out, architecture is usually destroyed and damaged, as happened when ISIS overran the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra.
3/ UNESCO Protects the Most Beautiful Parts of Earth
The Great Barrier Reef off the Australian coast, the formidable redwood trees in San Francisco, the vast Namib Sand Sea in Namibia — these are natural wonders that evoke awe in almost everyone.
But climate change, pollution, human development, and other factors all threaten to reduce or erase them. Through its world heritage program, UNESCO works with countries to protect the splendor and diversity of the natural world.
4/ UNESCO Helps Make Sure Every Kid Gets an Education
Around the world, 263 million youth are out of school, which puts them at risk of poverty, abuse, and radicalization. Through its educational chapters in 126 countries, UNESCO helps countries improve curriculums and access resources for schools, defends students from discrimination, and conducts extensive research into the state of learning worldwide.
“Despite not meeting the 2015 deadline, millions more children are in school than would have been had the trends of the 1990s persisted,” said Irina Bokova, Director-General at UNESCO said. “However…we need to see specific, well-funded strategies that prioritize the poorest – especially girls – improve the quality of learning and reduce the literacy gap so that education becomes meaningful and universal.”
5/ UNESCO Defends Women’s Rights
From hosting all-women business conferences to promoting women in STEM fields to combating discriminatory laws worldwide, UNESCO views gender equality as a core part of its mandate.
For instance, UNESCO recently hosted the Smart Africa Women’s Summit to help countries collaborate on interventions that can empower girls and women in schools, the workplace, and throughout society.
6/ UNESCO Advances Important Scientific Research
Science is an essential part of human culture — modern agriculture, antibiotics, the Internet, artificial intelligence, and so many more things are the fruits of state and private investment in scientific education
UNESCO is committed to maintaining this tradition by supporting science, technology, and innovation, with a special focus on freshwater, marine, ecological, earth and basic sciences.