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UNESCO: United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization



About us

UNESCO is the only United Nations specialized agency with SCIENCE inscribed in its name and with a specific mandate to promote science.

About us
  • © UNESCO/N. Guy
  • The UNESCO Headquarters illuminated

UNESCO promotes international cooperation in science in the interests of peace, human rights and development. The Natural Sciences Sector representing the ‘S’ in UNESCO between the ‘E’ for education and the ‘C’ for culture works in an interdisciplinary environment.

Today, the Natural Sciences Sector implements major international programmes in the freshwater, marine, ecological, earth and basic sciences, while at the same time promoting national and regional science and technology polices and capacity building in the sciences, engineering and renewable energy. Emphasis is given to developing countries, in particular to Africa, and to natural disaster prevention. Programmes are designed to respond to the international issues of climate change, gender equality, sustainable development and the eradication of poverty, in particular in small island developing states.

UNESCO acts as an advocate for science, as a platform for sharing ideas and standard setting, and promotes dialogue between scientists and policy makers. It empowers and catalyses innovative initiatives in the field of international cooperation in science, in particular through networks and capacity building activities.

The Sector, with a staff of around 200 people in UNESCO Headquarters and Field Offices, is headed by the Assistant Director General for the Natural Sciences, Ms Gretchen Kalonji. Programmes and activities are implemented through UNESCO Headquarters and the UNESCO Field Office network. Twenty-three of UNESCO's 52 field offices have a representative of the Natural Sciences Sector. There are four regional UNESCO offices for science; Nairobi (Africa); Jakarta (Asia and the Pacific); Venice (Europe and North America); Cairo (Arab States); and Montevideo (Latin America and the Caribbean).

The Sector also implements its programmes through the UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education (in the Netherlands), the Abdus Salaam International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) (in Italy) and the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (in Canada), and through a network of associated centres in the fields of water, renewable energy, science policy, biotechnology and the geosciences. Around 200 of the university Chairs in the UNESCO/UNITWIN Chairs programme are in science.

On the national level, UNESCO’s work in science is also advanced through the National Committees of the International Scientific Programmes (ISPs) including the:

  • International Hydrological Programme (IHP);
  • Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC);
  • Man and the Biosphere Programme (MAB);
  • International Geosciences Programme (IGCP);
  • International Basic Sciences Programme (IBSP).

The National Commissions for UNESCO in over 190 Member States and affiliated bodies work to achieve UNESCO objectives in science.

A Little History

The ‘S’ has been an integral part of UNESCO since its foundation in 1945. Since then UNESCO has acted as a catalyst for the establishment of many, now leading, scientific unions and bodies such as the World Conservation Union (IUCN, 1948), and the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN, 1954) which contributed to the development of the internet. Initiatives with far-reaching implications for sustainable human security and well-being – such as the Man and the Biosphere programme, the World Heritage sites and the International Hydrological Programme – were launched in the first thirty years of UNESCO’s history.

Related links:
:: The "S" in UNESCO - The UNESCO Courier (December 1956) p.42
::  Sixty Years of Science at UNESCO   

Europe and North America Latin America and the Caribbean Africa Arab States Asia Pacific