Friday, December 17, 2004

CAIP-Sponsored Roundtable on UNESCO and OAS Activities

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Consortium of Affiliates for International Activities (CAIP) sponsored a roundtable for interested parties from professional societies and the U.S. government. It was an informal information-gathering and discussion that covered both the Organization of American States ministerial process, which will next take up the issue of science and technology capacity building, and UNESCO programs and processes. It will set the stage for a full scale CAIP meeting in February.

Sid Passman provided the following comments on the meeting:


Alex Zemeck, Deputy Ex. Sec. of the U.S. National Commission on UNESCO (NATCOMM) outlined the structure of the NATCOMM. They need about 10 more NGOs to complete their membership.

Hank Hatch, designated coordinator of the Science Committee, welcomed advice from us
old timers and hoped we could help to identify US participants in UNESCO activities in recent years so that the NATCOMM would be able to appreciate US interests. (If Roger's database is still available it would be helpful for the secretariat.)
Since the NATCOMM is organized under the terms of the Federal Advisory Committee Act,
the meetings will be open to the interested public (within the room limits.). Announcements will be made at least 15 days in advance. The agenda of the meetings will be set by State and will be aimed at providing advice when requested.

There are 21 member organizations on the Science Committee of NATCOMM.

The first NATCOMM meeting will probably be in May.

Because UNESCO seems concerned about its bleak financial future (the State Department's Bureau for International Organizations (IO) representative defended the need to keep the budget zero growth with mandatory absorption of building and security costs), Amb. Oliver suggested ways in which UNESCO could become more efficient. She dispatched an advisory group (Engineer Russel Jones and academic in residence Melba Crawford), who just returned from an extended mission. They suggested an integration and consolidation of staff to create a capacity building task force. I hope that we will learn more about Amb. Oliver's activities and thoughts when she speaks at the very important AAAS annual meeting 19 February.

I made numerous interventions on the various questions and issues before the roundtable, some of which, I believe, were well received.

In conclusion, I believe things are going well but recommend that Americans for UNESCO stay closely in touch and offer advice wherever practicable.


I would add that NATCOMM will have four committees: Science, Education, Culture and Communication. Currently there is no plan to appoint a chairman for the overall NATCOMM, but the four committee chairs may form the core of an executive committee.

The zero-growth proposal for UNESCO's budget is in keeping with plans that were made two years ago, with the U.S. reentry into UNESCO. At that time, there was a significant increase in the budget, reflecting the added contribution that would be made by the U.S. to those of other nations. But, it was contemplated that the budget would not expand further in the next bieniums. The discovery of the need for tens of millions of dollars worth of repairs and renovations needed for the UNESCO headquarters, and the depreciation of the dollar against the Euro have lead UNESCO staff now to propose increasing the budget again (by US$58 million to US$210 million.)

There seemed to be confidence that ambassador Oliver is doing well since she assumed her post as U.S. Ambassador to UNESCO. Her emphasis on building cross-cutting programs to break down the "stove-piping" that currently exists in UNESCO seemed especially well received. She has proposed a "Capacity Building Center" within UNESCO to promote cross-cutting efforts to build capacity in developing nations.

There was discussion of the need to increase the number of Americans on the staff of UNESCO, both to reflect the importance of the U.S. in UNESCO's support, and to improve the linkages between U.S. educational, cultural and scientific communities and UNESCO programs.

It was suggested that it would be worthwhile to revisit a study published by the National Academy of Sciences about 1985, that discussed the concerns of the U.S. scientific community at the time of the U.S. withdrawal from UNESCO.

Saturday, February 19th, there will be a session at the Annual Meeting of the AAAS on UNESCO. Ambassador Oliver will speak, as will Walter Erdelen, Assistant Director-General for Natural Sciences of UNESCO. Also scheduled to speak will be Shirley Malcolm, Bruce Alberts, and Terry Garcia. There will be an hour for open, moderated discussion following the presentations. This will be an important meeting.

2005 has been named "The World Year in Physics". 2005 is the 100th anniversary of the year in which Einstein published his most remarkable contributions to the science. UNESCO and the American Physical Society will mount programs.

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