UN specialised agencies and regional commissions

The specialised agencies of the UN are largely concerned with setting standards and regulating activity in areas of their specialty and with taking steps to extend advances in research and technology. Australia plays a prominent role in a number of the agencies.

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)

UNESCO is a Specialised Agency of the United Nations, established immediately after the Second World War in 1945 under the Charter of the UN. The purpose of UNESCO, as stated in Article I of its Constitution, is “to contribute to peace and security by promoting collaboration among nations through education, science, and culture in order to further universal respect for justice, for the rule of law, and for the human rights and fundamental freedoms which are affirmed for the peoples of the world, without distinction of race, sex, language or religion, by the Charter of the United Nations.” UNESCO is an intergovernmental body, and Australia was one of the 20 founding members. Member States are included in regional groupings, with Australia being a member of the Asia Pacific region. Australia is also part of the Pacific sub-region which falls within the scope of the UNESCO field office in Apia, Samoa. Australia's Permanent Delegate to UNESCO is a senior diplomat based at our Embassy in Paris, where the Secretariat of UNESCO is located.

The Organization is unique in its Constitution recommending that Member States establish ‘National Commissions’ to advise and assist their Governments on participation in UNESCO. National Commissions usually include community and government specialists in UNESCO's fields of competence and may also include representatives of interested NGOs.  The Australian National Commission for UNESCO was established in 1947, shortly after UNESCO itself.

International Labour Organization (ILO)

The ILO was established in 1919 with a mandate to set minimum international standards relating to labour. Within the UN system, the ILO has a unique tripartite structure with workers and employers participating as equal partners with governments in its work. The Organization has over 170 members. Australia has belonged to the ILO since its foundation, and plays an active role in the work of the Organization. Australia is part of the Asia-Pacific Government Group of ILO members. The ILO is undergoing significant reform to improve its relevance, efficiency and capacity both to influence and to respond to rapid political, social and economic changes around the world. The ILO is headquartered in Geneva.

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)

The FAO was founded in 1945 with a mandate to raise levels of nutrition and standards of living, to improve agricultural productivity, and to better the condition of rural populations. The FAO collects and maintains statistical data, disseminates information, provides a world centre for knowledge and expertise, provides a neutral forum for international policy dialogue, develops international norms, standards and conventions, and provides technical assistance. Australia, as a major world food producer and agricultural trading nation, is a founding member of FAO and has participated actively in it since its inception. Australia's main interests in FAO activities relate to facilitating the collection of statistical data and information exchange on agriculture, fisheries and forestry industries, participating in FAO's work in codification of agricultural and food standards, the facilitation of international trade, the sustainable management of fisheries and forestry resources, and in monitoring surplus disposals and food aid transactions. The FAO headquarters is located in Rome.

World Health Organization (WHO)

The WHO aims for the attainment by all people of the highest possible level of health. Health, as defined by WHO's Constitution, is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. WHO has four main functions: to give worldwide guidance in the field of health; to set global standards for health; to cooperate with governments in strengthening national health programs; and to develop and transfer appropriate health technology, information and standards. Australia has been a member of WHO since the Organization's establishment in 1948. Australia contributes to WHO through the provision of both financial and expert technical assistance.

World Meteorological Organization (WMO)

WMO was established in 1950. Its objectives are to facilitate world-wide cooperation in establishing networks of meteorological observation stations including the rapid exchange of meteorological information; the standardisation of observations and uniform publication of observations and statistics; and the application of meteorology to aviation, shipping, water problems, agriculture and other areas. WMO carries out its mandate most effectively. Australia's priority in the organisation is the acquisition of observational data through the World Weather Watch Program. If Australia were not a member of WMO, it would be almost impossible for Australia to obtain the world-wide meteorological data required to carry out the functions of the Bureau of Meteorology. Australia maintains the only World Meteorological Centre in the southern hemisphere at Melbourne.

World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)

WIPO is based in Geneva. Its mandate is to promote the protection of intellectual property (IP) worldwide and administers international treaties dealing with different aspects of IP protection. These treaties can be divided into three general groups: treaties defining internationally agreed basic standards of IP protection in each member State; the "registration" treaties, which ensure that one international registration or filing will have effect in any of the relevant signatory States; and the "classification" treaties, which create classification systems that organise information concerning inventions, trademarks and industrial designs into indexed, manageable structures for easy retrieval. Australia became a member of WIPO in 1972. An Agreement between WIPO and the World Trade Organization (WTO) came into force on 1 January 1996. This Agreement provides for cooperation concerning the implementation of the WTO's Agreement on Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS), such as notification of IP laws and regulations, legal-technical assistance, and technical cooperation in favour of developing countries.

International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)

ICAO was established in 1947 after the Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation came into force. Its principal objectives were to develop and seek the implementation of internationally agreed standards and procedures for international civil aviation particularly in regard to technical, operational and safety aspects and to develop regional air navigation plans. ICAO has provided an objective international forum for the discussion of complex and at times controversial aviation issues while remaining the independent standards setter for the operation of international civil air services worldwide. Australia has been a member of ICAO since 1947 and strongly supports ICAO's activities as a means of furthering our interests in the safety of civil aviation and the availability of regular and efficient air services within Australia and between Australia and overseas destinations. ICAO is headquartered in Montreal.

International Telecommunication Union (ITU)

The ITU has responsibility for international cooperation in telecommunications of all kinds. The ITU is a global forum in which Australia can influence the development of key telecommunications standards and the resolution of competing demands on the radio frequency spectrum. Australia supports continuing reforms to the ITU's structure and function which have improved the organisation's ability to respond to technological and structural changes in the telecommunications industry. The reforms enhanced the capacity of the ITU's Development Sector to facilitate the development, expansion, and operation of the telecommunications networks and services, particularly in developing countries. The ITU is headquartered in Geneva.

Universal Postal Union (UPU)

The UPU was established in 1874. Its Acts and Regulations provide the basis for the operational and financial management of the international postal system. The Constitution of the UPU establishes a single postal territory for the reciprocal exchange of letter post items with freedom of transit guaranteed throughout. Australia joined the UPU in October 1907 and is a signatory to the Sixth Additional Protocol to the Constitution, the Universal Postal Convention and Final Protocol and the General Regulations, done at Beijing on 15 September 2000. The UPU is headquartered in Berne. Australia Post represents Australia on the Postal Operations Council.

International Maritime Organization (IMO)

The IMO was established in 1958 with the purpose of providing the machinery for cooperation on international shipping matters, promoting adoption of the highest practicable standards of maritime safety, navigational efficiency and marine pollution control and prevention; encouraging the removal of discriminatory and unnecessary restrictions on shipping engaged in international trade, and assisting the development of national shipping. Through work within IMO, a comprehensive set of international treaties applicable to shipping has been brought into force. The IMO is headquartered in London.

Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP)

Apart from the bodies with global responsibilities, the UN commission covering the Asia Pacific region is also of particular interest to Australia.  ESCAP was established by resolution of the Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East, changing its name in 1974. ESCAP's main functions are as a forum for discussion of a range of economic and social issues affecting the region, as a regional centre for a diverse range of technical assistance to developing countries and as a research facility and development information source. Australia plays an active and prominent role in ESCAP, as part of our commitment to promoting development in the region. ESCAP is based in Bangkok.