The road ahead for the United Nations
The 78th United Nations General Assembly was recently held in New York. The convening comes at a particularly difficult time for the UN and for the world in general: the race for global power and influence and growing geo-political tensions and distrust have made it harder for global cooperation and collaboration, which is necessary to address pressing issues of global health, security and climate change. It was thus fitting that the theme of the General Debate was “Rebuilding trust and reigniting global solidarity: Accelerating action on the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals towards peace, prosperity, progress and sustainability for all.” With attention now turning to the upcoming COP28 in Dubai, the takeaways and highlights from the General Assembly provide an indicator of the road ahead for global crises and cooperation:
There hasn’t been enough progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals. 2023 marks the halfway point of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The milestone year comes at an arduous time for global sustainable development. There have been successes: Rwanda, India, China and Costa Rica have made strides in reducing poverty and unemployment, improving access to education, electricity and health services. The EU Green Deal, launched by the European Commission, aims to make Europe the first climate neutral continent by 2050. However, overall progress on the 2030 Agenda has been painfully slow. UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned that global progress was nowhere near where it should be to achieve the SDGs by 2030. A 2023 UN report on the Sustainable Development Goals shows that there has either been no progress or a regression in progress for 30% of the 17 goals. But it’s not all doom and gloom. Held during the General Assembly, the 2023 Sustainable Development Goals Summit was a platform for global leaders to acknowledge the lack of progress and re-affirm their commitment to the 2030 Agenda. With acknowledgement of past failures and renewed momentum and sense of urgency, converting this fresh commitment into solid action is the next step.
Institutional challenges...and institutional opportunities. The United Nations was established in the wake of the Second World War. As per the UN Charter, the organisation is mandated to “maintain international peace and security... achieve international cooperation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character” and “to be a center for harmonizing the actions of nations in the attainment of these common ends.” With multiple ongoing crises and conflicts, strains in systems of multilateralism and worries about the global financial system, the United Nations has come under significant pressure and scrutiny in recent years. 78 years after its establishment, critics argue that the organisation has not evolved from its post-World War Two origins. There is recognition of these challenges: Guterres’ address to the General Assembly highlighted the significance of the UN and multilateral systems, and a call for institutional reform.
Global peace and security is under threat. The International Crisis Group’s Crisis Watch tracks global conflicts and violence. Its interactive map highlights which regions have ongoing conflicts, potential flashpoints, improved their conflict situations and require monitoring. It’s a sobering reality: there is a level of conflict, violence or cause for concern in North and South America, Europe, Africa and Asia. In an increasingly fragmented world, peace is the first victim of multiple actors vying for power. The United Nations is in a unique position to act as a global peacekeeper, maintaining world peace and stability through negotiations, arbitration and the deployment of the UN Peacekeeping Force. The organisation has struggled to live up to this mandate. However, it is still the best positioned to steer the world towards a lasting and just peace. If efforts to restructure the United Nations and its organs are successful, it could have the power and authority to back up its resolutions and statements with concrete actions – actions that will go a long way in securing peace and security across the globe.
As COP28 draws nearer, the list of global issues and concerns continues to expand. There is a renewed momentum behind the United Nations after the 78th General Assembly. In order to achieve the goals of the United Nations and overcome the challenges brought forward during the convening, it is necessary to maintain that momentum. With less than two months to go until COP28, the time is now for the United Nations to reaffirm its position in promoting international cooperation and addressing global challenges.