Against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic and climate change crises, extremist violence and social unrest, the specter of cross-border economic shocks and increasingly sophisticated cyberattacks, the UN75 Declaration, adopted by world leaders last September, was an important first step in bolstering the case for the United Nations’ ability to cope with huge challenges in a politically turbulent era. The declaration also signaled the need for continued modernization — including by partnering with the civic and the private sectors — to ensure the UN’s capacity to fulfill its vast mission.
Secretary-General António Guterres has been tasked to use the declaration’s 12 commitments to respond to current and future challenges. His follow-up report, “Our Common Agenda,” due out this September, will present world leaders with recommendations to renew, strengthen and innovate the UN. Should they seize the opportunity, world leaders can particularly help to realize the calls from people around the world (information gathered in Guterres’s global UN75 survey) to begin overdue intergovernmental negotiations toward dramatically renovating the global governance system.
As powerful nations, beginning with the United States, China and Russia and the 27-member European Union, hustle for influence, and as opposing camps downplay basic principles of multilateral cooperation, countervailing efforts to enhance justice, security and prosperity for all need a firm, human-rights-centered vision. These efforts also need creative proposals to fulfill that vision and a progressive strategy for implementing them and guiding global relations in the 21st century.
Extending beyond the classic citizen-state relationship, Guterres’s repeated calls in 2020 and this year for a new social contract provides a vision for progressively realizing the economic, political, social, civil and cultural rights of everyone. His accompanying call for a new global deal would carry out this vision by encouraging global, regional, national and community plans for green recovery from the pandemic and recalibrating and accelerating the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
To take this foresight and plan forward, Guterres has also appealed for a new style of inclusive and networked multilateralism, drawing on the ideas and capacities of academic and scientific institutions, regions and cities, civil society and the business community. These concepts could also generate an assessment and rethinking of global governance institutions, policies, laws, operations and norms. To spur new ideas on renewal and innovation, a coalition of 16 civil society organizations, including the Coalition for the UN We Need, Club de Madrid, Civicus, Together First and the Stimson Center, recently convened six roundtables with senior UN mission and UN Secretariat officials.
These dialogues offered a wide range of creative reform proposals that address the UN75 Declaration’s 12 commitments, such as:
Establishing a legally binding Global Forest Convention to protect forests, involving not only countries with large forests but also those importing and financing forest products. Moving beyond the traditional treaty model, the private sector, civil society and subnational governments must be engaged effectively.
Transitioning the UN Peacebuilding Commission into a strong Democratic Peacebuilding Council (in place of the UN Trusteeship Council too) with enhanced powers and a mandate to lead on conflict prevention and peace-building policy development, coordination and resource mobilization for situations not addressed directly by the Security Council. The new council could deploy an original sustaining peace and conflict prevention audit tool, similar to the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review.
Creating an International Anti-Corruption Court (IACC) to tackle corruption directly, build trust in governments, reduce inequality and decrease security risks. Similar to the International Criminal Court, the IACC would enable international prosecution of corruption cases only where national jurisdictions are unable or unwilling to prosecute.
The road map for moving the UN75 Declaration ahead and carrying out these and other proposals should include an intergovernmental and multistakeholder preparatory effort over the next two years as called for in our new report, “Beyond UN75,” timed to coincide with the UN Charter Day’s commemoration on June 26. This work could culminate in a 2023 World Summit on Inclusive Global Governance, where consensus is achieved on truly innovative UN system reforms.
Ultimately, these initiatives should help the world body to keep pace with peace and security, sustainable development and human-rights challenges and opportunities. Mobilizing diverse parties worldwide, the summit would also aim to usher in a new compact with citizens to enhance and rebuild confidence in their common institutions.
Compared with targeting single institutions or single reforms, this holistic approach wields major advantages. That includes the potential to generate strong negotiation results through deal-making across a broad agenda that addresses diverse national interests and values, thus making the summit acceptable to powerful countries and other possible spoilers. This approach can also break through longstanding logjams, such as Security Council reform.
The other advantage to this approach is providing a clear rallying point for a big-tent coalition of smart like-minded governments and nongovernmental organizations who want to raise the ambition of the summit’s agreements.
Many intergovernmental and civil society-led activities proposed over the next two years could feed original ideas into the drafting, adoption and follow-up to the 2023 world summit’s outcome document, as depicted below (source: “Beyond UN75: A Roadmap for Inclusive, Networked and Effective Global Governance,” June 2021):
Guterres’s call for a more networked global governance system to better confront today’s crises while pursuing new opportunities is within our reach. Time, however, is running short. In 2000, the UN member states’ Millennium Declaration and the secretary-general’s “We the Peoples” report built the case for the far-reaching 2005 world summit. Similarly, the UN75 Declaration and “Our Common Agenda” can spur political momentum for the proposed 2023 World Summit on Inclusive Global Governance.
Meaningful change is possible, although making headway on this global road ahead will require patience, imagination and, most of all, courage. We have no alternative to better equipping our common institutions with the tools, structures and connectivity that are needed to rebuild trust and competence and confidently face humanity’s perilous next 25 years.