The formal preparations for the September 2024 Summit of the Future, to be held at the United Nations, are underway. Responding to an update in February on the “Our Common Agenda” vision proposed by Secretary-General António Guterres, a large number of government representatives across diverse regions signaled — rather defensively — how the Sustainable Development Goals Summit, planned for September 2023, was this year’s most significant diplomatic gathering at UN headquarters.
As Csaba Korosi, the president of the General Assembly, noted, “Above all, it [Our Common Agenda] focuses on SDG acceleration and transformation, with 80 percent of its recommendations directly supporting the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.”
Unless soon reconciled, the continued perceived competition between the Summit of the Future and the SDG Summit will affect adversely the negotiations on the former’s scope (regarding intergovernmental tracks) and ambition. Fortunately, the two summits are already highly compatible, and skillful multilateral diplomacy can enhance their interactions further. The sooner that the preparations for the Summit of the Future, or SOTF, shift from process-oriented discussions to a focus on meaningful global governance innovations, the quicker that a consensus can be built around creative, practical and targeted ways to overhaul the methods and institutions for advancing the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
Three positive interplays between the two summits
Referring to the somewhat acrimonious negotiations last year on the Summit of the Future modalities resolution, which led to pushing the summit’s convening to 2024 instead of this year, Cuba, on behalf of the G77 and China, reiterated its lingering concerns that the summit’s multiple tracks could divert precious time, especially for smaller UN missions, political attention and resources away from the “main priority” of achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The European Union, however, with a broad cross-section of countries, indicated the urgent need “to shift gear and turn our discussion from process to substance.”
As a result, an emerging diplomatic fault-line between several influential developing countries and a large proportion of the UN’s membership, the Secretariat and many civil society groups is whether to begin now or wait until after the SDG Summit to start serious work on a successful Pact for the Future (the chief outcome document) and other instruments for the 2024 summit.
In response, by emphasizing at least three tangible ways that the two summits positively reinforce each other — generating high-level political support, financial and technical assistance and conceptual clarity for improved global governance — the false trade-offs vocalized by a few Summit of the Future detractors can be superseded by a powerful reframed narrative and communications strategy.
High-Level Political Support: As noted, numerous member states participating in initial Summit of the Future preparatory discussions in February acknowledged that the SDG Summit merited the highest political attention on the UN’s calendar. Similarly, the secretary-general stressed at the time how “Our Common Agenda” will build directly upon the SDG Summit, ensuring that it remains “the centerpiece of our work this year. . . .”
With Indonesia having presided over the G-20 nations last year and India doing so this year, Brazil next year and South Africa in 2025, we can expect this influential group of developing countries to back progress toward mobilizing technology, finance, trade and debt-relief for meeting both poor and rich countries’ 2030 Agenda targets. The G-20 can also foster high-level attendance at the SDG Summit, while encouraging the treatment of politically contentious global financial architecture reforms at the Summit of the Future as integral to implementing the SDGs.
Financial and Technical Assistance: Additionally, the SOTF can direct much-needed financial and technical support to delivering the 2030 Agenda, thereby buttressing ECOSOC’s Forum on Financing for Development (FfD) and the Addis Agenda for SDGs financing, which developing countries regularly fret have both come up short.
For example, next year’s summit is widely anticipated to embrace calls for strengthened coordination on global economic governance to respond to cross-border economic shocks, reduce inequality and promote development that is environmentally sustainable. Bringing together the secretary-general, the World Bank and the IMF’s leaders, the G-20 and, ideally, the 174 UN member states not directly represented in this leading forum, could through a new Biennial Summit on the World Economy lend support for, among other critical issues, the proposed high-level FfD Conference in 2025.
Guterres has recognized the value of bringing the G-20 closer to the UN’s priorities in his repeated calls for the group to agree on a $500 billion annual stimulus for sustainable development through a combination of concessional and nonconcessional finance. The Summit of the Future is also well positioned to review and upgrade how the UN system’s programs, funds, agencies and multilateral development banks design and execute technical assistance programs, especially in the most vulnerable countries.
Conceptual Clarity for Improved Global Governance: To succeed, both the SDG Summit and Summit of the Future require a holistic analytical lens and a whole-of-system approach to governing. Working across the UN’s three pillars of peace and security, sustainable development and human rights through multiple negotiation tracks, the SOTF aims, first and foremost, to modernize the international machinery that is needed to support member states and nonstate actors in meeting their 2030 Agenda and Paris Climate Agreement commitments. Doing so can create tangible multiplier effects, such as tackling the causes of political and criminal violence (major barriers to SDG implementation), mitigating the chief factors accelerating climate change (Goal #13) and building opportunities to move people and nations out of extreme poverty (Goal #1) and toward sustainable development.
Exploiting the two summits’ other “win-win” links
These further points are also good reasons for moving ahead with major substantive preparations for the Summit of the Future:
- First, extensive President of the General Assembly-sponsored thematic consultations on “Our Common Agenda” recommendations were held a year ago, lending additional political clout to the 2030 Agenda and setting the stage for the closely related adoption, last September, of the summit’s modalities resolution.
- Second, judging from the good progress underway toward a strong political declaration for the SDG Summit, it is likely that Summit of the Future preparations will further boost this effort.
- Finally, ensuring that all UN missions can equally contribute to the many tracks feeding into the 2024 summit is a valid concern. That can be done by ensuring enough lead time; having the UN Secretariat and co-facilitators of specific tracks share documentation well ahead of a meeting; and encouraging civil society to provide real-time summaries and analysis of intergovernmental negotiations through an independent SOTF information clearinghouse for the benefit of both smaller UN missions and civil society alike.
On the latter point, all UN missions, big or small, may wish to source more capacity and networks for both summits, in 2023 and 2024, by welcoming the knowledgeable participation of at least one civil society and one youth representative on inclusive national delegations from the start of summit preparations, as recommended at the recent Global Futures Forum in New York City.
Reframing the narrative on how the intertwined SDG Summit and Summit of the Future reinforce each other — especially since they are spaced exactly one year apart — will yield multiple dividends. It is also encouraging to see governments being open to positioning this September’s Ministerial Forum, to feed into the 2024 summit, just after the SDG Summit (provisionally scheduled for Sept. 19-20). Exploiting the many potential “win-win” links are not merely important steps for the two summits, but their success also depends on these deep and varied connections.
We welcome your comments on this article. What are your thoughts on the two major summits?
Richard Ponzio is a senior fellow and director of the Stimson Center’s Global Governance, Justice and Security program.
We must again and again read this article of Richard Ponzio: The SDG Summit and Summit Of The Future: A Tale of Two Major Agendas.
What is crucial is the prevision to see ahead the critical lacunae that would make it impossible or difficult to gain or accelerate traction in implementing the agenda of sustainable development goals, SDGs, after September, 2023.
We are yet to realise, and getting late to so do, that in this Anthropocene, very many nations , yet at the stage of pre-conditions for take off of industrialization or at the stage of take off, are bankrupt intellectually and financially, and are simply incapable of independent implementation of the sustainable development goals agenda.
The veritability of the above statement of the incapability of independent implementation of the SDGs agenda, is yet to be appreciated by the United Nations, and the many stakeholders in the acceleration of the sustainable development goals agenda.
This calls for original thinking and critical innovations which I have to comprehensively document in the form of many books, but for which I need and request financial grant.
Ponle Sueez Akande
How does the United Nations start immediately to address the ongoing wars and prevent the looming wars? How, also, does the United Nations start immediately to bad governance in many nations, member states?
I have the critical ideas as veritable solutions to the global catastrophic challenges, which have to be urgently documented in the form of many books, for which I need financial grant.
Richard Ponzio is a great asset. The EU saying that we have to shift discussion from Summit process to substance has hit the nail on the head. That points to the lacuna. The United Nations yet lacks the innovative solutions as regards the substance, how to start action on some or all of the sustainable development goals, right away , as pilot schemes, September 2023, date of the SDGs Summit.
I have to comprehensively document my ideas as veritable solutions to the global catastrophic challenges. Facilities are required.
Ponle Sueez Akande
Great – I agree! See also our IISD guest article “Accelerating the SDGs Through the 2024 Summit of the Future” >> http://sdg.iisd.org/commentary/guest-articles/accelerating-the-sdgs-through-the-2024-summit-of-the-future/
Really, a “Tale of Two More Summits and Agendas.” How many more Summits are really needed when implementation of all the previously formulated goals and agendas lags so far behind? Agenda 21 adopted in 1992, was intended to guide national and international action on sustainable development into the 21st century. This was followed by the Millennium Development Goals (MDGS) and the more recent 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. These Summits and Conferences seem almost like a shell game designed to take our eyes off the real prize – actual progress in doing something. A “Summit of the Future,” which is even more grandiose in concept and difficult to define in operational terms will no doubt end up in the same implementation limbo as the other existing plans and agendas. The problem is not an absence of agendas or goals; it is the absence of national action. International negotiations on such issues have long been stymied by the now familiar conflict between national and international responsibilities. Rather than taking a problem-solving approach to the challenges we face, each country adopts a negotiating position that seeks to limit its potential commitments while trying to shift as much responsibility as it can to others. Unless there is a breakthrough on this front, disappointment in the efficacy of the international system is likely to persist whatever vision of the future it eventually adopts.
“Really, a “Tale of Two More Summits and Agendas.” How many more Summits are really needed when implementation of all the previously formulated goals and agendas lags so far behind? We have Agenda 21 adopted in 1992, intended to guide national and international action on sustainable development into the 21st century, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGS), and the more recent 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. These Summits and Conferences seem almost like a shell game designed to take our eyes off the real prize – actual progress in doing something. A “Summit of the Future,” which is even more grandiose in concept and difficult to define in operational terms will no doubt end up in the same implementation limbo as the other existing plans and agendas. The problem is not an absence of agendas or goals; it is the absence of national action. International negotiations on such issues have long been stymied by the now familiar conflict between national and international responsibilities. Rather than taking a problem-solving approach to the challenges we face, each country adopts a negotiating position that seeks to limit its potential commitments while trying to shift as much responsibility to others as it can. Unless there is a breakthrough on this front, disappointment in the efficacy of the international system is likely to persist whatever vision of the future it eventually adopts.” Lowell Flanders
Good day sir, if the summit of the future is about good governance, then it is also about sustainable development; only that it is meant to anticipate the future. It accordingly necessary to prepare and address the two Summits simultaneously.
It is only if we adopt this approach that we can make the best use of the preparations for the SDGs Summit, and thereby increase the probability of achieving optimal results from both Summits.
At any rate, I hope that time is not already running out. The United Nations needs, I strongly believe, to urgently start action on some pilot schemes in the next three months from today,4 April,2023.
I have critical ideas as veritable solutions to the global catasrophic challenges, on rapidly achieving the sustainable development goals, and on pact for the future, which ideas must be comprehensively documented in the form of many books, for which I need financial grant.
Ponle Sueez Akande