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How Will the Summit of the Future Be Remembered?


The chief “outcome document” of the Summit of the Future, slated to be held in September during the General Assembly’s annual opening session, is about to be negotiated by member states. The writer says that it’s “imperative” for countries to coalesce around the ambitious goals that will constitute the summit’s legacy. LOEY FELIPE/UN PHOTO

At long last, after the UN75 Declaration, Secretary-General António Guterres’s Our Common Agenda, a General Assembly modalities resolution, the High-Level Advisory Board on Effective Multilateralism report and a decision by the president of the General Assembly regarding the scope of the September 2024 Summit of the Future, we are now a few short weeks away from the German and Namibian permanent representatives’ release of the “zero draft” of the summit’s chief outcome document, the Pact for the Future.

It is now imperative that member states begin to coalesce around a select number of ambitious, high-impact global governance innovations that they want to see make up the chief legacy of the summit.

For instance, at the UN60 Summit in 2005 — the last time a single intergovernmental summit reviewed the need for improvements across the entire UN system and related institutions — two marked achievements were: the creation of the UN peace-building architecture (the Commission, the Fund and the Support Office) and the upgrade of an enfeebled Human Rights Commission into an empowered Human Rights Council with new tools for safeguarding human rights, such as the widely acclaimed Universal Periodic Review.

Ensuring a legacy worthy of UN75 addressing today’s toughest global challenges

Five big-ticket reforms for realizing the full potential of the Pact for the Future, under its five agreed chapter headings below, are:

• Sustainable Development and Financing for Development: A Biennial UN-G20+ Summit for the Global Economy, for better fostering socioeconomic recovery from the pandemic, mitigating and managing cross-border shocks and addressing rising global inequality. Such a regular global economic apex-convening would incentivize the leaders of the G20 and heads of the international financial institutions (IFIs) and World Trade Organization (WTO) to join all 193 UN member states and the secretary-general for the General Assembly’s high-level week (where influential country participation, at the highest level, has waned).

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Moreover, establishing a small “networked secretariat” led by the deputy secretary-general and engaging senior technical staff from the IFIs, WTO and rotating G20 presidency could ensure the accountability of decisions that are reached and act as a knowledge center to collect, validate and push collective analysis across the international system between the summits.

• International Peace and Security: Upgrade the UN Peacebuilding Commission into an empowered Peacebuilding Council for both preventing and building just and durable peace after a protracted violent conflict. Crucially, this step involves an expanded mandate to lead on peace-building policy development, coordination, resource mobilization and conflict prevention efforts in countries and regions not directly addressed by the UN Security Council.

The upgraded body should be further entrusted with a new peace-building audit tool, modeled on the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR), for tracking early-warning indicators to better facilitate early action by the Peacebuilding Council toward preventing the outbreak or recurrence of violent conflict. As with the UPR, all countries would participate periodically in such audits, supported in some cases by the rigorous work of UN special rapporteurs.

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Science, Technology and Innovation and Digital Cooperation: An International Artificial Intelligence Agency— or IA2 — to advance the core principles of “safety, sustainability, and inclusion” through effective global governance to better harness the potential of artificial intelligence and other cyber-technologies for humanity. Specifically, the new agency would serve to improve visibility, advocacy and resource mobilization for global AI regulatory efforts; provide thought leadership on General Assembly and Security Council AI and cyber-technology-related initiatives and agreements; monitor, evaluate and report on AI industry safeguards in compliance with an emerging international regulatory framework; and enhance coordination and knowledge-sharing across member states and regional bodies, such as the African Union and Asean, to leverage AI’s positive development applications.

The IA2 should be supported by an expert-led Intergovernmental Cyber and AI Panel, modeled on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and building on the secretary-general’s recently initiated High-Level Advisory Body on Artificial Intelligence.

• Youth and Future Generations: An Earth Stewardship Council — or ESC — for the global commons as well as a new special envoy for future generations, to both facilitate implementation of the Declaration on Future Generations currently under negotiation. To ensure member states’ accountability with their declaration commitments, the multistakeholder ESC could carry out a Future Generations Review, modeled on the Human Rights Council’s UPR, designed to acknowledge the collective responsibility of current generations toward the rights of future generations, including in preserving the global commons.

Globally, the connection between human well-being, our natural environment and human rights was made clear in the recent historic UN General Assembly resolution declaring access to a clean and healthy environment to be a universal human right. The Declaration on Future Generations is expected to build on this breakthrough.

Transforming Global Governance: Global Economic and Financial Architecture Reforms for greater stability and sustainable progress, including through Greater Global-Regional Organizations Collaboration. Among the most urgent changes needed are:

First, repurposing multilateral development banks by expanding their lending capacity by more than $100 billion through the increased use of guarantees, reforming voting rights and decision-making rules, updating the IMF quota formulas, instituting new measures to de-risk investments to further unleash private capital and issuing the IMF’s Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) more regularly and at greater scale to finance critical global public goods.

Second, strengthening the global debt architecture through, for example, debt-for-nature-swaps and a representative sovereign debt authority to aid indebted countries in restructuring. These and other reforms wield immense potential for fostering greater global-regional organizations collaboration by, for instance, synchronizing global and regional macroeconomic coordination and development strategies, especially in support of the Sustainable Development Goals.

 A Reform Strategy to Maximize the Summit’s Ambition

Below is a combination of actual and recommended milestones in the lead-up and follow-through to the Summit of the Future as well as the recently held SDG Summit, signifying how the two summits are intertwined, with the ability to yield multiple, mutually reinforcing dividends. They are poised to take forward the above and other proposed high-impact global governance innovations in the critical year ahead.

Actual and recommended milestones related to the Summit of the Future, to be held in September 2024 at the General Assembly.

Just as the UN60 Summit in 2005 was followed by several General Assembly resolutions to actualize many of the gathering’s commitments, member states should heed the call of the secretary-general’s High-Level Advisory Board on Effective Multilateralism, which recommended a “Charter Review conference focused on Security Council reform” to follow September’s summit. At the same time, it is possible, if not likely, that the full realization of several of the anticipated Pact for the Future commitments may require Charter amendments too.

Through a combination of critical mass, quality ideas, enlightened global leadership and deft multilateral diplomacy, civil society, including through the Coalition for the UN We Need and Global Governance Innovation Network, can team up with champion governments and dynamic leaders in global and regional institutions to ensure that this May’s UN-Civil Society Conference in Nairobi and the Summit of the Future produce an enormous, meaningful difference in people’s lives. Together, governments and their partners in civil society and multilateral institutions must work quickly and resolutely to fully leverage this generational opportunity to realize the future we want and the UN we need for current and future generations.

This is an opinion essay.

We welcome your comments on this article.  What are your thoughts on the Summit of the Future's plan?

Director and Senior Fellow, Global Governance, Justice & Security at

Richard Ponzio is a senior fellow and director of the Stimson Center’s Global Governance, Justice and Security program.

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How Will the Summit of the Future Be Remembered?
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Yul Anderson
5 months ago

The Summit of the Future is a great opportunity to pivot for the good of all marginalized people en masse. One or two achievements is too little and too slow to achieve UN SDG’s.

Jeremy Wiley
Jeremy Wiley
5 months ago

Would the Summit be remembered if it was able to agree upon a framework for the management and reduction of the growth rate of the global human population based upon the principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?

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