World Leaders gathered in New York at the 76th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) that began last week on Sept. 21 and was concluded Monday. It was a week full of debates and meetings under the theme "Building resilience through hope - to recover from COVID-19, rebuild sustainability, respond to the needs of the planet, respect the rights of people, and revitalize the United Nations". Member states’ speeches and statements focused on COVID-19 and climate change with no major breakthroughs or historical decisions taken.
UN Secretary-General Mr. Antonio Guterres sent an alarm call to the world to wake up as he considers that “we are on the edge of an abyss — and moving in the wrong direction” with unprecedented threats, divisions, and crises. He warned from the new disease that is widely spreading now: “a malady of mistrust that is polarizing people and paralyzing societies, and hence leading to values breakdown and darkest impulses of humanity.” He addressed the international community in bridging divides at 6 levels: peace; climate; the gap between rich and poor within and among countries; gender; digital; and among generations. Guterres also called for strengthening global governance and reforming the role and governance of the United Nations in order to fit for the needs and challenges of the new era.
These discussions were also reflected in the global “listening exercise” that was conducted in the context of the 75th anniversary of the United Nations throughout last year. The declaration on the commemoration of the anniversary that was issued last year identified 12 commitments by member states that are considered a “Common Agenda” to accelerate the achievement of the SDGs and enhance multilateralism. The secretary-general presented in his speech the report of ‘Our Common Agenda” that was published earlier this month as a response on the member states’ request on reporting back on the advancement of the agenda.
The report outlines a road map for renewing our social contract based on the current challenges and aspirations of current and future generations. A strong social contract is equally needed at the national and international levels. The renewal of the social contract in the 21st century can be achieved based on three foundations: “(a) trust; (b) inclusion, protection and participation; and (c) measuring and valuing what matters to people and the planet.” The report also stresses on deepening solidarity between generations, and this is not restricted between ones who are currently alive but also to their future children and grandchildren that will be living with the consequences of our current actions and inactions. This requires new approaches and actions toward youth to believe and feel that the society is investing in their capacities and they have a seat on the table at all levels. For this reason, Guterres announced that he will appoint a Special Envoy for Future Generations and will create the United Nations Youth Office in the Secretariat.
Today we have seen how the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have been thrown even further off track. “Our Common Agenda” is acting as a replacement to implement actions and recommendations that are essential after what the world has witnessed during the past two years. We are not concerned anymore about the progress of SDGs as we are way behind. However, our eyes are on the upcoming international conferences that will be paving the way to new road maps, concepts, partnerships, and solutions in specific topics. Most notably, we are waiting the decisions of the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) that will be held in Glasgow-United Kingdom on Oct. 31– Nov. 12, 2021. A summit will be convened on Transforming Education in 2022 to accelerate progress on the work related to educational opportunities and the quality of education within a new common vision. This is besides the Summit of the Future that will be organized in 2023 that will result the Declaration on Future Generations. The secretary-general also announced that the World Social Summit will be held in 2025, which will be an update of the 1995 Copenhagen Declaration on Social Development. This summit will be paving the way for new concepts and elaborations related to renewing the social contract.
This calendar of global events brings with it a lot of hope and skepticism at the same time. We are hopeful that world leaders could use these fora to listen to the voice of science and civil society but extremely skeptical that they resemble another platform for conference tourism and tokenism.
Hiba Huneini is Manager of the Youth and Civic Engagement Program at the Hariri Foundation for Sustainable Human Development.