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UN chief convenes panel on “effective multilateralism” amid global crisis

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres meeting with Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf on 21 September 2017. Sirleaf was the President of Liberia from 2006 to 2018 and now serves as a co-chair of the High-Level Advisory Board on Effective Multilateralism. Photo: UN/Eskinder Debebe

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres announced last week that he has established a “High‑Level Advisory Board on Effective Multilateralism”, in short HLAB.

According to a “note to correspondents” released by the UN, the expert panel is tasked “to make concrete suggestions for more effective multilateral arrangements across a range of key global issues” building on ideas included in a report presented by Guterres in September 2021 titled “Our Common Agenda”.

As the note explains, the report notably proposes a “Summit of the Future” to be held in 2023 “to advance ideas for governance arrangements in certain areas that could be considered global public goods or global commons, including climate and sustainable development beyond 2030, the international financial architecture, peace, outer space, the digital space, major risks, and the interests of future generations.”

It is pointed out in the note that the recommendations of the advisory board will be non-binding and serve to “inform deliberations by Member States at the proposed Summit of the Future.”

Guterres appointed twelve “eminent persons” to serve as members. Co-chairs are Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, former President of Liberia, and Stefan Löfven, former Prime Minister of Sweden. The other members are Xu Bu (China), Poonam Ghimire (Nepal), Jayati Ghosh (India), Donald Kaberuka (Rwanda), Azza Karam (Egypt), Nanjala Nyabola (Kenya), Tharman Shanmugaratnam (Singapore), Anne-Marie Slaughter (United States), Ilona Szabó de Carvalho (Brazil), and Danilo Türk (Slovenia).

Members of the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Advisory Board on Effective Multilateralism. Source: Club de Madrid

The announcement of this new panel was made amid one of the worst geopolitical violent conflicts in decades and escalating international tensions with the Russian Federation. Following Russia’s invasion of neighboring Ukraine, which was condemned as an illegal aggression by the UN’s General Assembly, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin ordered the state’s nuclear forces to be put on high alert which was understood as a threat to use these weapons against any adversary who interferes.

Speaking at an urgent meeting of the UN’s Security Council on Russia’s aggression a week earlier, Kenya’s UN ambassador Martin Kimani observed that “multilateralism lies on its deathbed tonight. It has been assaulted, as it has been by other powerful states in the recent past.”

As the Russian attack on Ukraine continues, impacts of rising food prices and shortages of staple crops are already being felt across the world, the UN’s International Fund for Agricultural Development warned last week.

The escalating conflict comes on top of the climate crisis and the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, among other global emergencies identified by the UN chief in January which in his view emanate from a “failure of global governance”. Earlier this month Guterres told the General Assembly in connection with the attack on Ukraine that global governance systems needed to be reviewed urgently, with the conflict raising “serious global implications on several fronts.”

According to the “Our Common Agenda” report, the new advisory board is to identify “areas of common interest where governance improvements are most needed”, taking into consideration “emerging priorities or levels of urgency, and the need for equity and fairness in global decision-making”, among other things.

“The panel should seize the opportunity to present far-reaching institutional ideas on how the UN can be transformed into a more effective and people-centered organization”, said Andreas Bummel, Executive Director of Democracy Without Borders. “Given the complexity of the Secretary-General’s report it will be easy for the panel to get lost and miss the big picture”, he added.

On Twitter, Democracy Without Borders commented that “we suggest and hope that this panel will pick up the civil society proposals for inclusive global governance”. More than 200 groups and networks as well as over 130 parliamentarians from across the world are calling on the UN to establish a UN World Citizens’ Initiative, a UN Parliamentary Assembly and a UN High-Level Envoy for Civil Society, arguing that “international collaboration and global governance need to improve significantly and become more accountable to those affected most: the world’s citizens.”

The “High-Level Advisory Board on Effective Multilateralism” will be supported in its work by the Centre for Policy Research of the United Nations University in close coordination with the Executive Office of the Secretary-General.

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