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As global progress declines, UN moves Summit of the Future to 2024


The UN General Assembly in New York decided today that a “Summit of the Future” shall be convened in New York in September 2024 to adopt a “Pact for the Future.” A resolution passed to this effect says further that a preparatory ministerial meeting is to be held in September 2023.

The resolution coincides with the publication of the latest Human Development Report. For the first time since the report was launched 32 years ago by the UN Development Programme, global progress in health, education, and standard of living has declined in two years in a row, affecting 90 percent of all countries. The UN programme notes in alarming language that “the world is lurching from crisis to crisis, trapped in a cycle of firefighting and unable to tackle the roots of the troubles that confront us”.

Development has declined in 9/10 countries worldwide

The decline in human development to the levels of 2016, which the report indicates, underlines the urgency of multilateral action. The UN, however, has determined it needs an additional year to discuss the “multilateral solutions for a better tomorrow” that are supposed to be included in the “Pact for the Future”.

The UN General Assembly also decided that a Youth Office is to be set up. Image: UN Secretary-General António Guterres briefing the assembly on 10 Sept. 2021. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Originally, UN Secretary-General António Guterres suggested that the “Summit of the Future” shall be convened in 2023. He proposed this one year ago in a report titled “Our Common Agenda”. The UN chief’s report includes over eighty recommendations across twelve themes identified in a high-level resolution of the UN General Assembly adopted on the occasion of the UN’s 75th anniversary in 2020. It thus introduced additional complexity on top of numerous ongoing processes, most importantly the implementation of the Agenda 2030’s Sustainable Development Goals. 

Today’s modalities resolution of the General Assembly notes that the Summit of the Future and the Sustainable Development Goals Summit need to be “well-coordinated.” Two co-facilitators will be appointed to prepare for the future summit, in particular inter-governmental negotiations on an “action-oriented” outcome document which is to be agreed, in advance, by consensus.

The delay of the summit to 2024 is likely not only due to challenges in dealing with the underlying complexity and slow UN procedures but also due to a significant worsening of the political climate at the UN in the aftermath of Russia’s ongoing illegal invasion of Ukraine in February.

Civil society groups pushing for change since 2017

Civil society groups were hoping years ahead of the UN’s 75th anniversary that changes at the UN could be decided on this occasion in 2020. Following extensive consultations by the UN as well as two years disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, it appears the process will now stretch further to 2024.

According to Richard Ponzio, Director of the Global Governance, Justice & Security Program at Stimson Center, it was “regrettably the same countries, including Pakistan, Brazil, and Russia, that already watered down the procedural resolution on the ‘Our Common Agenda’ report, that now succeeded in having the Summit of the Future delayed by one year. Member states and other partners in civil society and the private sector should now make full use of the additional twelve months to ratchet-up ambition and realize the full potential of this once-in-a-generation opportunity for the international community”, he added.

“The consensus rule is a problem”, said Andreas Bummel, Executive Director of Democracy Without Borders. “It is challenging to achieve consensus among all UN member states. The Secretary-General’s own ‘Our Common Agenda’ report is a testament to this. In terms of institutional change, it contains little of significance”, he noted.

The UN needs to open up big-time

“The UN needs to open up to citizens, civil society and elected representatives big-time. This should be a key element of any pact for the future. People need to be involved. The UN and member state governments need to face this issue. Our proposals in this regard will not go away”, he stressed with a view of a campaign for inclusive global governance co-convened by Democracy Without Borders.

The campaign, supported by over 200 civil society groups and networks from across the world, advocates the creation of a UN World Citizens’ Initiative, a UN Parliamentary Assembly, and a High-Level UN Civil Society Envoy.

An expert panel on “effective multilateralism” appointed by the UN Secretary-General is expected to present a report with “concrete recommendations” on strengthening global governance arrangements in early 2023. These are supposed to be input to the Summit of the Future negotiations.

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