Congratulations to the United Nations (UN): The organization is celebrating its 75th anniversary. To mark this occasion, the UN Secretary General launched a global conversation and asked people in all parts of the world: What developments are decisive for our future? And how should the UN respond to current and future challenges? Over one million people had their say. The results show: there is more that unites people worldwide than divides them.
A pandemic is shaking and reshaping our world; climate change poses an existential threat to humanity; we face a new era of complex conflict and violence in many parts of the world. There is a widely felt disruptive impact due to digital technologies and shifting demographics, with gaping inequalities and rising poverty. How do we face these major challenges of our time as the world faces increasing nationalism, less global cooperation, and less reliance on established international organizations?
To find answers and critically evaluate its work, in January 2020, the United Nations launched a global conversation under the headline “The Future We Want and the UN We Need” – drawing from the opening statement of the UN Charter, “We the peoples…”. Through surveys, polls, and dialogues, people from around the world were asked: What are your hopes and fears for the future? What do you think should be the priorities for international cooperation? And what do you want and need from the United Nations as an organization? Discussions have taken place in different settings worldwide, from classrooms to boardrooms, parliaments to villages, in order to reach as many people as possible – including youth, critics, and marginalized people. Since the pandemic made in-person gatherings challenging, the initiative increased its efforts to reach people online.
The published report brings together these different data streams. It shows that the immediate demand of most people everywhere is improved access to basic services – healthcare, access to safe water and sanitation, and access to education. The second most pressing priority as revealed by the data is greater international solidarity and increased support to those who have been hardest hit by the ongoing pandemic. In a longer-term perspective, the vast majority of people across all regions are most worried about climate change and how it will affect our future. The inability to stem the climate crisis and the destruction of the world’s natural environment is the respondents’ most overwhelming long-term concern. This finding holds true across all world regions – North to South, East to West.
Impressions of the initiative and the global conversation
People around the world have responded to the call for dialogue: Young artists in Kabul, ...
... the people of Saint Kitts and Nevis in the Caribbean,...
... Students during the International Model United Nations in Geneva,...
... and even the youngest support the initiative, as seen in Cameroon.
UN Secretary General António Guterres received answers to his question about which developments are decisive to people around the world - and how they wish for the UN to react.
The diagnosis of the most pressing challenges and the urgent need to act is admitted at this commemoration moment politically, too: During the official commemoration ceremony on September 21, 2020, UN Secretary General António Guterres hands over the report to world leaders. At the same time, the UN General Assembly will adopt a political declaration. It provides an analysis of the UN’s achievements and tentatively recognizes some failures since its establishment. Above all, the declaration acknowledges the need for greater action, calls for reinvigorated multilateralism, and thereby demonstrates a commitment to reform and recovery. It sets out 12 commitments by which the UN Member States aim to ensure “The Future We Want and the United Nations We Need.”
“Engaging people worldwide in an inclusive way and calling for a political commitment reflects the urgency to find solutions for many challenges”
“We are celebrating this anniversary of a historic commitment to peace at a time when cooperation on global challenges is needed more than ever, and yet the national moment in politics is prevalent. Engaging people worldwide in an inclusive way and calling for a political commitment to continued cooperation reflects the urgency to find solutions for many challenges”, says Sandra Breka, Member of the Board of Management of Robert Bosch Foundation. “This political declaration is addressed to the people the UN serves, and it will be measured against its promises: world leaders are not only assembling to celebrate but to take action. The existing instruments urgently need reform and enforcement, which need to be backed by political will.”
The findings of the global conversation widely and overwhelmingly echo a sentiment of a need for more international cooperation: Three-quarters of respondents to a representative survey agree that the UN still is the essential organization for tackling the greatest challenges. Almost 90 percent believe international cooperation is vital to dealing with today’s challenges.
“The political declaration now calls on the UN Secretary General to develop recommendations in order to prepare the UN for the future”
The results of the in-depth global conversations provide a variety of detailed and robust proposals for how to strengthen and renew the United Nations. A significant majority of the ideas include requests for the UN to be more inclusive of the diversity of actors in the 21st century. The proposals also call for reformed institutions, stronger leadership by the UN, and more consistency in exercising its moral authority regarding peace, security, human development, and human rights.
“UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres took the opportunity of this anniversary to address the widening disconnect between people and institutions, which at their origin were mandated to serve the people’s needs,” reflects Sandra Breka. “The UN75 global conversation created not only statistics but a wealth of forward-looking proposals. The political declaration now calls on the UN Secretary General to develop recommendations in order to prepare the UN for the future. This is a unique moment to show that the UN and governments worldwide are prepared to listen to the views of ‘we the peoples’, but also a critical moment for all other relevant societal stakeholders to contribute to strengthened and reinvigorated international cooperation to the best of their possibilities.”