13 September 2021
Secretary-General Unveils Vision for Future-Oriented UN
Photo credit: Yannia A./Unsplash
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“Global governance may sound lofty or abstract; it is not," said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, presenting his report to the UN General Assembly on 10 September 2021.

The ‘Our Common Agenda’ report responds to the 12 commitments in the political declaration in ways that also accelerate the achievement of the SDGs.

The UN Secretary-General has issued a report on how to secure a breakthrough for humanity through a series of choices to avert a historical breakdown of societies, and instead realize a “greener, safer, better” future. The ‘Our Common Agenda’ report proposes actions to advance the 12 commitments made by world leaders in September 2020, at the UN’s 75th anniversary.

The UN issued the report in response to a mandate in the political declaration adopted by Heads of State and Government on the occasion of the UN’s 75th anniversary, in September 2020. In the Declaration (A/RES/75/1), Member States recognize that while there have been many achievements in the past 75 years, the world envisaged by the UN’s founders 75 years ago has not yet been realized: it is plagued by growing inequality, poverty, hunger, armed conflicts, terrorism, insecurity, climate change, and pandemics; people are forced to make dangerous journeys in search of refuge and safety; the LDCs are falling behind; and complete decolonization has not been achieved.

Further, Member States recognize that global challenges are interconnected and can only be addressed through reinvigorated multilateralism, as demonstrated by the COVID-19 pandemic. They agree that multilateralism is not an option but a necessity, to build back better for a more equal, more resilient, and more sustainable world, with the UN at the center of efforts. They also recognize that the implementation of the 2030 Agenda is necessary for survival.

In the Declaration, Member States resolve to:

  • Leave no one behind,
  • Protect our planet,
  • Promote peace and prevent conflicts,
  • Abide by international law and ensure justice.
  • Place women and girls at the center,
  • Build trust,
  • Improve digital cooperation,
  • Upgrade the UN,
  • Ensure sustainable financing,
  • Boost partnerships,
  • Listen to and work with youth, and
  • Be prepared.

To develop concrete ideas on taking forward the 12 commitments, the UN launched a consultation process with four types of participants: UN Member States; eminent thought leaders; young thinkers and active citizens under age 30; and “we the peoples” engaged through digital consultations. The process was led by the Executive Office of the Secretary-General with support from the UN Foundation and Igarapé Institute, along with a network of partners from all regions. (See SDG Knowledge Hub guest article from the Igarapé Institute for more information on consultations.)

On 10 September 2021, the Secretary-General presented the resulting report to UN Member States in an informal plenary meeting of the UN General Assembly. Introducing the UN Secretary-General’s presentation, UNGA President Volkan Bozkir said “the best laid plans are mere paper unless they are sufficiently resourced;” stressing that the UN must equip itself to face challenges today and in the future. He also expressed hope that the UNGA could apply the organization-wide “reset” outlined in the report to the workings of the General Assembly as well.

To take forward the recommendations and guide Member States’ deliberations on them, the Secretary-General will appoint a High-level Advisory Board. 

The report presents ‘Our Common Agenda,’ which responds to the 12 commitments in the political declaration in ways that also accelerate the achievement of the SDGs. (This graphic shows key actions for each of the 12 commitments.) To take forward the recommendations and guide Member States’ deliberations on them, the Secretary-General will appoint a High-level Advisory Board. An eventual high-level, multi-stakeholder Summit of the Future would advance ideas for governance arrangements, based on preparatory events and consultations. This could take place during the UNGA’s high-level week in September 2023. The summit could include a track on sustainable development and climate action beyond 2030.

Guterres presented four overarching areas for action described in Our Common Agenda. On strengthening global governance, he set out the details needed for a global COVID-19 vaccine plan and called for reforming the global health architecture based on the recommendations of the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response.

To strengthen global governance in the area of finance and economics, the report proposes holding a biannual summit between G20 members, ECOSOC members, the heads of the international financial institutions, and the UN Secretary-General, to address gaps in our financial systems and integrate financing with other priorities. The report also calls for applying new methods to update economic measures of progress and prosperity, to better value life and wellbeing.

On a focus on the future, Guterres said that young people and future generations are “barely represented” in global decision-making. He intends to appoint a special envoy for future generations and upgrade the UN’s youth office. A summit on transforming education is proposed for 2022.

A focus on the future also entails future-oriented policymaking, and the UN should create a Futures Lab to better predict policies’ impact over time. In addition, Guterres proposes creating a platform to be readily launched in crises and emergencies, and repurposing the Trusteeship Council – which has been suspended since 1994 – as an intergovernmental platform for the interests of succeeding generations.

On renewing social contracts, Our Common Future advocates for a focus on universal rights and opportunities. Universal health coverage, as well as universal education, housing, decent work, and income protection, are “not just possible, but essential” for peaceful societies, Guterres asserts. He proposes a 2025 Social Summit that could yield specific coordination efforts across borders. A renewed focus on human rights, applied to emerging challenges such as “online life,” is a key component of the new social contract, he said.

Finally, Guterres presented proposals to ensure a UN fit for a new era. These include:

  • evolutions in five areas: data, analytics and communications; innovation and digital transformation; strategic foresight; behavioral science; and performance and results orientation, resulting in a “UN 2.0”;
  • re-establishing the Secretary-General’s Scientific Advisory Board; and
  • creating an Advisory Group on Local and Regional Governments.

In addition, all UN agencies will be asked to establish a dedicated focal point to create space for civil society. The report notes that civil society’s role must go beyond consultation and advocacy, to direct inclusion in the work of all parts of the UN system.

Guterres concluded his presentation by observing that “global governance may sound lofty or abstract. It is not.” Regarding the question of whether humanity will experience a breakdown or breakthrough, he said, “The choice is ours to make; but we will not have this chance again.”

The Stimson Centre will hold a side event during the UN General Assembly’s high-level week to discuss the follow-up process to ‘Our Common Agenda.’ [Publication: Our Common Agenda: Report of the Secretary-General] [Webcast of informal UNGA plenary] [Our Common Agenda webpage

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