By Elena Kosolapova, Senior Policy Advisor, IISD Tracking Progress, and SDG Hub Content Editor

We live in an interconnected world. UN Secretary-General António Guterres recognized this interconnectedness in his remarks at the launch of two policy briefs that will inform UN Member States’ consultations as they prepare for the 2023 SDG Summit and the Summit of the Future in 2024, on how the multilateral system can be strengthened to respond to the challenges of tomorrow. He underscored that “shocks that occur in one country or sector can quickly have cascading consequences elsewhere, often in unforeseen ways.”

To strengthen the international response to complex global shocks, Guterres proposed an ‘Emergency Platform’ that would “leverage the UN’s convening power and capacities in a timely and predictable way … to identify and bring together actors at the appropriate level to respond.”

The original proposal for an Emergency Platform dates back to 2021 when the Secretary-General issued his report titled, ‘Our Common Agenda,’ outlining his vision for the future of international cooperation. A policy brief titled, ‘Strengthening the International Response to Complex Global Shocks – An Emergency Platform,’ elaborates on this idea, taking into account guidance received from Member States and stakeholders.

This SDG Knowledge Hub story looks at the policy brief through a sustainability lens and draws attention to issues of import to ongoing discussions on the Pact for the Future – the expected outcome of the Summit of the Future.

The Secretary-General notes at the outset that an Emergency Platform would not be a standing body or entity. Instead, it is envisioned as “a set of protocols that could be activated” in the event of complex, global shocks. According to the Secretary-General’s policy brief, such shocks could include:

  • Large-scale climatic or environmental events that cause major socioeconomic disruptions and/or environmental degradation;
  • Future pandemics with cascading secondary impacts;
  • High-impact events involving a biological agent (deliberate or accidental);
  • Events leading to disruptions to global flows of goods, people, or finance;
  • Large-scale destructive and/or disruptive activity in cyberspace or disruptions to global digital connectivity;
  • A major event in outer space that causes severe disruptions to one or several critical systems on Earth; and
  • Unforeseen risks, or “black swan” events.

Those shocks, the Secretary-General argues, “are [already] coming at us with greater strength and frequency, with serious implications for peace and security, economic stability, and environmental sustainability.” As the COVID-19 pandemic and the global cost-of-living crisis have shown, impacts can disproportionately affect the poorest and most vulnerable, “throwing SDG progress and Agenda 2030 further off-track.” Lessons learned from responding to these crises highlight the importance of:

  • A rapid, predictable, and structured international response;
  • Maximizing the UN’s unique convening role;
  • Catalyzing political leadership through networks of willing Member States;
  • Multisectoral, interdisciplinary coordination across the multilateral system;
  • Multi-stakeholder engagement and accountability in the global response; and
  • Strengthened accountability for delivering against commitments and bringing coherence to the international approach.

Conventional crisis response mechanisms “are not up to the task of responding coherently and effectively to global shocks that have an impact on multiple sectors simultaneously,” the Secretary-General underscores, as they are too fragmented, sectoral, weak, or underdeveloped. Therefore, he proposes that the UN General Assembly (UNGA) provide the Secretary-General and the UN system “with a standing authority to convene and operationalize automatically an Emergency Platform in the event of a future complex global shock of sufficient scale, severity and reach.”

The Secretary-General sees the proposed platform as flexible and agile, inclusive and multi-stakeholder, and interdisciplinary and multisectoral. It would also need to be able to ensure solidarity and equity, strengthen coordination, leverage existing mechanisms, and focus on securing commitment, the policy brief notes.

It would be up to the Secretary-General to decide when to convene an Emergency Platform, in consultation with: the UNGA President, the President of the Security Council (as appropriate); relevant national authorities and/or regional organizations; and relevant UN entities, specialized agencies, international financial institutions, and other multilateral institutions with a mandate to respond to sector-specific crises. The decision to convene an Emergency Platform would take into account the severity, reach, and complexity of the crisis and any existing coordination and operational response mechanisms.

The Secretary-General’s policy brief formulates six overarching objectives of an Emergency Platform: 1) high-level political leadership; 2) equity and solidarity in the international response; 3) coherent multilateral response; 4) inclusive and networked multilateralism; 5) advocacy and strategic communications; and 6) securing commitments and holding key actors to account for supporting the global response. It also outlines: the timeframe of an Emergency Platform; its relationship to governments, UN organs, and existing coordination bodies; and resourcing, protocols, Secretariat, and reporting arrangements for such a platform.

In conclusion, the report recommends that Member States consider several elements for inclusion in the Pact for the Future. These include recognizing that “a strengthened international response to complex global shocks must be flexible” and deciding that “the Secretary-General has a standing authority to automatically convene and operationalize an Emergency Platform” should a significant global shock occur. Agreeing that, “once activated, an Emergency Platform should be convened for a finite period” and that the Secretary-General may extend it “for such time as necessary” is also among the recommended elements.

UN Member States and other actors have repeatedly emphasized that the world is facing an unprecedented confluence of multiple, intersecting crises. “Cascading and interlinked,” these crises require that the international community respond in an appropriate and timely fashion, with tailored response measures reaching those most in need. The UN Secretary-General’s proposal offers concrete ideas Member States could build on to take these discussions forward to ensure the Pact for the Future strengthens multilateral response to global shocks.

Launched on 9 March 2023, the policy briefs on an Emergency Platform and future generations are the first two in a series of eleven. Together, the policy briefs aim to forge “an ambitious and interconnected package of ideas and proposals” to secure the UN Secretary-General’s vision reflected in Our Common Agenda. The nine other briefs will address youth engagement, metrics beyond Gross Domestic Product (GDP), a global digital compact, public information, international financial architecture, outer space, a new agenda for peace, transforming education, and ‘UN 2.0.’

The SDG Summit will convene at the level of Heads of State and Government in September 2023. Marking the mid-point in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, it will carry out a comprehensive review of the state of the SDGs, respond to the impact of “multiple and interlocking crises facing the world,” and provide high-level political guidance on transformative and accelerated actions leading up to the 2030 deadline for achieving the SDGs.

In September 2024, the Summit of the Future will seek to “reinvigorate global action, recommit to fundamental principles, and further develop the frameworks of multilateralism so they are fit for the future.” The Pact for the Future will be agreed in advance by consensus through intergovernmental negotiations.

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In preparation for the 2023 SDG Summit and the Summit of the Future in 2024, the UN Secretary-General is launching eleven policy briefs between March and July 2023, offering “concrete ideas” on how to advance Our Common Agenda. Timed accordingly, the SDG Knowledge Hub is publishing a series of policy briefs of its own, offering insights on the issue areas covered in these publications.