Reinvigorating multilateralism
The United Nations' global consultation last year showed that the vast majority of people want more international cooperation to address problems like pandemics and climate change. To meet that demand, world leaders must commit to strengthening multilateral institutions, starting with the UN itself
30 Sep 2021 | Carlos Alvarado Quesada, Jacinda Arden, Stefan Löfven, Cyril Ramaphosa, Macky Sall and Pedro Sánchez

Last year, the United Nations conducted a worldwide consultation involving more than one million people from 193 countries. The feedback pointed to some important facts. And this year’s UN General Assembly must respond by bolstering rules-based multilateralism.

For starters, the consultation found that the expectations and hopes of the world’s women, men, girls, and boys are strikingly similar. People want better access to basic health care, sanitation and education. They also want to see more solidarity with those hit hardest by the pandemic and with those living in poverty. Respondents’ top concern over the longer term is the twin crisis of climate change and accelerating biodiversity loss. Almost 90% of participants agree that global cooperation is vital to deal with today’s challenges, and a majority believe that the pandemic has made international cooperation even more urgent. Especially encouraging is that young people worldwide clearly want more international cooperation.

Last year’s consultation was a call to action. Now, UN Secretary-General António Guterres has released Our Common Agenda, which follows on the UN75 Political Declaration adopted by all UN member Heads of State and Government one year ago. The new agenda sets out a bold plan for how we can tackle the challenges of today and tomorrow.

The threat of breakdown must be viewed as an opportunity for a breakthrough. That is why we are committing to step up our countries’ support for the secretary-general’s efforts to translate the UN’s ambitious agenda into reality.

The Covid-19 pandemic, which we are still battling at the global level, has driven home the message that we live in an interconnected and interdependent world. Moreover, in the last few months, we have seen record numbers of people affected by heat waves, devastating floods and some of the largest wildfires in recent history, confirming once again the unparalleled threat posed by our changing climate.

The UN is the heart of the international system. The fact that the world came together 76 years ago to create an organization to “achieve international cooperation in solving international problems” is extraordinary in itself. But even more striking is that this organization, despite its challenges and shortcomings, has endured. It has shown that the path to a better, more peaceful, and sustainable future is paved with cooperation, not zero-sum competition.

However, the world’s international organizations were built primarily to resolve inter-state challenges, not problems that transcend borders, such as financial crises, pandemics, terrorism, crime networks, threats to our oceans or climate change. We therefore must modernize our multilateral institutions, making them fit for purpose and better equipped to deal with the global and cross-generational challenges we face.

Having observed the stark differences between the world of the UN’s founding generation and the world of today, we decided last year to revive the debate about reforming the UN Security Council, and to continue the work of revitalizing the General Assembly and strengthening the Economic and Social Council. In line with the Joint Statement that we signed on November 10 2020, in Madrid, we see three areas of action that should be emphasized in order to advance our common goal of reinforcing multilateralism.

First, we need a renewed commitment to international cooperation. Multilateral organizations must be furnished with the means and the mandate to make a difference on the ground. Cooperation among the UN, regional organizations and international financial institutions must improve at both the policy and the operational level. The multilateral system needs to be more open and inclusive to give young people, civil society, the private sector, academia, and others a spot at the table.

We are already putting this into practice. On the margins of this year’s General Assembly, we have organized the virtual event “Delivering the UN Common Agenda: Action to Achieve Equality and Inclusion” in collaboration with the Pathfinders for Peaceful, Just, and Inclusive Societies initiative. We intend to ensure that all voices are heard.

Second, we must act on the secretary-general’s agenda of bold steps to revive and strengthen our capacity to tackle poverty and inequality; ensure inclusion, equal participation, and justice; address the climate crisis and accelerating biodiversity loss; and equip ourselves for future threats of pandemics.

We have learned from the Covid-19 crisis that we need to strengthen our collective ability to anticipate, prevent, and manage complex risks such as disease outbreaks, new wars, massive cyberattacks, environmental disasters, or other unforeseen events. We therefore welcome the secretary-general’s suggestions for how to strengthen global foresight and risk-management capacity, including the proposal for a new global “Emergency Platform”.

Lastly, we welcome the proposal for a Summit of the Future in 2023, and we should use that opportunity to step up our efforts to strengthen international cooperation. In today’s world, with so many issues reverberating across borders and generations, we must seize this moment to create a more agile, effective and accountable multilateral system that delivers for all citizens and enables us to tackle the global challenges we face.

We want to be at the forefront of this endeavour. Together, we can and must reinvigorate rules-based multilateralism, with a stronger and more inclusive UN at its core. This is the great political task of our times.

Carlos Alvarado Quesada is President of Costa Rica, Jacinda Ardern is Prime Minister of New Zealand, Stefan Löfven is Prime Minister of Sweden, Cyril Ramaphosa is President of South Africa, Macky Sall is President of Senegal, and Pedro Sánchez is Prime Minister of Spain.

Copyright: Project Syndicate

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