When the six much-ballyhooed high-level UN meetings concluded late September, there were mixed feelings about the final outcomes. Civil society organizations (CSOs), who were mostly disappointed with the results, were gearing themselves for two upcoming key climate summit meetings: COP25 in Santiago, Chile in December (suspended) and COP26 in Glasgow, UK in late 2020 (reported), along with the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Women’s Conference scheduled to take place in September 2020 in New York (made virtually).
Perhaps the most politically-significant event in 2020 will be the 75th anniversary of the United Nations which will take place amidst continued threats against multilateral institutions, rising right-wing nationalism, growing authoritarianism and widespread disinformation.
The anniversary also took place in the shadow of one of the worst financial crises facing the world body – as Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that “the situation remains dire. And without immediate action, I can no longer guarantee the smooth functioning of the Organization.”
“I urge you to help put the United Nations on a solid financial footing,” he pleaded before the 134 members of the Group of 77 developing countries, plus China.
Sesheeni Joud Selvaratnam, Sustainable Development Goals and Agenda 2030 lead at ActionAid, said the UN is marking its 75th anniversary against a backdrop of rising global hunger, the climate crisis and an unravelling of progress towards social justice and equality.
“It’s not too late to get the Sustainable Development Goals back on track, but the 2020 global summits must see political will and leadership that translates into real action on the ground.
“States turning up and making commitments at the High-Level Political Forum and UN General Assembly isn’t enough. Governments must be held accountable to their citizens on implementing and delivering on their promises by 2030, and ensuring the most vulnerable are not left behind,” said Selvaratnam.
Jens Martens, executive director of Global Policy Forum (New York/Bonn), said the summits have put the UN back at the centre of the global debates on future justice. At least, many Heads of State and Government have recognized the climate emergency and the importance of sustainable development by participating in the summits. “They have launched countless new initiatives to implement the SDGs. This is of course better than the destructive policies of Trump, Brazil’s Bolsonaro & Co,” he noted.
But, being present at the summits, making nice speeches, dating Greta Thunberg, and expressing understanding for the concerns of young people is not enough, he added. “As long as governments do not fundamentally change the framework conditions of sustainable development, this will remain symbolic policy and sometimes pure actionism.”
The summits were once again summits of announced actions. But the world does not need more hypocritical promises and announcements, he pointed out. “It needs political decisions that make fiscal policies fairer, bring global economic and monetary policy into line with SDGs and human rights, and rapidly accelerate the exit from the fossil fuel economy”, said Martens, who has coordinated the international Civil Society Reflection Group on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Kul Gautam, a former UN Assistant Secretary-General said: Everybody says UN needs reforms. But the kind of reforms that are proposed by Member States are often timid and inadequate, and in the case of those proposed by some, e.g. the Trump administration, they are actually harmful and contrary to the multilateral ethos of the UN. Such proposals are unlikely to command broad-based support, he warned.
It is time for the Secretary-General himself to take the initiative and commission a high-level panel to propose a more predictable and sustainable funding of the UN, said Gautam.
The 75th anniversary of the UN in 2020 was a perfect occasion for the SG to present a bold proposal for a more sustainable funding mechanism for the UN in keeping with the ambitious Sustainable Development Agenda for 2030 that the UN has championed so boldly, he declared.
Teresa Anderson, climate policy coordinator at ActionAid, has seen an unprecedented uprising of ordinary citizens around the world, inspired by young people, taking to the streets to demand action on the climate crisis. “They have exposed the failure of the richest polluting countries at the UN climate action summit to respond with the ambition needed to address the scale of the climate emergency.”
It’s critical that the world does not turn its back on the vulnerable countries left to pick up the pieces after climate disasters, Anderson declared.
The September summits covered several issues on the UN agenda, including Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Climate Action, Universal Health Care, Financing for Development (FfD), Nuclear Disarmament and Small Island Developing States (SIDS).
Still, what is particularly annoying, Martens said, is that the UN provided an exposed stage at the summits for billionaire Bill Gates and numerous representatives of transnational corporations. The last few decades have shown that the market-based solutions these corporate actors have propagated have not solved the global crises, but rather aggravated them.
Martens said the more than 300 representatives of civil society organizations (CSOs) which met parallel to the SDG Summit at the People’s Assembly have rightly stated in their declaration, “We are saddened by the persisting lack of political will and leadership to even begin to address these issues. This is not good enough. This is failure.”
Jesse Griffiths, Head of Programme, Development Strategy and Finance Overseas Development Institute, told IPS, “My main concern would be that while it was important that the level of attention to the issue was raised – this was a high-level event with heads of state involved – the event itself had been structured so that no concrete outcomes could be made.
This has been a problem of the FfD (Financing for the development) process itself – the FfD Forums are held every year and could agree what needs to be done to put us on track to finance the SDGs. “In practice they merely take stock of where we are, and have so far produced no real concrete outcomes”, he added.
“I fear this state of paralysis will continue until we have another high-level summit to follow up from Addis Ababa in 2015,” said Griffiths.
According to Guterres, the summit did produce several positive initiatives. “Let me be specific about just a few”, he told delegates at the conclusion of the meeting. He said 77 countries – many in the industrialized world – had committed to net zero carbon emissions by 2050. They were joined by 10 regions and more than 100 cities – including several of the world’s largest. He also pointed out that 70 countries announced they will boost their National Determined Contributions by 2020, while well over 100 leaders in the private sector committed to accelerating their move into the green economy. More than 2,000 cities committed to putting climate risk at the centre of decision-making, creating 1,000 bankable, climate-smart urban projects.
UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric provided the final figures: a total of 195 speakers participated, including the Holy See, the State of Palestine and the European Union. Uzbekistan was the only country that did not speak. Among the speakers — 82 Heads of State and 43 Heads of Government.
There were 16 women speakers, which was 8.2 per cent only of all the speakers, and that is slightly lower than last year, when there were 19 women speakers or about 9.8 per cent.
To put matters into perspective, on the first day of the General Debate, he said, there were two female Heads of State and one Head of Government, compared to 29 male Heads of State and five male Heads of Government.
The longest speech at the General Debate was 50 minutes [from Pakistan] and the shortest speech from the President of Rwanda, Mr. [Paul] Kagame. In addition, from 23 through 30 September, 1,674 bilateral meetings were held at the UN. As of 30 September, 566 other meetings, including those of regional groups [and] UN system entities, were held during the high level debate.
For our part, said Dujarric, “we issued 137 readouts from the Secretary General’s bilateral meetings.”
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