Arguments, merits, and gaps of the Documents for the Summit for the future

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On September 22nd and 23rd 2024, in New York, the Summit for the Future will take place – a high-level event aiming to reach international consensus on addressing present global challenges by achieving the goals outlined in numerous agreements and commitments. These include the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change along with its Paris Agreement. The subtitle of the Summit, „Multilateral Solutions for a Better Tomorrow,“ underscores another fundamental goal: to reinvigorate multilateralism.

 

Central documents for the Summit

The focus of the intergovernmental negotiations will be the Pact for the Future, accompanied by the Global Digital Compact and the Declaration on Future Generations. The negotiations over these documents have already commenced, aiming to produce action-oriented documents that will constitute the final outcomes of the Summit.

The Pact for the Future zero draft, co-facilitated by Germany and Namibia, outlines concrete actions and guidelines to address challenges across five key areas: sustainable development and financing; international peace and security; science, technology, and innovation; digital cooperation; and youth and future generations, as well as transforming global governance. Moreover, the document reaffirms the importance of peace and the pivotal role of diplomacy in achieving it. Building peaceful societies requires upholding human rights, achieving gender equality, and addressing all forms of discrimination.

The first article of the document emphasizes the 2030 Agenda, underscoring the urgent need to overcome the inadequate financing of the SDG, which affects many developing countries. Specifically, it calls for wealthier states to fulfill their official development assistance (ODA) commitments, aiming to reach 0.7% of their gross national income (GNI) for ODA. This is particularly crucial for supporting countries in special situations and those facing specific challenges. Additionally, this document advocates for non-developing countries to provide additional grants or concessional finance to developing nations to combat climate change and ensure they have the necessary resources for adaptation and mitigation efforts.

In the realm of technology, the Global Digital Compact, co-facilitated by Sweden and Zambia, delves deeper into the key issues identified in the Pact for the Future, adopted by… on… . It outlines five main goals: closing all digital divides and accelerating progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); expanding inclusion in and benefits from the digital economy for all; fostering an inclusive, open, safe, and secure digital space that respects and promotes human rights; advancing responsible and equitable international data governance; and strengthening international governance of emerging technologies, including Artificial Intelligence (AI), for the benefit of humanity. To achieve these goals, the document suggests developing innovative and blended financing mechanisms and incentives to connect the remaining 2.6 billion people without access to the Internet and improve connectivity quality and affordability. Technical assistance will be provided to developing countries in line with their national digital transformation needs and priorities. Additionally, lifelong digital learning opportunities, especially for adults, will be made accessible. Vocational training for workers in occupations impacted by digitalization and automation, along with measures to mitigate potential negative consequences for workforces and promote decent work (SDG 8), are also key issues addressed.

The document addresses the issue of AI, aiming for safe, human-centric, and sustainable AI that complies with international human rights law. It proposes establishing an International Scientific Panel on AI and Emerging Technologies to conduct independent, multi-disciplinary scientific risk and opportunity assessments. This panel will issue reports, draw on national and regional horizon-scanning initiatives, and contribute to developing common assessment methodologies, AI definitions, taxonomies, and mitigation measures. Additionally, an International Contact Group on AI Governance will bring together expert representatives from governments responsible for AI safety and governance to build shared understandings on safe, secure, and trustworthy AI governance and risk management frameworks. Finally, the document suggests establishing a Global Fund for AI and Emerging Technologies for Sustainable Development, aimed at delivering AI skills-based training, supporting compute capacity development, catalyzing the creation of quality standard data sets for AI use, and promoting AI-based solutions for the SDGs. The fund is proposed to launch in 2025 with an initial amount of 100 million US dollars, financed by voluntary contributions from public, private, and philanthropic sources.

Though youth and future generations are addressed in the Pact for the Future, the Declaration on Future Generations delves deeper into this subject, reflecting member states’ awareness of their obligations to future generations. The zero draft, co-facilitated by the Permanent Representative of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the Permanent Representative of Jamaica, highlights the importance of equality, including gender equality and eradicating all forms of discrimination. It emphasizes youth participation and international engagement through the establishment of youth consultative bodies, support for youth-led activities, and boosting the participation of youth representatives in the UN, particularly those from developing countries.

However, this document, which is only five pages long, is still quite general and doesn’t provide concrete examples or good practices on how to reach the ambitious goals. The 2023 Common Agenda Policy Brief on Meaningful Youth Engagement in Policymaking and Decision-making Processes addressed the topic of youth integration more thoroughly, providing examples and best practices of meaningful youth engagement around the world. This document highlights how young people have become a driving force for societal change through social mobilization, pushing for climate action, seeking racial justice, promoting gender equality and demanding dignity for all. Even though there are some positive examples of youth participation at the national and international level, such as the Major Group for Children and Youth (of which Bulgaria is part of), the United Nations Youth Delegate Programme, and the Economic and Social Council youth forum – the only United Nations organ with a dedicated space for youth engagement – there are still gaps to address. For instance, the mandate of the Major Group for Children and Youth does not apply across the full range of work of the General Assembly; the Security Council has no established mechanism to facilitate youth engagement, and the engagement of United Nations youth delegates is largely limited to the work of the Third Committee of the General Assembly and the major forums of the Economic and Social Council. Additionally, the absence of systematic and structured resourcing to support youth participation means that it is often the most privileged youth who can afford to volunteer their time and pay out-of-pocket expenses to engage in the multilateral processes. This leads to a high turnover rate among youth participants and a lack of consistent leadership, which in turn hinders representation. It can often mean that youth contributions to such processes are not sufficiently representative of youth voices in all their diversity.

The final major goal of the Pact for the Future is transforming global governance. Member states agree to revitalize multilateralism and reform global governance structures to address current and future challenges. They support the Secretary-General’s vision for a more agile UN, enhancing the UN development system, and securing funding for the UN’s human rights pillar. Partnerships with civil society will be fostered to better address global challenges.

Why multilateralism is so important?

Multilateralism means cooperation. It fosters the exchange of information and good practices, providing a space where international actors can coordinate their actions. Through dialogue and mediation, disputes can be settled, while respecting collective norms.

Multilateralism implies that actors realize that it is in their best interest to work together to solve problems that surpass their individual capabilities to tackle them. Hence, the spirit of multilateralism could be summarized by the motto: “Together we are stronger!”. It is in this light that the United Nations was born. The UN Charter is the bedrock of multilateralism. As United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres declared, “the United Nations Charter provides a moral compass to promote peace, advance human dignity, prosperity and uphold human rights and the rule of law.” The UN responded to the necessity to maintain a peaceful and secure global order, where wars could be prevented with diplomacy and dialogue, and where all parties could participate in the decision-making process and making their voices heard. With the rise of globalization, the United Nations has become an essential platform where member states could collaborate on addressing global issues such as poverty, humanitarian crisis, climate change and social-economic development. Additionally, the UN is a place for harmonizing the actions of countries in areas such as security, arms control, human rights, trade, economic development, health, codification of international law and much more.

However, multilateralism is not just a matter of governments. The United Nations facilitates the involvement of a multitude of actors who share their views on global issues. Over time, new stakeholders got involved in the multilateral processes. Today, diplomats from the 193 member states, along with delegates from observer states and international organizations, representatives of NGOs, international experts, private actors and academics, come to meet regularly to discuss a broad spectrum of international questions.

Strengthening citizen participation

As previously discussed, multilateralism extends beyond governments. Member states recognize the necessity of including other actors, especially civil society, to effectively address global challenges. This need stems from the international system’s lack of a regular barometer of public opinion. While some efforts have been made, such as the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) consulting with more than 6000 non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and the direct consultation of citizens in occasion for the UN’s 75th anniversary, these efforts remain sporadic and non-representative, hindering full civil society engagement with the UN.

Over the last decade, there has been growing recognition by governments that certain challenges require partnerships with all countries and all people. For instance, the implementation of the SDGs relies on actions made at all levels, from the global to the local, necessitating active citizens participation and strengthened multilateralism. Climate change underscores the relevance of individual actions in mitigating our impact on the planet. Citizens and youth have become advocates and co-designers of innovative solutions to global challenges, prompting governments to implement the necessary changes.  As stated by the Secretary General, participation is not only a fundamental right of every citizen, but also a tool for better policymaking.

To enhance this participation, the establishment of a permanent Global Citizens’ Assembly could create what the Secretary-General describes as a “permanent interaction” between people and political power. This assembly, particularly if deployed alongside other tools responsive to changing demographics and the need to decentralize power within the multilateral system, should amplify the voices of people from developing countries and offer traditionally under-represented groups a platform to express their ideas.

Additionally, the Secretary-General could establish a more robust system for systematically gathering global public opinion on key challenges and solutions, aiding the UN and member states in prioritizing and planning for the future. A global opinion barometer, using representative sampling techniques, could identify citizens’ views on challenges, solutions, and policy proposals.

Finally, If the multilateral system is to be fit to deliver a present and future that works for all, then meaningful youth engagement must become the norm rather than the exception. In this light, the decision by the General Assembly to establish and fund the first United Nations Youth Office in the Secretariat will further strengthen the ability of the United Nations system to engage young people in its work, both formally and informally – by establishing a dedicated capacity at the core of the United Nations with the explicit mandate to support meaningful youth engagement and to coordinate the United Nations system’s overall work for and with youth.

Conclusions

The documents that will be discussed at the Summit for the Future, namely the Pact for the Future, the Global digital Compact and the Declaration on Future Generations, bring to the forefront pivotal issues that nations and societies must address to secure a more peaceful, equal, just, and sustainable future. However, it seems that the three documents and the five main goals discussed in the Pact for the Future are not given the same importance, nor are they equally equipped with concrete measures. For instance, the section of youth and future generations, as well as the Declaration on Future Generations are given far less space than the other goals.

As mentioned in the previous section, to improve multilateralism, it is important to strengthen citizen participation and particularly youth participation. It is noteworthy that the establishment of a United Nations Youth Office is only briefly mentioned in the Pact for The Future, while no mention in the Declaration on Future Generations.

Aurhor:

Margherita Ferri

Erasmus Volunteer at UNA of Bulgaria

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