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Source: Small Island Developing States

By Fabrizio Hochschild

Like many people reading this right now, I was fortunate to grow up in a country at peace. The United Nations is a major reason that we have not had a third World War, and that the past 75 years have not been marred by a nuclear Armageddon.

But we seem to have reached an impasse. We are growing more dependent on each other and more connected with one another. This means that our challenges must be solved together. However, dangerously – and potentially tragically – we are also seeing a retreat from international cooperation and the global mechanisms established to facilitate it 75 years ago.

When it comes to hopes and fears for the future, our findings show remarkable unity across all ages, regions, and social groups.

A year ago, preparing for today’s anniversary of the founding of the UN, the UN Secretary-General set out to ask as many people as possible about their priorities for the future, and their expectations for global institutions like the UN. And we are finding a world strikingly united in its answers.

We’ve held 1,000 dialogues in 80 countries. Over one million people from all 193 member states responded to our mini-survey. Scientifically sampled surveys in 50 countries conducted by two independent companies, first-ever AI analysis of social and traditional media, and university and think-tank research also feed into our assessments of the future people want, and the UN we need. The findings from this exhaustive process show remarkable unity among respondents of all ages, regions, and social groups.

On their priorities for post-COVID-19 recovery, most respondents seek better access to basic services, followed by a desire to see greater international solidarity and increased support to those hardest hit, including by tackling inequality. COVID-19 has drawn to public attention the inequalities that characterize our world and that the pandemic has exacerbated. There is also a related demand, to rebuild with a much more inclusive economy rather than reconstructing the economy we had. This global conversation is the only attempt that we know of to track people’s priorities for the world’s post-COVID recovery.

On their priorities for the world 25 years from now, and the biggest threats to realizing them, respondents’ overwhelming concern relates to the climate crisis and the destruction of our natural environment. This is the number one concern even amid the pandemic and the more immediate fears around health.

On their expectations of international cooperation and the UN in particular, respondents find international cooperation to be even more urgent due to the pandemic. According to Pew’s sampling work, in 14 countries with a high proportion of voters for nationalist parties, the majority of respondents said more lives would be saved with better cooperation during the pandemic.

So, what do people expect of global cooperation mechanisms like the UN? They are not looking for more of the same, but for a UN that better reflects the stakeholders of the 21st century, that innovates more, and that is more diverse, more transparent, more accountable, and more effective.

The findings tell me that the desire for better global cooperation, with capable, duly empowered international institutions does not belong to any particular political party and is sought after by the vast majority of people, especially of younger people. Adjusting an old saying, there is much more that unites us than what we argue about on social media.

We will continue this particular listening process until the end of the year. The final report of the UN75 global conversation will be published in early 2021, and this will inform our response to the political declaration that world leaders adopt today.

They have asked the Secretary-General to develop recommendations for how the UN can be revitalized and reimagined to better serve today’s challenges, and future generations.

The world spoke. We listened. Now it is time to step up action.

The author of this guest article, Fabrizio Hochschild, is the Special Adviser to the UN Secretary-General for UN75.

IISD’s Earth Negotiations Bulletin is providing reporting and analysis of the UN’s 75th anniversary commemoration event on 21 September 2020. 

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