The UN Report: Our Common Agenda and Foresight - 1

The UN Report: Our Common Agenda and Foresight - 1

In September 2020, on the 75th Anniversary of the founding of the United Nations, Member States asked for recommendations so that they could better respond to current and future challenges. In September 2021, Antonio Guterres, the UN Secretary-General, presented his report, “Our Common Agenda”. This month (one year later), the Millennium Project has published a report examining the strategies in it specifically related to foresight entitled “Five UN Foresight Elements of Our Common Agenda”.

In this first blog, I shall begin by looking at the wider tenor of the original report.

The report was published when the world was just over eighteen months into the Covid-19 pandemic, and Mr Guterres is in no doubt as to the seriousness of mankind’s plight. The  opening sentence of his summary is that:

“We are at an inflection point in history”

and he continues:

“… now is the time to renew the social contract between Governments and their people and within societies.”

There should be more long-term thinking and a transformation of education skills and lifelong learning.

“It will be important for the United Nations to issue a Strategic Foresight and Global Risk Report on a regular basis, and I also propose an Emergency Platform, to be convened in response to complex global crises.”

There should be a stronger, more networked and inclusive multilateral system.

“I will ask a High-Level Advisory Board, led by former Heads of State and Government to identify global public goods and areas where governance improvements are most needed, and to propose options for how this could be achieved.”

“I propose a Summit of the Future to forge a new global consensus on what our future should look like, and what we can do today to secure it.”

Key proposals principally relating to poverty, health, climate change, conflict, finance, technology and governance from the seventy-fifth anniversary declaration are then summarised, but these are inevitably just massive statements of intent.

The six chapters of the report then go into more detail: some specific points are worth and highlighting. The shocking costs of Covid-19 are given: nearly one in three people in the world (2.37 billion) did not have access to adequate food in 2020 – an increase of 320 million in one year. Early estimates suggested a potential increase of up to 45% in child mortality because of health-service shortfalls and reductions in access to food. A section on values points out that economic models continue to assume endless expansion and growth and overlook the broader systems that sustain life and well-being.

“Absurdly GDP rises when there is overfishing, cutting of forests or burning of fossil fuels. We are destroying nature, but we count it as an increase in wealth.”

Mr Guterres continues:

“I urge States, international financial institutions and multilateral and national development banks to work with us to find complementary measures to GDP that account for the environment and to use this new measure to change fundamentally their mandates and investments.”

A section on major risks warns that an effort is warranted to better define and identify the extreme, catastrophic and existential risks that we face.

This last statement underlines again the “this is what we must do” aspect of the report. But the last section of the Chapter 4 begins with the sentence:

“Ultimately what matters is results.”

Looking ahead to adapting the United Nations to a new era the report states:

“Some Member States have suggested that the UN … is vital to support the delivery of many global public goods, serving as a venue for collective action, norm development and international co-operation. …

“… the UN System must adapt to play a leading role in a more networked and inclusive world, improving our collaboration and strategic engagement with other actors and forums at the global and regional levels, while also maximising our comparative advantage in service of the people who need us most. …

“It has also been suggested that States could strengthen the high-level week of the Assembly, using it as an opportunity to take decisions and make commitments at the level of Heads of State and Government. …

“… the high-level political forum has emerged as the primary global gathering for sustainable development.”

Three key points emerge from the report: the importance of the role of the United Nations in dealing with global issues; the recognition of the importance of foresight in that role and the need for the political will to enable appropriate action to be taken. In the next blog, I shall look at the Millennium Project Report into the foresight elements and discuss how the foresight community can enhance the UN’s efforts to achieve a better response to future challenges.

Tony Diggle is a SAMI Associate and published playwright. He was a contributor to the Millennium Project Real-Time Delphi Study and writes in a personal capacity.

The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

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