Secretary-General Launches ‘Our Common Agenda’ Policy Briefs on Delivering 2030 Agenda Promises, Strengthening Response to Global Shocks

Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks at the launch of the Our Common Agenda policy briefs, in New York, today:

Today, it is for me a milestone on our road to Our Common Agenda and the Summit of the Future.

I am pleased to launch two policy briefs to inform the discussions of Member States as they prepare for the SDG [Sustainable Development Goals] Summit and the Summit of the Future.

One considers how we can take the future into account in our decision-making and deliver on our responsibilities to generations yet to be born.  The second lays out proposals to strengthen the international response to complex global shocks through an emergency platform.

These first two policy briefs start our contribution to the consideration by Member States of the decisions and changes needed to equip the multilateral system for the challenges of today and the future.  We will publish nine more [by] July.  The goal is simple:  to breathe new life into the multilateral system so that it can deliver on the promises of the United Nations Charter and the 2030 Agenda.

As our world becomes more complex, more uncertain, and more dangerous, we have an even greater responsibility to strengthen the multilateral system.  That must be the ultimate aim of the Summit of the Future.

The SDG Summit this September — the central event of 2023 — and the Summit of the Future in 2024 are key moments for us to come together around the decisions necessary to put the world back on track to a fair, inclusive, and sustainable future for all.

The SDG Summit will be the centrepiece of high-level week and of all our work in 2023.  The Summit of the Future will build upon it, fill gaps, and address the new challenges coming at us thick and fast.  Member States will decide on the scope of the Summit of the Future, and the proposals to be incorporated into the Pact for the Future.

Our policy briefs will provide ideas to address some of the challenges we face.  They will be an ambitious and interconnected package of ideas and proposals.  Each one will outline how the ideas and recommendations will contribute to achieving the SDGs.  Gender and human rights will, of course, be cross-cutting themes in all of them.

Our first policy brief covers “Thinking and Acting on Behalf of Future Generations”.  Achieving the SDGs, upholding the rights and meeting the needs of people alive today are clearly preconditions for a better future.  At the same time, we must make those decisions with an eye on the future, recognizing the rights and interests of people who are not yet born.

Most members of future generations will be born in countries that are currently low- and middle-income countries.  On our current path, they are likely to live in places that are already suffering the effects of poverty, hunger, the climate crisis, crippling debt, discrimination and inequality, including gender inequality.  Privilege and poverty both transmit powerfully across generations.  The policy brief makes it clear that a secure and equitable future starts now.

Many Member States already have dedicated national institutions on this issue.  And there are hundreds of national and international agreements and resolutions on future generations.  But we lack practical mechanisms and practical frameworks and systems to turn these commitments into reality.  Because, as the proverb says, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

If we had taken action to prevent and end greenhouse gas emissions thirty years ago, the climate crisis would be far less threatening today.  If we had taken steps to prepare for pandemics, COVID-19 would not have left chaos in its wake.  Considering the future pays off in the present.

This policy brief proposes three concrete steps at the global level, drawing inspiration from national initiatives.  First, it proposes the appointment of an envoy who will be the global voice for future generations, raising awareness about the impacts on them of the decisions we take today.  An Envoy for Future Generations could also maximize the benefits of the United Nations system’s capacity to forecast the long-term impact of current policies and activities. 

Second, the brief proposes ideas to inform a political declaration defining our duties to the future.  This would be an opportunity to consolidate the commitments we have already made to future generations and to adapt these commitments to the new challenges of our era.  

It could clearly define what we mean by the term “future generations”; the importance we place on their needs and interests; and their relationship to people alive today.  Such a declaration could recognize that the risks, opportunities and decisions we face have foreseeable consequences and must be managed accordingly.

It could acknowledge that the continued existence of humanity is at stake, setting out the issues that will affect future generations most, including the well-being of our planet and our climate; a stable and peaceful world; and the safe development of technology.  It could reconfirm that [we] have an obligation to future generations to meet our own needs without compromising their ability to meet theirs.

It could commit to securing the interests of future generations in all decision-making.  And it could endorse some practical steps to safeguard the interests of future generations, including a commitment to establish capacities across the United Nations system for a greater focus on the future in policymaking.  I welcome the discussions already under way on how to craft a meaningful declaration.

Third, the brief proposes a dedicated intergovernmental forum.  This would be a space where Member States could advance the commitments in the declaration and share experiences and innovations.  It would provide an opportunity for intergenerational thinking and the expression of intergenerational solidarity.  The brief therefore recommends the establishment of a Commission on Future Generations as a subsidiary organ of the General Assembly.

Today’s second policy brief concerns strengthening the international response to complex global shocks through an emergency platform.  Such a platform would consist of a set of protocols around convening key actors in the event of complex, global shocks, and operationalizing their coordinated response.  It would not be a standing entity or body.

Our global interconnectedness means that shocks that occur in one country or sector can quickly have cascading consequences elsewhere, often in unforeseen ways.  Those shocks are coming at us with greater strength and frequency, with serious implications for peace and security, economic stability, and environmental sustainability.  And they can have a disproportionate impact in some areas.  Both the COVID-19 pandemic and the global cost-of-living crisis hit the poorest and most vulnerable hardest, throwing SDG progress and Agenda 2030 further off-track. 

The global response to such shocks is often ad hoc, fragmented, and improvised.  We need a mechanism to tackle multidimensional threats with a multidimensional response.  This policy brief calls for a more formal, predictable, and structured approach.  An emergency platform would leverage the UN’s convening power and capacities in a timely and predictable way.  

It would identify and bring together actors at the appropriate level to respond.  It would be flexible and agile, responding to different types of shocks.  Crucially, it would promote a global response based on solidarity and equity and the key principle of leaving no one behind. All people and countries hit by a shock must have access to the support they need.

Accountability would be built into the emergency platform in order to hold all parties to their concrete commitments.  While decisions would continue to lie with Member States, the emergency platform would also include private sector, civil society, and other non-State partners with an ability to contribute to the global response.

The emergency platform would not displace or duplicate the work of intergovernmental bodies, including the Security Council.  Nor would it interfere with the mandate of specialized agencies or existing mechanisms, such as the Inter-Agency Standing Committee.  It would be a tool for the multilateral system to support intergovernmental decisions and complement existing mechanisms.

The United Nations is the only organization that can bring together all stakeholders in the event of complex global shocks and have them work together to best effect.  It is time to take decisions that enable it to do so.  These recommendations are now in your hands.  I encourage you to consider them closely.  I thank all the co-facilitators for their efforts to ensure Member States can discuss and examine the ideas in these briefs in detail.

In conclusion, allow me to offer some reflections on the Preparatory Ministerial Meeting on the Summit of the Future in September.  This must be a meaningful and ambitious meeting to sustain political momentum towards the Summit.  [In addition], its fundamental objective is to agree on the scope and elements of the Summit of the Future, but in addition, this could also be a moment to agree on some concrete outcomes in areas where there is broad consensus.

These policy briefs present a series of ideas to serve as inspiration and to provide clarity to facilitate the choices that are in the hands of Member States.  I stand ready to support your decisions on the ministerial meeting and a meaningful Summit of the Future, building on the SDG Summit.

I look forward to engaging with you further on the many proposals and issues in these two policy briefs, and especially to hear your views, your opinions, your comments, in order for us to be able to be more effective in the way we support the discussion among Member States preparing the decisions Member States must take in the Summit of the Future.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.