Launching Three Our Common Agenda Policy Briefs, Secretary-General Urges Member States to Tackle New Challenges That Restore Trust in International Cooperation

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

I am pleased to join you today to share three policy briefs on Our Common Agenda.  These three briefs — part of a series of 11 — are intended to inform your discussions as you prepare for the SDG [Sustainable Development Goals] Summit and especially for the Summit of the Future.

They touch on some of the most serious challenges we face — challenges that may determine whether we are able to achieve the vision of the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals, or whether we continue towards a future of continued social, financial, political and environmental breakdown.  Today, I will cover [their] main themes. 

Our policy brief on reforms to the international financial architecture proposes ways to right historic wrongs, through a functional financial system that supports sustainable development.  This is a very extended policy brief and we decided that in this version to be presented we should go into the details because one of the problems when we discuss these kinds of things is that when details are not there things can be easily misinterpreted. 

But I recognize that this makes the brief rather complex and so we are also preparing a more simplified version in order to facilitate the public debate.  But we felt that it was important to go into details to show exactly the kind of changes that we believe that would be necessary from the point of view of the objectives we have set out.

The policy brief on moving beyond gross domestic product (GDP) looks at measuring the things that really matter to people and their communities.  GDP tells us the cost of everything and the value of nothing.  Our world is not a gigantic corporation.  Financial decisions should be based on more than a snapshot of profit and loss.

And the policy brief on a Global Digital Compact sets out ways to advance an open, free, secure, people-centred, equitable digital future, at a time of growing anxiety about the impact of technology on our lives.

All these briefs provide ideas on how we can revitalize the multilateral system; accelerate efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals; and keep global temperature rise as close as possible to the 1.5°C limit of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

The SDG Summit this September and the Summit of the Future in 2024 are key moments to come together around decisions that put the world on track for a fairer, more inclusive and sustainable future for all.  Some of the proposals in our policy briefs may contribute towards deliberations at the SDG Summit — the centrepiece of the high-level week at the General Assembly.  The decisions taken at the SDG Summit will guide our efforts throughout the remainder of the Decade of Action to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals, and it must be the start of a process.  The Summit of the Future in 2024 will build on its decisions and address new and emerging challenges.

I have spoken frequently on the bias and injustice built into the current international financial architecture.  The Bretton Woods system was established in 1945 — as was the United Nations system — when many of today’s developing and emerging economies were under colonial rule.  It is supposed to serve the world — but it does not represent the world. 

The COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath were a stress test for that system.  It largely failed.  It did not fulfil its core mandate as a financial global safety net.  It did not provide enough of the financing needed to support a recovery in developing countries, many of which are now in the throes of a deep financial crisis. 

Fifty-two developing countries are in, or near, debt distress. Meanwhile, debt relief is at a standstill.  The Common Framework for debt treatment is not working properly.  Inflation and rising interest rates are adding to the unsustainable financial pressure on developing countries.  Some Governments are being forced to choose between making debt repayments or defaulting in order to pay public sector workers — possibly ruining their credit rating for years to come.

Africa now spends more on debt service costs than on health care. In the short term, the international community needs to take urgent steps under current arrangements to relieve the burden on developing and emerging economies.  I have advocated for an SDG Stimulus to achieve this.  But beyond emergency measures, we need a structural response.  The international community must reform the international financial architecture, to make it resilient, equitable, and accessible to all.

This Policy Brief sets out ambitious, concrete proposals in six areas, to address historic injustices and systemic bias.  These areas are:  global economic governance; debt relief and the cost of sovereign borrowing; international public finance; the global financial safety net; addressing short-termism in capital markets and sustainable finance; and a global tax architecture.

The brief proposes strengthening the voice and representation of developing countries in the boards of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.  It proposes reforms to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) quotas, which should be delinked from access to resources.  It also suggests changes to IMF voting rights and decision-making rules.

It proposes a representative apex body overseeing the entire system to enhance its coherence and align its priorities with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  This could be through the proposed Biennial Summit between the Group of 20, Economic and Social Council, the Secretary-General, and heads of international financial institutions that I have proposed recently.

Proposals on debt include the creation of a Debt Workout Mechanism, possibly at a multilateral development bank.  This would link development financing with commercial creditors.  A sovereign debt authority — with the representation of developing countries — could develop and implement a framework for restructuring.

The brief proposes revamping the role and use of special drawing rights — essentially, the IMF’s way of creating liquidity in a crisis.  The allocation of drawing rights issued during the pandemic was grossly unfair and redistribution so far has been minimal. The Group of 7 countries, with a population of 772 million people, received $280 billion in drawing rights.

Least developed countries, with a population of 1.1 billion people, were allocated just over $8 billion and this was done by the book; this was done according to the rules, but indeed there is something morally wrong in the rules that established this kind of procedure.

The policy brief proposes that in future, this injustice should be corrected.  The brief proposes the massive scaling up of development and climate financing, in part by changing the business model of multilateral development banks and transforming their approach to risk, to massively leverage private finance at reasonable cost to developing countries.

It is our belief that if the multinational development banks work closely together they will be able to assume a much more open approach to risk without losing their AAA rating.  Let’s be honest, one of the serious problems that we face is the problem of the bias and the lack of confidence in many aspects that has been shown by the credit rating agencies.

Overall, the proposals in the brief are aimed at moving away from a system that benefits the rich and prioritizes short-term gains, towards one that is equitable and invests up-front in the Sustainable Development Goals, climate action, and future generations.

The second brief lays out a path towards universal and comprehensive measurements to complement gross domestic product.  It is not a final solution proposed; it is a way to get there that is proposed.  GDP is the most widely used metric for a country’s economic progress. It has become a proxy for wealth creation and development progress.  It plays a part in evaluating countries and in allocating development resources.

It will continue to be an important metric.  But there is a growing recognition that GDP overlooks human activities that sustain life and contribute to well-being, while placing disproportionate value on those that damage us and deplete our planet.  Deforestation, overfishing and the mining and burning of fossil fuels all increase GDP. 

Conversely, GDP takes no account of environmental sustainability, unpaid care work, and the negative impact on people and societies of many economic activities.  GDP ignores or obscures the complexity of sustainable development.  Human progress depends on many factors, from levels of poverty and hunger to inequality and social cohesion and vulnerability to climate breakdown and other shocks.

Some countries may have a relatively high GDP, but due to special circumstances — for example, small island developing States and landlocked developing countries — they may be at increased risk from economic shocks. Conversely, some countries with lower GDP may be more resilient to shocks because of a strong social contract, or a geographic location that protects them from the worst impacts of climate chaos.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and Our Common Agenda recognize the damage that is being done by the exclusive use of GDP. This policy brief proposes a path towards complementary metrics that more accurately reflect what we value.

First, it proposes that Member States make a political commitment to a conceptual framework that accurately values what matters for people, the planet, and the future.  This framework should be anchored in the 2030 Agenda and its commitment to leave no one behind. It should be designed to achieve three main outcomes:  a focus on well-being and agency; respect for life and our planet; and reduced inequalities.

Second, the brief calls for a technical process to develop metrics to inform this framework.  It proposes that an independent high-level expert group should produce a dashboard of key alternative indicators by March 2024.  GDP is concise.  It summarizes information in an intuitive manner that tells a story.  But well-being, equality, and environmental sustainability cannot be addressed by a single snapshot.

We need a broader set of indicators to monitor and analyse progress and recognize trade-offs and consequences.  These indicators should incorporate the results of the High-Level Panel on the Development of a Multidimensional Vulnerability Index, the SDG indicators, the Human Development Index and more.

Third, the policy brief calls for a massive upgrading of support to countries so that they can develop the data capacity needed to make new metrics operational.  This will bring efforts to move beyond GDP down to the country level and improve monitoring of progress on the Sustainable Development Goals.

Moving on to our policy brief on the Global Digital Compact: in 2020, you — United Nations Member States — pledged in the UN75 Declaration [Declaration on the commemoration of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the United Nations] to improve cooperation on digital technology, recognizing its potential to accelerate implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.

2020 already feels like a lifetime ago.  Artificial Intelligence, deep fakes, and bio-engineering are just three areas of technological progress since then that are testing our governance capacities beyond their limits.  This exponential acceleration makes cooperation on technology even more important.  The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated the benefits of technology.  Digital tools kept families close, schools open, economies moving.

But the pandemic also highlighted the digital divide and amplified inequalities.  Those without access to technology for study or work were left even further behind.  Many will never catch up.

At the same time, control of digital technologies has brought huge wealth to a select few individuals and companies.  Governments and regulators have struggled to respond to this situation.  We now have a crisis of trust in the institutions that should regulate technologies for the benefit of all.

We recently crossed a new digital threshold, with the widespread use of generative AI in the form of ChatGPT and many other applications.  Generative AI will have a huge impact on education, communication, the world of work and far more.  But the future of that impact is not clear to anyone.  Jobs will be both created and lost and the world of work will change.  Human activities may expand beyond work and leisure, into new areas of creativity and community we cannot even classify. 

While AI has the potential to turbocharge development and productivity, accelerating progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals, it also presents serious ethical challenges.  The weaponization of AI is a huge concern, and my policy brief on a New Agenda for Peace will say more about this.

The prospect of further technological progress now often inspires fear rather than hope.  Even those who have developed AI and stand to profit from it most have expressed deep concern and appealed — even pleaded — for action on governance.  There is an urgent need for Governments to come together in a Global Digital Compact to mitigate the risks of digital technologies and identify ways to harness their benefits for the good of humanity.

The policy brief meets this need in three ways.  First, it proposes a vision for digital cooperation that puts humanity at the core, with no one left behind:  a digital future that is anchored in universal human rights; global cooperation that harnesses technology for human development and turbocharges progress on the Sustainable Development Goals; digital technologies that are governed by humans, for humans; and a vision that protects people and our planet from digital risks and harms.

Second, the policy brief offers proposals on how this can be achieved.  The Global Digital Compact is a unique opportunity to bring together Governments, regional organizations, the private sector and civil society in a global approach to digital governance.  National and regional approaches are simply not enough in our globalized world.  The Compact would provide a framework to align national, regional and industry approaches around global priorities, principles and objectives.

The policy brief identifies areas for urgent action, from scaling up efforts to connect the unconnected, to building digital public infrastructure and supporting public administrations to regulate technology for everyone’s benefit.  We need far greater investment in building the capacities of public administrations so they have the necessary expertise in this area.

Since the last decades of the last century there has not been enough investment in public administrations and they today lack the technical capacity to accompany the progress that we see in the private sector and to be able to effectively prepare themselves for a regulation that serves the public interest.  So, it is essential to invest in the capacities of public administrations.

The brief offers concrete ideas on how companies that have profited from unfettered access to markets could invest in safeguards and accountability.  It also proposes steps to address gaps in the governance of AI.  The brief reiterates my proposal for a High-Level Advisory Body for Artificial Intelligence. 

This multistakeholder expert body could meet regularly to review AI governance arrangements and offer recommendations on how they can be aligned with human rights, the rule of law and the common good. We will start work on this body by the end of this year and task it to present options for the international governance of AI.  This could include an AI Accord, connected to the Global Digital Compact process.

The third set of ideas in this policy brief focus on the need for sustained follow-up on digital governance.  The brief proposes a Digital Cooperation Forum that would evaluate progress on digital governance and highlight gaps.  This would be the first global framework to bring all stakeholders together to drive aligned action on digital technology.

It would work with regional bodies and multistakeholder networks and support exchanges between existing bodies, such as the Internet Governance Forum.  It would have wide participation, engaging those who develop digital technologies, to harness their potential and promote their responsible application.  Young people, the most active users of digital tools, must also have a voice.

Let me to take this opportunity to mention our policy brief on outer space, released last week.  Most of us will never travel to space.  It can be hard to understand why we should care what is happening there, with so much poverty and hunger here on earth.  But dramatic advances in space mean that what happens there has implications for us all.

Space assets already play a growing role in navigation, internet provision, and monitoring trends on earth, from energy and climate to biodiversity and a host of other vital functions.  Nearly 40 per cent of Sustainable Development Goals targets rely on data from space.  The policy brief provides you with proposals on mitigating the risks and harnessing the opportunities of space in the most inclusive way possible.

The launch of these three policy briefs, and the brief on outer space released last week, bring the total released to seven.  In March, I released my briefs on future generations and on responding to complex global shocks.  In April you received the brief on meaningful youth engagement.  We will release the policy brief on information integrity on digital platforms later this week.  This will present proposals for a safe and inclusive digital space that safeguards the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

We hope to issue the full series by the end of July, concluding with the briefs on a New Agenda for Peace, on transforming education, and on our proposals for strengthening the key capacities of the United Nations itself — UN 2.0.

Let me underline once more: these policy briefs present ideas to serve as inspiration for the deliberations and decisions, which are in the hands of Member States.  The cofacilitators have developed a proposal on the scope of the Summit of the Future that is clear, streamlined and comprehensive.

I hope this proposal will help you take early decisions on the scope of the Summit, in time for the ministerial meeting planned for 21 September.  This will provide a sound foundation for progress on an ambitious and substantive Pact for the Future in 2024.

In the end, what matters is that we take action to tackle new and emerging challenges in a way that delivers for all, restoring trust in international cooperation and each other.  The whole United Nations system, and I personally, stand ready to support your decisions on the Ministerial meeting and the Summit of the Future, building on this year’s SDG Summit.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.