Seventy five years ago, there was a call for a world united in the pursuit of peace and progress. Rising from the ashes of the second World War, there was a need for a new world order based on peace, the dignity of life, mutual respect between nations, tolerance, justice, and freedom. It was a call to humanize humanity. It was a call for a United Nations.
The United Nations, a body of 193 member countries embodies the hopes of the people it was formed for. In a changing world, the UN’s mandate remains unchanged – which is to pursue peace and progress for the peoples it serves.
Its call to leave no one behind has come at a time when the world is today grappling with a pandemic that threatens the lives of the people the UN was formed to protect. Amid the scourge of the COVID-19 pandemic, the occasion of turning 75 provides the UN with an opportunity to reflect on the work it did and the realities of a changing world.
The UN embarked on a worldwide consultation in January this year to mark its 75th anniversary. Over one million people from all UN Member States and Observer States joined the conversation, sharing their hopes and fears for the future, their priorities for international cooperation and for the United Nations in particular.
This consultation on the future we want and the UN we need found that across the world, respondents of all origins, genders and age groups are remarkably unified in their fears and hopes for the future. When they were asked to look to the past, six in ten respondents believe the UN has made the world a better place.
• Amidst the current crisis, improved access to basic services – healthcare, safe water and sanitation, and education were the immediate priorities for most people everywhere.
• The second main priority is greater international solidarity and increased support to the places hardest hit by the pandemic by tackling poverty, inequalities and boosting employment.
• The people are hopeful that access to health, education and women’s rights will improve.
• 87 per cent of those surveyed believe international cooperation is vital to deal with today’s challenges. And the majority of respondents believe the COVID-19 crisis has made international cooperation even more urgent.
• For the future we need, most participants across all regions are worried about the future impact of climate change. The inability of world leaders to stem the climate crisis and the destruction of the natural environment is viewed by respondents as the most overwhelming medium- and long-term concern. Ensuring greater respect for human rights, settling conflicts, tackling poverty and reducing corruption are other major priorities flagged for the future.
• When it comes to the future, younger participants and those in many developing countries tend to be more optimistic than those who are older or living in developed countries.
Dialogue participants overwhelmingly called for the UN to be more inclusive of the diversity of actors in the 21st century. There are calls for increased accountability, transparency and impartiality, including through better engagement and communication with communities, as well as strengthening implementation of programmes and operations.
• 74 per cent of the participants see the UN as “essential” in tackling global challenges. At the same time, over half still see the UN as remote from their lives and say they don’t know much about it. The areas where the UN is perceived to be contributing most are in upholding human rights and in promoting peace.
The hopes for today and the future, the reflections on the past and the call to the UN to reform and be more inclusive are significant in shaping the priorities of the UN. In many ways, the hopes for basic services have not changed much. The current pandemic may have exacerbated the situation, but the people’s hope to access healthcare, safe water, sanitation, and education is a chilling reminder to the UN and its member states to do more.
While the UN has done “a lot” to promote and keep peace, it is also looked upon as a body that needs innovation. There is now a call for the UN to reimagine a better world, to reimagine itself and live up to the hopes of the people and the future and to build back better.
The call for the UN to do more will be heard for the current challenges put at risk the hard-won gains of the past 75 years, including in areas such as education, gender equality, health and tackling extreme poverty.
But unlike 75 years ago, these challenges exist with immense opportunities – such as new technologies and from the largest ever generation of young people. The UN was the hope then and it remains the hope for a better future.
When it was launched, the Secretary-General saw UN75 initiative as an opportunity for the UN to listen to the people it serves and to identify their priorities and suggestions for enhanced global cooperation.
The people have spoken. And this time, the call is from the people.
UN in Bhutan