Global Issues Overview

As the world’s only truly universal global organization, the United Nations has become the foremost forum to address issues that transcend national boundaries and cannot be resolved by any one country acting alone.

To its initial goals of safeguarding peace, protecting human rights, establishing the framework for international justice and promoting economic and social progress, in the seven decades since its creation the United Nations has added on new challenges, such as climate change, refugees and AIDS.

While conflict resolution and peacekeeping continue to be among its most visible efforts, the UN, along with its specialized agencies, is also engaged in a wide array of activities to improve people’s lives around the world – from disaster relief, through education and advancement of women, to peaceful uses of atomic energy.

This website offers an overview of some of these issues in depth, and links to other resources where you can get additional information.

Global Issues

Africa

The UN system plays a crucial role in coordinating assistance of all kinds — to help Africa help itself.  From promoting the development of democratic institutions, to the establishment of peace between warring nations, the UN is present on the ground supporting economic and social development and the promotion and protection of human rights.

Elderly man

Ageing

The world’s population is ageing: virtually every country in the world is experiencing growth in the number and proportion of older persons in their population. The number of older persons, those aged 60 years or over, has increased substantially in recent years in most countries and regions, and that growth is projected to accelerate in the coming decades. 

AIDS

New HIV infections have fallen by 35% since 2000 (by 58% among children) and AIDS-related deaths have fallen by 42% since the peak in 2004. The global response to HIV has averted 30 million new HIV infections and nearly 8 million  AIDS-related deaths since 2000.  The UN family has been in the vanguard of this progress.

Nuclear reactor

Atomic Energy

More than 30 countries worldwide are operating 442 nuclear reactors for electricity generation and 66 new nuclear plants are under construction. In 2014, 13 countries relied on nuclear energy to supply at least one-quarter of their total electricity.

Classroom in Somalia

Children

Every child has the right to health, education and protection, and every society has a stake in expanding children’s opportunities in life. Yet, around the world, millions of children are denied a fair chance for no reason other than the country, gender or circumstances into which they are born.

Dog in Greenland

Climate Change

Climate change is one of the major challenges of our time. From shifting weather patterns that threaten food production, to rising sea levels that increase the risk of catastrophic flooding, the impacts of climate change are global in scope and unprecedented in scale. 

A ceremony in Samoa

Decolonization

The wave of decolonization, which changed the face of the planet, was born with the UN and represents the world body’s first great success. As a result of decolonization many countries became independent and joined the UN.

Malians line up at a polling station

Democracy

Democracy is a universally recognized ideal and is one of the core values and principles of the United Nations. Democracy provides an environment for the protection and effective realization of human rights.

Food

About 795 million people in the world were undernourished in 2014–16. That means one in nine people do not get enough food to be healthy and lead an active life. Hunger and malnutrition are in fact the number one risk to health worldwide — greater than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. 

A child undergoes an x-ray at the Indian Field Hospital, in Malakal

Health

The United Nations, since its inception, has been actively involved in promoting and protecting good health worldwide. Leading that effort within the UN system is the World Health Organization (WHO), whose constitution came into force on 7 April 1948. 

Human Right

Human Rights

Promoting respect for human rights is a core purpose of the United Nations and defines its identity as an organization for people around the world. Member States have mandated the Secretary-General and the UN System to help them achieve the standards set out in the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

ICJ courtroom

International Law and Justice

The UN continues to promote justice and international law across its three pillars of work: international peace and security, economic and social progress and development, and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Ocean

Oceans and the Law of the Sea

Life itself arose from the oceans. The ocean is vast, some 72 per cent of the earth's surface. Not only has the oceans always been a prime source of nourishment for the life it helped generate, but from earliest recorded history it has served for trade and commerce, adventure and discovery. 

Peacekeeper

Peace and Security

Saving succeeding generations from the scourge of war was the main motivation for creating the United Nations, whose founders lived through the devastation of two world wars.

Twin baby boys

Population

In 1950, five years after the founding of the United Nations, world population was estimated at around 2.6 billion people. It reached 5 billion in 1987 and 6 in 1999. In October 2011, the global population was estimated to be 7 billion. 

A volunteer life-guard helps a young girl out of the sea

Refugees

The world is witnessing the highest levels of displacement on record. An unprecedented 59.5 million people around the world have been forced from home. Among them are nearly 20 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18.

Rural woman in Bangladesh

Water

Fresh water sustains human life and is vital for human health. There is enough fresh water for everyone on Earth. However, due to bad economics or poor infrastructure, millions of people (most of them children) die from diseases associated with inadequate water supply, sanitation and hygiene.  

Students from the Midwifery School in El Fasher, North Darfur

Women

UN support for the rights of women began with the Organization's founding Charter. Among the purposes of the UN declared in Article 1 is: “To achieve international co-operation in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.”

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