In 1945, world leaders gathered in San Francisco to sign the Charter of the United Nations, which gave birth to an organization that represented new hope for a world emerging from the horrors of the Second World War. Our founders were in no doubt about the kind of world that they wished to banish to the past.
In 2020, as the United Nations celebrates 75 years since the Charter’s signing, we have an opportunity to reflect on our shared progress, as well as our common future. Our vision and values – based on equality, mutual respect and international cooperation – helped us to avoid a Third World War, which would have had catastrophic consequences for life on our planet. For 75 years, we have forged productive cooperative relationships for global problem-solving and the common good. We have put in place vital norms and agreements that codify and protect human rights, set ambitious goals for sustainable development and charted a path towards a more balanced relationship with the climate and the natural world. Billions of people have emerged from the yoke of colonialism. Millions have been lifted out of poverty.
Today, day in and day out, around the clock, around the world, the United Nations is helping to save millions of lives every year. Women and men of the United Nations are assisting 80 million refugees and displaced people and enabling more than 2 million women and girls to overcome complications from pregnancy and childbirth. Over 40 political missions and peacekeeping operations comprising 95,000 troops, police and civilian personnel strive to bring and keep the peace and to protect civilians. Our electoral assistance now extends to 60 countries each year, and our help for victims of torture reaches 40,000 people. Some 7,500 monitoring missions every year seek to protect human rights, make violations known and hold perpetrators accountable.
Yet these efforts have not been enough to hold back the tides of fear, hatred, inequality, poverty and injustice. Moreover, early in 2020, we were brought to our knees by a microscopic virus: the virus responsible for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has taken a horrific toll on individuals, communities and societies, with the most vulnerable disproportionately affected.
Secretary-General António Guterres speaks to students at Lahore University of Management Sciences on the role of youth in the United Nations of the twenty-first century (Lahore, Pakistan, 18 February 2020)
The pandemic has demonstrated the fragility of our world. It has laid bare risks ignored for decades: inadequate health systems; gaps in social protection; structural inequalities; environmental degradation; the climate crisis.
The United Nations family mobilized quickly and comprehensively, leading on the global health response, continuing and expanding the provision of life-saving humanitarian assistance, establishing instruments for rapid responses to the socioeconomic impact and laying out a broad policy agenda in support of the most vulnerable communities and regions. But the setback to the fundamental Charter goals of peace, justice, human rights and development has been deep and may be long-lasting.
Building a more sustainable future
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the world was not on track to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by the target date of 2030. Now, we face the deepest global recession since the Second World War and the broadest collapse in incomes since 1870. Approximately 100 million more people could be pushed into extreme poverty. Already in its fifth year of implementation, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development remains humanity’s blueprint for a better future. In January 2020, the United Nations launched a decade of action to accelerate implementation; the COVID-19 pandemic has made the decade of action both more challenging and more urgent.
With the onset of the pandemic, the United Nations called for massive global support for the most vulnerable people and countries – a rescue package amounting to at least 10 per cent of the global economy. Developed countries have stepped up support for their own people, but we are promoting mechanisms of solidarity to ensure that the developing world will also benefit, including through a debt standstill, debt restructuring and greater support through the international financial institutions. This rescue package has yet to fully materialize.
This failure of solidarity compounds a much-longer-standing struggle to secure the financing necessary for the success of the 2030 Agenda, complicated by slow growth and high debt. We must act now to maintain progress made on sustainable development. We share a common fate. Only with true solidarity and unity will we achieve our shared goals and uphold our values.
COVID-19 also brought home the drastic need to rebalance the human relationship with the natural world. We were already approaching the point of no return on climate change. Recovery from COVID-19 must go hand in hand with climate action. With global emissions reaching record levels, I hosted the Climate Action Summit and the Youth Climate Summit in 2019. Seventy countries committed themselves to more ambitious national climate plans to reach net zero emissions by 2050. Beyond climate change, and after more than 15 years of intense efforts, the 2020 intergovernmental conference on marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction must now be the starting point for greater harmony with nature as a whole.
United to Reform
Implementation of the Secretary-General’s reform agenda across development, management, and peace and security is improving the ability of the United Nations to effectively and accountably deliver on its mandates.
Below are key accomplishments achieved to date and major ongoing changes that are part of the United to Reform agenda
- A new generation of UN country teams for more tailored support to countries
- A new Resident Coordinator system for strengthened leadership
- A Funding Compact with Member States with mutual-accountability targets
- Revised UN Cooperation Frameworks for more holistic responses to national priorities
- Unprecedented effort launched to strengthen the impact of UN regional assets and multi-country offices
- More transparency, accountability and oversight for results
- Ambitious measures under implementation to increase efficiency in UN country team operations
- Better UN country team capacity to help countries scale up financing and partnerships for the SDGs
Peace and Security Architecture
Enabling a whole-of-pillar approach to confronting threats to international peace and security
- A restructured peace and security architecture at Headquarters with joint regional teams
- Prioritized support for prevention and sustaining peace
- A stronger focus on regional approaches and regional strategies
- Integrated approaches to UN mission transitions and better alignment with UN country teams
- Decentralized operations through more delegation to managers, accompanied by extensive training
- A new accountability framework for the exercise of decision-making authorities
- Strengthened data analytics and evaluation capacities
- Two new management departments at Headquarters with clear roles and responsibilities
- New annual programme budget with better performance, planning and resource information
- Ongoing simplification of policies and processes, supported by a senior-level client feedback mechanism
A Call To Action For Human Rights
The COVID-19 pandemic hit at a time of widespread disregard for human rights. In February, we launched a call to action on human rights by which we committed ourselves to making human dignity the core of the Organization’s work, with a special focus on such areas as rights at the centre of sustainable development; rights in times of crisis; gender equality and equal rights for women; public participation and civic space; rights of future generations, especially climate justice; rights at the heart of collective action; and new frontiers of human rights. The pandemic immediately put these commitments to the test. Human rights formed a cornerstone of the United Nations response.
Raising our voices for peace
The pandemic is having profound social, economic and political consequences, and we must do everything possible to find the peace and unity that our world needs. There can be only one fight in our world today: our shared battle against COVID-19. That is why, on 23 March 2020, I issued an appeal for a global ceasefire, which has been widely endorsed by the Security Council, nearly 180 countries, more than 20 armed groups and 800 civil society groups. My special envoys and I are working together to establish effective ceasefires and overcome the legacy of long-lasting conflicts.
A participant of a townhall meeting greets a UN staff member. The townhall was held as part of the sixty-third session of the Commission on the Status of Women. (United Nations, New York; 12 March 2019)
Violence is not confined to the battlefield; it affects many women in their homes, where they may now be confined in lockdown or quarantine with their abusers. In April, I called for an end to violence against women everywhere. Some 146 Member States committed themselves to including violence prevention and response in their COVID-19 response plans.
UNITED NATIONS CLIMATE ACTION SUMMIT: 12 KEY OUTCOMES
- Ambitious national climate plans are needed to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050
- Public, private and accessible finance is key to net-zero emissions and climate resilient economies
- Focused discussion to end new coal-fired plants beyond 2020
- Nature-based solutions as economically viable options for climate action
- Climate risks must be integrated into decision- making systems
- Access to finance agreed for small island developing States to deliver on climate action
The critical role of cities for implementing national climate plans
Measures for increasing energy efficiency and reducing greenhouse gas emissions
Solutions proposed to support the most vulnerable members of society
Least developed countries are most impacted by climate change and most committed to climate action
Multi-stakeholder initiatives recognizing the benefits of climate action must leave no one behind
New partnerships on how net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 is possible
UNITED NATIONS DISABILITY INCLUSION STRATEGY: BRINGING ABOUT TRANSFORMATIVE CHANGE
The Strategy includes concrete benchmarks to accelerate and measure progress on disability inclusion
Montserrat Vilarrasa, Secretary of the Assembly of Human Rights and Member for Intellectual Disability at the City Council of Barcelona, speaking at the high-level meeting of women with disabilities in political and public leadership (New York, June 2019)
Achieving Gender Parity at the United Nations
- Gender parity at Headquarters
- Gender parity in field locations
Implementation of the Gender Parity Strategy has progressed well in UN Headquarters and most entities are on track to reach parity at each level
The Secretary-General achieved his 50/50 gender parity target among senior leadership in full-time Under Secretary-General and Assistant Secretary-General posts in January 2020, almost two years ahead of schedule
Challenges remain to reaching parity in the field, particularly in peace operations, where full attention of senior leadership will be focused on achieving the target of parity at every level in the Organization by 2028
As we emerge from this pandemic, we cannot go back to a world that was delivering only for the few. We need a new social contract within States and a new global deal between States. We need new global governance, rebalanced financial and trade systems, effective delivery of critical global public goods and decision-making guided by standards of sustainability. Our recovery from COVID-19 and our renewal of multilateralism must be based on fair globalization, on the rights and dignity of every human being, on living in balance with nature, on taking account of the rights of future generations and on success measured in human rather than economic terms.
These are not only the lessons of COVID-19. They are also the clear wish expressed in the worldwide consultation process for the seventy-fifth anniversary of the United Nations. People want a global governance system that delivers for them and is based on full, inclusive and equal participation in global institutions. I look forward to working with Member States and civil society to chart a way forward that allows us to jointly live up to these expectations.
As we build multilateral approaches, we also need stronger digital cooperation. Technology can turbocharge recovery from COVID-19 and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. My Road Map for Digital Cooperation promotes a vision of an inclusive, sustainable digital future for all.
Strengthening our Organization
As part of our efforts to revitalize multilateralism, we continued the implementation of an ambitious reform agenda to improve the effectiveness and accountability of the United Nations. New structures across the development, peace and security and management architectures of the Secretariat were established in 2019 to allow the Organization to respond more nimbly to emerging requirements and better cooperate across the pillars of its work. The new approaches introduced as part of these reforms have been validated through a trial by fire, as they allowed the United Nations to continue its critical work uninterrupted throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
Only an Organization that is inclusive and equitable will sustain us for the future. We have maintained gender parity among senior management, and we now have the highest number of women serving as heads and deputy heads of mission in our history. We are also working to build a more geographically diverse workforce. In March 2020, I launched the Geographical Diversity Strategy to improve the representation status of unrepresented and underrepresented Member States within the Secretariat. In 2019, I launched the first ever United Nations Disability Inclusion Strategy to raise the Organization’s standards and performance and enhance coordinated efforts to mainstream disability inclusion across the United Nations system.
In 2020, the Secretary-General launched a Data Strategy to build a ‘whole-of-UN’ data ecosystem and harness the power of data for the organization, people and planet.
To improve our fitness for the challenges of the twenty-first century, 50 United Nations entities jointly designed a data strategy as a comprehensive playbook for data-driven change. Data permeate all aspects of our work, and their power – harnessed responsibly – is critical to the global agendas that we serve.
The work and reforms of the Organization remain at risk of financial disruption. In 2019 the Organization faced its worst regular budget cash shortage in a decade, and the situation in 2020 may worsen further. Cash constraints are forcing us to prioritize our work on the basis of availability of funds, rather than programmatic priorities.
Secretary-General António Guterres with members of the Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB) (New York, November 2019)
As we grapple with the effects of COVID-19, we have an opportunity to build a more equal world. This means creating a new social contract – integrating education, employment, sustainable development and social protection – based on equal rights and opportunities for all. Social protection systems for the future must include universal health coverage and promote women’s employment and gender equality, investment in public services and economies that work for people and the planet.
We also need a global new deal in which global governance and financial and trade systems are rebalanced and decisions are guided by standards of sustainability, giving light to the aspirations in the 2030 Agenda. COVID-19 is a human tragedy, but it has also created a generational opportunity. Let us make the commitment to build back better, upholding the vision and resolve reflected in the Charter signed 75 years ago, which continues to guide our way forward together.