UN High-level Advisory Board renews hope for globalization

Expressing optimism, the United Nations High-level Advisory Board on Economic and Social Affairs urged UN DESA to focus and leverage its analytical work to restore confidence in globalization through strengthening multilateralism.

At its first meeting in New York on 9-10 July, the group of former heads of state, ministers, eminent economists, and social scientists commended UN DESA for convening the Advisory Board to address the most pressing challenges facing the world today.  For two days, the Board discussed a range of cross-cutting issues, including near term prospects and risks of the world economy, economic and social implications of frontier technologies, globalization, inequality and migration. They also shared their views on how UN DESA flagship publications can address sustainable development progress and challenges more effectively.

Opening the meeting, Liu Zhenmin, Under-Secretary General for Economic and Social Affairs, apprised the Board of UN DESA’s analysis of mega trends in globalization, frontier technologies, climate change, demographic shifts, migration and urbanization and their critical relevance for the 2030 Agenda, delineating several issues for the Board to deliberate. Mr. Liu also briefed the Board of the reforms he initiated, re-positioning DESA to strengthen the Department’s analytical work and better serve the interests of the Member States.

Other Board members, including Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, underscored the imperative of ensuring a true “win-win” outcome of globalization, rather than a “win-lose” situation, to restore credibility of multilateral processes. He highlighted UN DESA’s central role in presenting broader perspectives on many globalization issues. Compared with many other international institutions focused on a specific area of globalization, UN DESA can take a holistic approach towards dealing with all aspects of globalization, such as trade, finance, investment, migration, climate change etc.

The Board Members observed that trust in multilateralism was at an all-time low and UN DESA’s solid analytics and normative work, capturing average people’s concerns and proposing bold action, could help reinstate confidence in multilateralism. They underscored the need for UN DESA to address cross-cutting issues with large global spillovers, such as trade, investment, migration and climate change, which are not adequately covered by other international organizations. Jose Antonio Ocampo, former head of UN DESA, reminded that the UN was still the only institution with legitimacy and capacity to set global goals, norms and standards. The influence of global goals and standards may be more diffuse now than in previous decades but it has not weakened, he added.

Ricardo Lagos, former President of Chile, suggested that growing concerns of the middle class deserved more attention, particularly against the global backdrop of widening gaps between productivity and wages and rising income inequality. Technology, the Board recognized, has strong distributional effects and contributes to the “thinning” of the middle class. The focus on technology must not distract from the fact that a multitude of other factors, including rising market concentration and weakening of labour unions contributed to falling wages, rising inequality and shrinking of the middle class.

UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed, thanked the Board members on behalf of the Secretary-General António Guterres and urged them to focus their work to inform decision-making for Member States, taking into account global contexts and local realities. She briefed the Board on the on-going reform initiatives at the UN, aimed at making the organization fit-for-purpose for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Recognizing political sensitivity and constraints in inter-governmental deliberations, the Board urged UN DESA to take advantage of independent expert groups to inform and advise Member States. Jeffrey Sachs, a Columbia University Professor, drew attention to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a universally agreed framework to address many contentious issues, including inequality, migration and climate change. He encouraged UN DESA to embed its analysis in the SDGs framework, helping Member States identify implementation gaps and the way forward.

In his concluding remarks, Under-Secretary-General Liu thanked the members of the High-Level Advisory Board for their insightful and constructive contributions at the first meeting. Taking note of their many concrete suggestions, he assured the Members of UN DESA’s commitment to support and rejuvenate the multilateral process with robust and cross-cutting analytics of key issues to accelerate implementation of the 2030 Agenda.ó

About the High-level Advisory Board

Under the guidance of the Secretary-General, Under-Secretary-General of UN DESA established the High-level Advisory Board of 16 globally renowned experts in economic and social issues. The Board provides advice on economic and social issues in the broad context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It is scheduled to meet twice a year.

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