Making the Most of the Summit of the Future

Making the Most of the Summit of the Future

Lolwah Al-Khater and Brian Finlay | To shore up struggling multilateral governance institutions, the UN has planned a “Summit of the Future." For it to succeed, it will need to produce a meaningful Declaration on Future Generations, a comprehensive Global Digital Compact, and a New Agenda for Peace.

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By Lolwah Al-Khater and Brian Finlay*


Since early 2020, the number of people affected by hunger has risen by 150 million – a trend that has been exacerbated by the three Cs: conflict, climate change, and COVID-19. And when it comes to global threats, rising food insecurity is just the tip of the iceberg. As the recent failure of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference also showed, we urgently need new, innovative governance approaches and institutions if we are going to tackle our biggest challenges.

To improve the international community’s tools for managing enormous, complex global problems, the United Nations is planning to hold a Summit of the Future in September 2024, which will be preceded by a ministerial meeting in September 2023. Among other things, this intergovernmental process will highlight the need for more capable responses to the rising risks of nuclear war, runaway climate change, resurgent poverty, and threats to human rights.

Though no significant global problems will be solved overnight, the Summit offers a rare opportunity to achieve some high-profile near-term wins, and to strengthen the conditions for even more ambitious global-governance improvements in years to come. The hope is that the Summit will deliver three new global policy frameworks: a Declaration on Future Generations, a Global Digital Compact, and a New Agenda for Peace.

A DUTY OF CARE FOR ALL UN MEMBERS

In Rethinking Global Cooperation, a recent collaborative study from the Doha Forum and the Stimson Center, we offer several recommendations for realizing these instruments’ full potential. First, with the aim of establishing future generations’ well-being as a global public good, a Declaration on Future Generations should offer formal legal recognition of future generations’ rights, by establishing an explicit “duty of care” for all member states. Countries that shirk that duty could then be held to account.

Such changes would represent a continuation of recent progress toward recognizing the links between well-being, the environment, and rights. Earlier this year, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution declaring that access to a clean, healthy environment will now be considered a universal human right. Similarly, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development represents a large-scale mobilization of investment that will largely benefit future generations, as well as determining what opportunities today’s young people will have when they become adults.

"Rapid advances in technology pose new and growing risks to human rights – even as they create opportunities for development – we need a more holistic, networked, and multilateral approach to technological governance."

Second, because rapid advances in technology pose new and growing risks to human rights – even as they create opportunities for development – we need a more holistic, networked, and multilateral approach to technological governance. A Global Digital Compact could meet that need, provided it addresses the three dimensions of the technological lifecycle: innovation, infrastructure, and information.

In the first dimension, a new compact must ensure that technological development – from ideation and sourcing to creation and deployment – promotes public interests, safeguards environmental sustainability, and adheres to basic human rights norms. With respect to infrastructure, it should foster universal access to essential technologies and connectivity, and, in keeping with the 2030 Agenda, such infrastructure should be environmentally sustainable and secure. And when it comes to information, a digital compact should establish mechanisms to prevent the development or ownership of technology from adversely affecting human rights and to ensure that human rights standards apply equally online.

Finally, a new peace agenda should recapture the spirit of the original 1992 Agenda for Peace. We need more dynamic approaches to sustaining peace and promoting justice and security. This could mean developing new foresight capabilities, enhancing the role of country-level UN Resident Coordinators, creating a new UN Peacebuilding Commission audit tool, and updating disarmament agreements to address new technologies such as artificial intelligence.

To achieve greater inclusiveness in international peacebuilding, we recommend that the Women, Peace, and Security (2000) and Youth, Peace, and Security (2015) agendas be complemented with targeted investments in education and strategies to build trust and partnerships in regions plagued by violence and exclusion.

With multiplying crises, the world desperately needs imaginative thinking, skillful diplomacy, coalition-building, and courageous leadership in support of these and related proposals. We must do everything within our power to ensure that the Summit of the Future is a success.

On October 24, United Nations Day, global leaders will be encouraged to work together to overcome longstanding obstacles to progress toward a more sustainable, just, and peaceful world. By rethinking global cooperation through novel and lasting partnerships, we can ensure that “the future we want” becomes a reality for today’s young people and all those who come after them.


*Lolwah Al-Khater, Assistant Foreign Minister of Qatar, is the Executive Director of the Doha Forum. Brian Finlay is the President and CEO of the Stimson Center.