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Turning 75 and set for shaping the future of planet Earth


The world is facing challenges ranging from climate crisis and environmental degradation to nuclear weapons, deepening inequalities, rapid changes in populations, transformative impact of new technologies, and new forms and patterns of violence amongst others.

By Salam Rajesh

The United Nations turns 75 in 2021, signaling more than seven decades of shaping the future for the planet and all living beings thriving therein. ‘Shaping Our Future Together’ is the official release of the world body in its communiqué to the global audience as it reaches a milestone of seventy-five years of service for humanity and for the blue planet.

The United Nations’ Secretary-General António Guterres launched a yearlong UN75 Initiative in January 2020 to enable the world body to listen to the people it serves. Surveys and dialogues were initiated across the globe involving a multitude of stakeholders, and more than 1.5 million people from all 193 United Nations member States shared their hopes and fears for the future, and discussed how all actors, including the UN, can work together better to address the global challenges faced by the world today.

12 very significant commitments were adopted at the end of the year-long UN75 Initiative, reflecting the urgent need to revise the functioning of the world body and how it perceives the future to be. These commitments are: 01- Leave no one behind; 02- Protect our planet; 03- Promote peace and prevent conflicts; 04- Abide by international law and ensure justice; 05- Place women and girls at the center; 06- Build trust; 07- Improve digital cooperation; 08- Upgrade the United Nations; 09- Ensure sustainable financing; 10- Boost partnerships; 11- Listen to and work with youths; and 12- Be prepared.

These commitments are relatively important from different perspectives, including resolving conflicts at the ground and ushering in ways and means to ensure a safe, green and healthy planet by the year 2050 – a vision envisaged for the coming generations of humankind and all other life forms on earth. The SARS-CoV-2 virus that ravaged the world during 2020 has been a stark warning that unless preventive measures are taken up well in time, a worst-case scenario is in store for humans in future times. The UN75 commitments reflect on this scenario, with possible outcomes in the coming decades unless the world is ready to tackle a similar pandemic before it erupts. That is the message in its commitment No.12 (Be prepared).

The core issue on conflicts induced by so-said ‘developmental’ agendas is in focus in its commitments (No.03/04). The push by governments to introduce developmental projects in sensitive natural landscapes and biodiverse regions, such as the vital rainforests in the Amazon Basin and in South East Asia, and the peatlands in Europe and in Asia, has been some of the intense conflict zones with indigenous peoples and local communities resisting interventions with all their might and resources. International organizations concerned with environmental and human rights issues have also been lobbying with different forums of the UN to adopt resolutions that are binding on governments and major corporate.

The UN office puts it quite simply in its slogan for the UN75 Initiative: ‘Listening to people’s priorities for the future and their ideas for action’. Yet, it is powerful and stresses listening to people at the grassroots particularly to resolve issues that previously went unheeded by governments. The summary on the UN75 dialogues analyses the concerns and priorities brought forward by the world communities, more specifically by indigenous peoples whose lands are being ravaged by state interventions. Priorities are many and varied, such as, (1) the emphasis on leveraging the role of local authorities and communities in solving sustainable development challenges, and (2) formalizing the role of civil society in international monitoring and accountability processes of international agreements and standards administered through the UN.

An important aspect of the analysis is the stress laid on encouraging higher education institutions to engage more with local communities, supporting bottom-up participatory research on poverty, livelihoods and skills. Equally important is the thrust on establishing closer links between the scientific community and decision-makers across countries. This is significant from the point of view on reduction of conflicts of interest between states and communities generated by the conventional top-down model of business adopted by governments in most cases. The bottom-up approach in project conceptualization and designing has long been argued for by civil society organizations and communities to ensure rationality in implementing developmental agendas. More importantly, the argument is that the bottom-up approach can reduce conflicts when there is mutual understanding on how the project designs can benefit everyone amicably.

The UN75 dialogues were open to everyone, assessing the opinion of governments, politicians, academics, scientists, civil society organizations, indigenous people and local communities. The dialogues provided an opportunity to people from all walks of life to actively participate in discussions with greater details on their priorities and concerns for the future, as well as in finding solutions to global challenges, and to foster trust, partnerships amongst states and the people, and in engaging on achievable actions.

Edelman’s survey of 36 developing countries found that six in ten respondents believed that the UN has made the world a better place, while 74 percent of respondents agreed that the UN is an essential organization for helping to tackle the biggest issues the world faces today, with the strongest views of support for the UN’s role coming from Eastern and South-eastern Asia (85%), and Central and Southern Asia (82%). The survey analysis interestingly find that the majority of respondents believed that international cooperation is essential (52%) for addressing global challenges, while a third believed it is very important (34%), and another 11% believed it is fairly important. Just 3 percent of the respondents said that international cooperation is not important.

The world has faced challenges ranging from climate crisis and environmental degradation to nuclear weapons, deepening inequalities, rapid changes in populations, transformative impact of new technologies, and new forms and patterns of violence amongst others. As UN secretary-general António Guterres said, the UN75 initiative was an opportunity “to provide as many people as possible the chance to have a conversation with the United Nations; to share their hopes and fears; to learn from their experiences; to spark ideas for building the future we want and the United Nations we need”.

The analysis of the year-long survey and assessment of people’s opinions on future outcomes, reinforced by the 12 commitments adopted in the process, is largely seen as the “silver lining amongst the dark clouds” in addressing pressing issues across regions and continents. The pandemic has thrown open a whole new vista of opinions and perspectives on how the world grasps the implication of dangers from disrespect of nature and the human folly committed by over-exploitation of the natural resources, biological diversity and the wildlife.

(The writer is a media professional and an environmentalist. He can be reached at [email protected])

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