Motto: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them”. Albert Einstein

On 22-23 September 2024, the United Nations will host “The Summit of the Future: multilateral solutions for a better tomorrow”, an event that brings together Member and Observer States, UN agencies, other international organizations, NGOs, academic institutions, private sector and youth, with the aim to shape a new global consensus on what our future should look like.

The Summit of the Future was proposed in 2021 by the UN Secretary-General, in his “Our Common Agenda”. A year before, the world leaders had tasked Antonio Guterres to produce a report on how to tackle current and future challenges, and accelerate the implementation of The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals adopted in 2015. Our Common Agenda was the response, a vision on the future of global cooperation based on inclusive, networked, and effective multilateralism. It is one of the most far-reaching strategies ever produced by the UN.

Summits usually approve solutions to already known problems, but in the case of the Summit of the Future defining the problems is still under negotiation by the UN Member States. The negotiations’ outcome will be summarized in the “Pact for the Future”, an action-oriented document to be endorsed by the political leaders on 22-23 September 2024. Co-facilitated by Germany and Namibia, the “zero draft” of the pact was released on 26 January 2024, and received feedback from 83 states and almost 400 amendments from civil society. A revised version came on 14 May, with 52 proposals for action, structured in 5 chapters: Sustainable Development and Financing for Development; International Peace and Security; Science, Technology, Innovation and Digital Cooperation; Youth and Future Generations; and Transforming Global Governance. The work on the Pact for the Future is coordinated with two other interlinked processes: the Global Digital Compact (co-facilitated by Sweden and Zambia), and the Declaration on Future Generations (co-facilitated by Jamaica and the Netherlands).

In 2015, in a piece published by Huffington Post, I compared the 2030 Agenda with “Great Expectations”, Charles Dickens’ famous novel set in early Victorian England, in a time of great social changes. Dickens’s novel is about the desire of people for wealth and social development, and the eventual triumph of good over evil. The 2030 Agenda is not a novel, but it links the three dimensions of sustainable development (economic, social and environmental) to peace and security, the rule of law and access to justice. It is about how the good can triumph over the evil. This may also be true for the Summit of the Future.

Scheduled at a time of deep polarization and “polycrisis” (multiple crises taking place concurrently, with no single cause and no one-size-fits-all solution, and having a cumulative interaction bigger than their sum), this summit is seen a “once-in-a-generation opportunity“ to reset the multilateral system affected in recent years by several major global shocks, and reinvigorate international cooperation. With 4 plenary sessions and 270 speaking slots, it is no exaggeration to say that the Summit of the Future generates great expectations.

A significant number of the 52 actions proposed in the draft Pact for the Future are also priorities for the Council of Europe (CoE), which played a pioneering global role in developing standards on human rights, democracy and rule of law. CoE best practices can be useful on topics such as:  leave no one behind and full enjoyment of human rights by all (Actions 1 and 29); trust and social cohesion (Action 4); equal access to justice and respect of human rights (Action 5); gender equality and women empowerment (Actions 6 and 29); promote culture as an integral component of sustainable development (Action 7); combat climate change and protect the environment (Actions 8 and 9); cooperation and understanding between Member States (Action 14); combat transnational organized crime and illicit financial flows (Action 20), address the risks posed by information technology and artificial intelligence (Action 24); youth participation (Actions 34 and 35); and reform of the international financial architecture (Actions 43 to 47).

Three examples. 1. “The Reykjavik Declaration: United around our Values”, adopted on 17 May 2023 by CoE Heads of State and Government, underlines “the urgency of additional efforts to protect the environment, as well as to counter the impact of the triple planetary crisis of pollution, climate change and loss of biodiversity on human rights, democracy and the rule of law… A clean, heathy and sustainable environment is integral to the full enjoyment of human rights by present and future generations”. On 11 July 2024, at the UN High Level Political Forum (HLPF) in New York, CoE will co-organize (with the Lithuanian rotating presidency of CoE Committee of Ministers) a side event on Charting the way forward: Combating the impact of climate change on human rights”.

  1. The Summit of the Future will consider the need for deep reforms to make the international financial institutions more inclusive. For instance, action 47 of the Pact for the Future commits that “We will reform the international financial architecture so that it can meet the challenge of climate change.” The Council of Europe Development Bank (CEB) is the only multilateral financial institution with an exclusively social mandate, and an interesting laboratory of innovative ideas. On 7 June 2024, in Iceland, CEB Governing Board (where I represent Romania) held a debate on “The Reykjavik Declaration – Climate change, just transition and the role of the CEB”, followed by a visit to projects co-financed by CEB: Hellisheidi Geothermal Power Plant – which produces electricity and thermal energy for the city of Reykjavik, and Orca Carbon Capture and Storage facility – which captures carbon dioxide (CO2) directly from the air and stores it permanently as rocks in the earth’s crust.
  2. From healthcare to education, from climate action to food systems, the Artificial Intelligence (AI) is to the point to become an essential tool to build inclusive, green, sustainable economies and societies. But AI also creates risks to humankind, and a universal approach is needed. The CoE Framework Convention on Artificial Intelligence and Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law, adopted on 17 May 2024 – the first binding international AI treaty – is a global legal framework for the entire lifecycle of AI systems. It will be open for signature to all countries in the world, and therefore it may be a source of inspiration for the Global Digital Compact.

Speaking on 7 February to the UN General Assembly (UNGA) on priorities for 2024, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres remarked: “Looking ahead, at the Summit of the Future in September, we have a chance to shape multilateralism for years to come. And indeed, our world badly needs: reform of the Security Council; reform of the international financial system; meaningful engagement of youth in decision-making; a Global Digital Compact to maximize the benefits of new technologies and minimize the risks; an emergency platform to improve the international response to complex global shocks…”

There is a good chance that language on Security Council (SC) reform will be included into the Pact for the Future, sending a strong political signal about delivering such a reform in the future. The topic has been on Member States’ agenda ever since the establishment of the UN. The current configuration of the Security Council dates from 1965, when the number of non-permanent members was raised from 6 to 10.

In 1992, at the initiative of Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, UNGA established the Open-Ended Working Group to reform the Security Council, and in 1993 adopted the resolution on “equitable representation and an increase in the number of members in the Security Council”. In 2008, UNGA decision 62/557 on “initiating intergovernmental negotiations (IGN) in the form of an informal plenary meeting of the General Assembly” identified 5 priority issues in case of reform of the SC: categories of membership, question of the veto, regional representation, size of an enlarged SC and working methods, and relation between SC and the General Assembly. The IGN is considered the most complex element of the reform of UN system and, throughout the years of deliberations, several documents have been produced by successive Co-Chairs. During UNGA 71st session I had the privilege, together with my Tunisian colleague, to co-chair the IGN process and to submit for consideration by Member States the document “Elements of Commonality and Issues for Further Consideration on the question of equitable representation and increase in the membership in Security Council and related matters”.

One essential reason to convene the Summit of the Future is the youth. With increased fragmentation, tensions, conflicts, and accelerated triple planetary crisis, failing to act now will negatively impact future generations. We do not lack commitments to take youth into account, as there are nearly 400 UNGA resolutions explicitly citing future generations. What we lack is practical mechanisms and concrete steps to implement those commitments. In a brief on 9 March 2023 on “the needs of future generations”, the UN Secretary-General proposed the creation of an Envoy for Future Generations, a Political Declaration on Future Generations and an Intergovernmental Forum for Intergenerational Solidarity. Concerning the Emergency Platform, the idea was first mentioned in Our Common Agenda, as a “flexible and agile, inclusive and multi-stakeholder, interdisciplinary and multisector” instrument at the disposal on the Secretary-General, allowing him to quickly convene different actors in the face of major crises in the future, and improve the international response to global shocks. Other ambitious proposals in the Pact for the Future are on international peace and security, disarmament, governance of outer space, new and emerging technologies, and development spending.

Interdependence is the logic of the 21st century and therefore the Summit of the Future will only be successful if all UN Member States are genuinely on board. As John F. Kennedy once said: “Our problems are man-made, therefore they may be solved by man. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings”.

                                                                                                            Dr. Ion I. Jinga

Note: Opinions expressed in this article do not bind the official position of the author.