A United Nations summit in 2020: Landing pad or launch pad?

Press Briefing by Ms. Mar’a Fernanda Espinosa GarcŽs, President of the General Assembly

The UN2020 initiative is a civil society-led consortium calling for a United Nations 75th anniversary next year that includes a meaningful process of stocktaking, renewal and reforms that strengthen the organization.

The campaign is led by the World Federalist Movement and a growing network of civil society partner organizations that includes Democracy Without Borders. On the basis of consultations in 2017 and 2018 with governments, UN secretariat officials and NGO colleagues, there is now a growing recognition not only of the current challenges facing multilateralism, but also the need for a dedicated, General Assembly process that builds upon present and ongoing Secretary-General-led reforms to generate international support for a more robust and coherent UN system, one that is better able to respond to the challenges of the 21st century.

This goal was dealt a setback in August last year when a proposed General Assembly resolution (in the context of the Ad Hoc Working Group on GA Revitalization, AHWG) failed to generate consensus around language that “called for timely preparations for the seventy-fifth anniversary of the United Nations.” Opposition came from Algeria, Indonesia and some other members of the Non-Aligned group of states.

The failure to obtain agreement on a mandated preparatory process for 2020 also led to a loss of time. Often it is the case with UN conferences that these preparatory processes, with discussions regionally, in national capitals as well as at the UN, and including involvement of civil society, provide the necessary political momentum for successful multilateral negotiations. The 2015 Sustainable Development Goals and the recent Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration are two recent examples.

Now, with less than two years before a proposed 2020 Summit, there are questions regarding the possibilities and scope of any 2020 outcome that would lead to reform and renewal of the UN system. This gives rise to the “landing pad vs launch pad” debate. Will 2020 be a landing pad for world leaders to adopt agreed measures for renewing the UN system? Or will the summit outcome provide a launch pad for additional discussions in the years following on ways to improve and strengthen the system?

Recent developments

Popular support for a UN2020 Summit continues to grow. Some noteworthy recent developments include:

A resolution in August 2018 adopted by over 1,100 organizations at the 2018 UN NGO / DPI conference included a recommendation to Member States to “Advance people-centered multilateralism by developing proposals to revitalize the United Nations on the occasion of its 75th anniversary in 2020.”

A resolution adopted at the October 2018 meeting of the World Federation of United Nations Associations calls on “All United Nations Associations and WFUNA to join the call for a UN2020 summit to serve as a catalyst for fundamental renewal, reform and strengthening of the UN system . . .”

“Together First,” led by UNA-UK, was launched in November 2018 at the Paris Peace Forum. Supported by the Swedish Global Challenges Foundation, Together First is a worldwide network of scholars and activists, generating substantive proposals for strengthening global governance and the United Nations.

Spanish foreign minister: 2020 a good time to discuss institutional changes

In December 2018, Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell, writing in El Pais, said that “We support the Secretary-General’s efforts to make the UN a more useful tool in the fulfilment of its goals. In 2020 the UN turns 75 years old. That may be a good time to discuss at a summit some institutional changes needed to enhance the legitimacy and effectiveness, such as Security Council reform, to make it more representative and to limit the use of the vetoes of the great powers, or the establishment of a Parliamentary Assembly, thereby strengthening the role of civil society and the democratic dimension of the multilateral system.”

Over 70 civil society representatives participated in the “UN2020 Information, Organization, and Strategy Meeting: Responding to Multilateralism in Crisis” that took place in New York in October 2018. The meeting set the direction for the UN2020 campaign’s support to civil society mobilization in 2019 and 2020.

In a statement adopted at its inaugural meeting in November 2018, the new Parliamentary Group for a UN Parliamentary Assembly said that the 75th anniversary of the UN “must be used as an opportunity to take stock and initiate far-reaching reforms, including the establishment of a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly.”

General Assembly resolution needed

Following last summer’s failure of the AHWG resolution to deliver a mandate for a UN2020 process, there is a need now for a stand-alone General Assembly resolution. At a meeting with NGOs on December 5thin December, the President of the General Assembly, Maria Fernanda Espinosa Garcés said that her first priority is the revitalization of the UN, to make it fit for purpose, and that she has begun consultations with a number of Member States about the need to begin preparations for the 75th UN anniversary summit.

In the meantime, Ms. Espinosa has appointed two co-facilitators, Ambassadors Gafoor from Singapore and Ellertsdottir from Iceland, to guide General Assembly deliberations for a resolution on modalities relating to the 75th anniversary event.

Following a decision on modalities for the Summit (expected by the end of May 2019), the UN2020 campaign looks forward to working with Ms. Espinosa, and the co- facilitators that will subsequently guide discussions on a substantive declaration for the proposed UN Summit in 2020.

Image: María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, President of the 73rd General Assembly at a press conference. At left is Monica Grayley, Spokesperson for the President. UN Photo/Manuel Elias

Fergus Watt
Executive Director of WFM-Canada and coordinator, UN2020 Initiative