Emerging Challenges to Multilateralism: A Parliamentary Response
Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks at the Inter-Parliamentary Union-United Nations Annual Parliamentary Hearing on 21 February:
I attach great importance to the close ties between the United Nations and the Inter-Parliamentary Union, and to the key role played by parliamentarians.
As a former parliamentarian, I have felt the heavy responsibility of representing people and trying to advance their aspirations. Over the span of a quarter-century, I was elected to Parliament seven times, serving as Prime Minister for six-and-a-half years, in an essentially parliamentarian regime. During this rich period of my life I saw first-hand the essential role played by parliamentarians in modern societies.
Parliaments can be bastions of democracy, and crucial links between the national and the global. Through legislation and spending decisions, parliamentarians can contribute significantly to the Sustainable Development Goals, to the 2030 Agenda of sustainable development in the world.
Yet, parliaments are still largely a sphere dominated by older men. The world needs more women parliamentarians, and more young parliamentarians. I was elected when I was 26.
Today, we live with a paradox: global challenges are more connected, but our responses remain fragmented. The global economy is growing but slowing, and there are dark clouds on the horizon, including trade tensions, rising debt and instability in financial markets.
Globalization and technological progress have led to remarkable advances. But they have also generated increased inequality, especially within countries. People, sectors and regions are being left behind, creating a sense of frustration.
This in turn has been a factor in reducing trust in Governments, in political establishments, and in international organizations, like the United Nations itself. It is our duty in parliaments and in the United Nations to re-establish trust.
We no longer live in a bipolar or unipolar world, but neither are we yet in a multipolar world. We are in a chaotic situation of transition. We are witnessing a multiplication of conflicts which have local origins and dynamics, but also at times becoming regionalized and internationalized, intertwined in some cases with the threat of transnational terrorism. These peace and security dynamics are also at play “on-line” in cyberspace.
Multipolarity might be a factor of equilibrium but it is not a guarantee of peace and security. Europe was multipolar before the First World War, but in the absence of robust multilateral mechanisms of cooperation and governance, we had not one but two world wars, starting in Europe.
I am a multilateralist. I am deeply convinced that there is no other way to deal with global challenges than with global responses, organized in a multilateral way.
But, we need a networked multilateralism, which features today close cooperation of the United Nations with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), regional development banks and other entities such as the World Trade Organization, and with regional bodies such as the African Union, the European Union, the Arab League, the Organization of American States and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
And we need an inclusive multilateralism, in which not only executive branches are part of the system, but in which, more and more, the business community, civil society, academia, and, yes, parliaments, are part of the way we together analyse problems, define strategies, design policies and then implement those plans.
The most important systemic risk we face today is climate change. The reality is proving worse than scientists had foreseen. Climate change is running faster than we are – and political will unfortunately is slowing down.
Another important test of our cooperation is migration and the uncoordinated movement of people.
Multilateralism is also under pressure from the growth in populist and nationalist voices.
Yet, Governments and intergovernmental organizations alone cannot deal with climate change, migration, regionalized and internationalized conflicts, the Fourth Industrial Revolution or other key challenges.
It’s time to show people that multilateralism can deliver. It is not enough to say we need multilateralism. We need also to understand the grievances and get at the root causes of why large sectors of the population in different parts of the world today feel abandoned. We need to
show people that we care and that we have not forgotten or forsaken them. We need to show that politics is a noble undertaking and not merely the pursuit of power. We need to demonstrate that our ideas, policies and programmes aim at solving their problems.
Our platform for a fair globalization is the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. To show the benefits of multilateralism we must also show the added value of the United Nations.
Here, fortunately, we have some good news. Our surge of diplomacy for peace is bringing results, including the recent ceasefire in Hodeida, in Yemen, the agreements in South Sudan and the Central African Republic and, earlier this month, a resolution of the name issue between Greece and what will henceforth be known as the Republic of North Macedonia.
We continue as the United Nations to deliver massive amounts of humanitarian aid, reaching 100 million people in 40 countries last year alone. In December, it was possible to adopt the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.
And, on climate change, in Katowice, to be able to beat the odds and approve the work programme of the Paris Agreement. It showed that it is still possible to bring together different countries with different views and agree on the basis to move forward. Katowice was an important step but it’s time for more ambition and a greater sense of urgency.
It’s also time to reform global institutions, including the United Nations. We have launched the robust programme of reform across the development system, in management, on gender parity, in peace and security, and on sustainable development. It aims at better coordination, simplification of procedures, decentralization, transparency, and accountability.
We are committed to providing value for the money that taxpayers entrust to the United Nations and is decided by parliaments around the world. The United Nations needs to be able to deliver better and better. We need to do even more in 2019.
Recognizing that climate change is still moving faster than we are, I will convene a Summit in September to mobilize action, partnerships, financing and, above all, ambition – ambition in mitigation, in adaptation, in financing, and innovation.
On the Sustainable Development Goals, developed countries must deliver on the promise and pledges of the Addis Ababa Action Agenda. Financing is critical, but so also is good governance and oversight, and in oversight parliaments play a critical role.
On gender equality and the empowerment of women, we plan to build on recent milestones – indeed gender parity in the Senior Management Group and among Resident Coordinators is
already a reality, but we need to build on that to create a working environment free of harassment; encourage the increase in meaningful participation of women in peace processes; and fight discrimination, which remains shockingly pervasive across the world.
On migration, we will take forward the landmark Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.
On peace and security: we will build on recent gains to save lives and reduce suffering, and continue our work to prevent, mediate and resolve conflicts, using all the tools that the United Nations has at its disposal.
On new technologies and their impact, my High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation will report in the months ahead on how best to harness the benefits of new technologies and artificial intelligence while safeguarding against the risks.
On human rights, we will work to tackle the rise of hate speech, xenophobia and the poisonous views that are penetrating political debates and polluting the mainstream. I have asked my Special Adviser for the Prevention of Genocide to bring together a United Nations team to define a system-wide strategy and present a global plan of action against hate speech.
In all of these endeavours, I ask for your support, as the legislative branches of your Governments, as political leaders in your countries, and as partners in advancing our common global goals.