A pact for the future

The United Nations has big plans for the Summit of the Future in September 2024. A Pact for the Future aims to smooth the waters between the member states and, above all, give the 2030 Agenda a boost. Now the first draft has been published and the tussle begins.

Co-facilitators Germany and Namibia currently have the seriously tricky task of preparing the Summit of the Future, set for September 2024, for the United Nations (UN). On 26 January 2024, German representative Antje Leendertse and Namibian representative Neville Melvin Gertze also published the zero draft of the so-called Pact for the Future, which is due to be adopted by the Heads of State and Government in September. This draft forms the basis for all negotiations that will now follow, which will no doubt be lengthy and laborious, as the final version requires a consensus decision among UN members.

The Pact for the Future inherently builds on the SDG Summit from autumn 2023 and as such is part of the United Nations’ Our Common Agenda process, which began in 2021 (see also RNE statement “Our Common Agenda – Impetus for an inclusive and networked multilateralism for sustainable development”). A key aim of the summit is to strengthen international cooperation, which has been manifestly weakened by numerous global conflicts and events. The task at hand now is to reverse this weakening and restore trust, but also to reinforce multilateralism and prepare it for future challenges.

On this, the UN website says the following: “Unity around our shared principles and common goals is both crucial and urgent. The Summit of the Future is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to enhance cooperation on critical challenges and address gaps in global governance, reaffirm existing commitments including to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the United Nations Charter, and move towards a reinvigorated multilateral system that is better positioned to positively impact people’s lives.”

Scepticism and goodwill

It is a major undertaking that is bound to be viewed with scepticism by some of the member states. After all, on the one hand, everything agreed in the Pact for the Future is only morally binding, and on the other, there are a great number of obstacles that have to be cleared at once, not least overcoming the rifts that have arisen through current conflicts.

But one thing it is hoped will ease the scepticism is the fact that a follow-up process is already envisaged for the draft agreement. In other words, whatever is ratified in September cannot subsequently just fizzle out; instead, its implementation progress will be reviewed at the UN General Assembly in 2026. As well as a political chapeau, the zero draft has five chapters: 1. Sustainable development and financing for development, 2. International peace and security, 3. Science, technology and innovation and digital cooperation, 4. Youth and future generations, and 5. Transforming global governance.

Reforming global and regional financial institutions

“Many points in the draft are still quite vague and unambitious in terms of their purpose and target audience. It will now be the job of the countries to change that by September”, says RNE (German Council for Sustainable Development) member Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul. “From the Council’s perspective, three elements are particularly interesting: firstly, the suggestion to conduct a review of the so-called debt architecture – up to now, international financial institutions like the IMF had always bristled at the idea of the UN dealing with such issues. But now we can hope for better debt-relief proposals for countries in the Global South. Secondly, the multilateral development banks are also expected to deliver SDG reports moving forward – that is, on their progress towards realising the sustainability goals and the 2030 Agenda. And thirdly, a proposed UN sustainability council is to be discussed – that would be a powerful signal.” According to the zero draft, this council, even if it is not formally called that, will convene every two years, bringing together the G20 states and the financial institutions to keep the 2030 Agenda on track.

The text also proposes that the Global South should have a say in financial matters, which have thus far been decided predominantly by the North. Furthermore, this will now allow regional development banks to play a greater role in the global financial architecture – a position that also chimes with the recommendations of the German Council for Sustainable Development (see also RNE statement Financing the Transformation and Sustainable Development). “Given its soaring debt, the Global South now needs an ambitious, global safety net for financing sustainable development”, says Wieczorek-Zeul: “A reform of the global financial architecture would certainly be in the interests of the developing countries.”

A shared platform for emergencies

The Pact for the Future also addresses the Emergency Platform proposed by the UN Secretary-General. This provides for a platform to be developed that can provide emergency plans in the case of major shock events affecting multiple regions – such as the Covid-19 pandemic – so that member states can enact a quick, organised and coordinated response.

War and weapons, too, are given their share of coverage. “We recommit to the pursuit of a world free of nuclear weapons”, says the draft, while autonomous weapons systems are mentioned in more tangible terms: the draft declares the intention to “commit to concluding without delay a legally binding instrument to prohibit lethal autonomous weapons” – one of only a few very specific points in the zero draft of the pact. Rules governing the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in military conflicts are also to be developed.

So what happens next? Consultations with stakeholders from civil society are still underway until 12 February, after which the paper will be refined chapter by chapter with the involvement of the state actors.

“The Council for Sustainable Development will now push for an ambitious German position with the federal government departments. Plus, we will try to secure some more specific wordings on individual points”, says Wieczorek-Zeul on the future work of the RNE – not least with a view to the Summit of the Future in autumn of this year.