The United Nations (UN) forms a platform for 193 nations to work through their difficulties, including, most pressingly: climate change. But does the UN risk becoming increasingly incohesive and ignored? How can the UN adapt to ensure it equally impacts all nations? Could engaging the world’s youth be key to the UN’s and our future?
Lara Louise Bevan-Shiraz asserts that the UN is essential and an upgrade is possible if the UN becomes an independent, democratic organisation, empowering and facilitating youth to become activist citizens driving interconnected solutions.
The North Pole, central to both the UN logo and life on this planet, is burning; the UN’s leadership on climate change is sorely needed to keep people and policymakers engaged. Holding a unique space for the world to meet and work through its problems, the UN’s successes are wide ranging: from eradicating smallpox, to closing in on polio, to its work combating HIV/ AIDs, to its reduction of infant and child mortality, to its war crimes tribunals investigating Yugoslavia and Rwanda, to the World Food Program, to its negotiations enabling democratic voting and the acceptance of refugees, to helping countries transition to peace.
In 2015, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) brought the UN renewed relevance, with all 193 countries agreeing to achieve 17 transformative goals by 2030. It was a high point, as was the Paris Agreement, the same year, signed by 197 nations. Just three years on, however, the Donald Trump administration of the USA has officially notified the UN that they intend to withdraw from this landmark climate accord from 2019, and, in July 2018, the US withdrew from the UN Human Rights Council. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Science and Security Board have set the Doomsday Clock at two minutes to midnight, representing imminent global catastrophe, reflecting the impending climate disaster, and risks of global nuclear war, biological or technological harm.
We need a UN that is forward thinking and can impact countries equally. The economic and geopolitical power structures that were necessary to hold peace after WW2 are changing. These shifting power dynamics afford us an opportunity to challenge the right of larger powers to dominate at all; smaller nations, observer and non-member states must not go unheard.
Steven Hawking defined “Intelligence” as “the ability to adapt to change”. Abolishing the power of veto, reforming and eradicating any kind of hegemony in the Security Council, and electing Secretary Generals without P5 vetting could be paths forward for the UN, but in order to do so, the UN needs to become independent and democratic. Currently, over 62% of UN funding comes from the US, Japan and EU Countries, which also reflects unbalanced influence. Adaptation is particularly required in the sphere of peacekeeping, since the UN has limited direct authority at present to ensure peace, unless the P5 agree. In terms of direct action and prevention of war, genocide and nuclear proliferation, as well as climate change, the UN has soft powers to draw on that are not being creatively used as yet.
Young people are concerned and connected: 42 percent of the world’s people are under the age of 25, with most living in emerging and developing economies, directly affected by and seeking to engage with the issues we face.
- What if the UN created a global youth network of UN Peacemakers? Collaborating via an online platform, creating or partnering with existing makerspaces, youth could engage in international teams working on STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) challenges pertaining to the SDGs, alongside Hackathons for Peace, Human Rights and Justice. The solutions generated could then be presented to policymakers, via the Model United Nations, where students currently role play diplomacy, thus upgrading it to give youth a democratic voice about matters affecting our future.
- What if the UN developed a World Idea Bank? Open source and visually mapping the interconnectedness of issues, collecting data and ideas in one place; it would allow people all over the world, in all demographics, to contribute.
It took a team of linguists as well as mathematicians to solve the Enigma code, of which 80 percent were women; I feel the UN’s impact would be greater if it recruited with even more diversity. We really need to get cracking with solutions for our climate and to attain the SDGs. We do not have time to waste! I also believe that there should be greater neurodiversity at the UN since neurotypical people haven’t cracked the code alone yet and there are plenty of neurodiverse hackers for good out there!
The UN needs interdisciplinary social and political polymaths from all walks of life, with un-preconditioned thinking, who are respectful and tuned in to what everyone brings to the table. We need all eyes like laser beams focused on finding a solution for climate change and harmonising the world’s peoples through alignment with the SDGs. For, as Bill Drayton says:
If everyone is a changemaker, there’s no way a problem can outrun a solution.
To read up on the Arctic wildfires, please click the following links: