Geneva Dialogue on the UN 'Pact for the Future’

The South Centre and the Transnational Institute organized on 11 April of 2024 in Geneva a pivotal dialogue on the expected outcomes of the forthcoming United Nations (UN) Summit of the Future. The dialogue was specifically designed to allow International Geneva to dissect and exchange ideas on the ongoing negotiation process towards the 'Pact for the Future'.


Article by

Daniel Uribe
Geneva Dialogue on the UN 'Pact for the Future’

South Centre

Geneva Dialogue on the UN 'Pact for the Future’ on 11 April 2024.

The dialogue brought together representatives from developing countries, scholars, researchers, and civil society organisations (CSOs) in a collective effort to deliberate on the Summit's objectives and the proposed outcome document.

The agenda of the dialogue encompassed some aspects of the “Pact for the Future,” with speakers offering insights on specific chapters:

i. Sustainable Development and Financing for Development: Examining developing countries’ challenges

ii. Science, Technology, and Innovation: Identifying the needs and priorities of developing nations in harnessing technological advancements

iii. Transforming Global Governance: Assessing the effectiveness of the proposed measures in strengthening multilateralism amidst contemporary crises

The dialogue, featuring an open debate among participants, fostered a rich exchange of perspectives and ideas. The panellists' remarks underscored the significance of collaborative efforts, including those in the audience, in shaping the future of global governance.

An Update of the Progress Towards the Pact of the Future

As negotiations for the Summit of the Future intensify, H.E. Ambassador Julia Imene-Chanduru, Permanent Representative of the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Namibia to the United Nations Office and other International Organizations in Geneva, provided a comprehensive update on the status of the negotiations on the Pact of the Future, in which Namibia is acting as co-facilitator. With a focus on inclusivity and forward-looking initiatives, the Summit should address key global challenges and advance the implementation of the Agenda 2030 for a better and more sustainable future. She noted that discussions with member states and international organisations in Geneva helped to broaden the scope of the expected outcome. The Pact of the Future structure, currently under discussion in New York, encompasses five critical chapters covering sustainable development, international peace and security, science and technology, youth empowerment, and global governance.

In addition, Amb. Imene-Chanduru noted that two interlinked processes—the Global Digital Compact and the Declaration of Future Generations—are underway. These initiatives, co-facilitated by Sweden, Zambia, Jamaica, and the Netherlands, aim to ensure, on the one hand, digital access and an appropriate global digital governance and, on the other, enhance the sustainability of the United Nations decisions in the long term. The monumental task of consolidating the feedback from member states and civil society has resulted in a comprehensive document, growing from 18 to 242 pages. The upcoming UN Civil Society Conference in Nairobi will provide an opportunity for further reflection and input, with co-facilitators engaging with civil society to ensure their voices are heard.

Despite the complexities of the negotiation process, the second draft’s reading has fostered convergence on many issues, deepening understanding between delegations. A strategic, action-oriented outcome document, approximately 20 pages long, is envisioned to uphold previously agreed commitments and reinvigorate multilateralism.

With multiple readings planned in the coming months, including engagement with civil society and high-level discussions, the co-facilitators remain committed to producing a document reflecting UN member states' diverse priorities. Encouraging active participation from Geneva-based missions ensures key issues are reflected in the final document.

Amb. Imene-Chanduru recognised that the ultimate goal of the Summit of the Future is to transform future challenges into opportunities, instilling hope and promise for a more sustainable and inclusive global future.

Collaborative Efforts Towards the Pact of the Future

While welcoming participant delegations, Prof. Carlos Correa, Executive Director of the South Centre, noted that the Summit of the Future will convene countries to address critical global governance issues and foster dialogue and possible consensus on key topics that shape the international landscape.

Prof. Correa highlighted the importance of convening the dialogue and cooperation in addressing pressing global challenges. Over recent years, concerted efforts have been made to delve into crucial matters of global governance, including negotiations on the pandemic treaty in the World Health Organization, the work of the World Intellectual Property Organization and the Biodiversity Convention.

These examples showcase that some of the discussions concerning the Pact of the Future have extended beyond New York. They also underscore the significance of international collaboration in addressing complex issues. Likewise, attention was drawn to Vienna, where discussions on the international regime for investment are underway.

Central to the Summit of the Future’s agenda is the Global Digital Compact, designed to address the digital economy's challenges while ensuring equitable participation from developing nations. Prof. Correa emphasised the need to adequately consider the human rights perspective in this discussion to bridge gaps and ensure inclusive outcomes. Reflecting on recent research and contributions of the South Centre, Prof. Correa pointed out the need to ensure that developing countries' voices and interests are represented in the future of global governance.

In closing, Prof. Correa thanked participants and urged continued collaboration towards a more inclusive and equitable global governance framework to meaningfully reshape the global governance landscape.

H.E. Ambassador Prasith Suon, Permanent Representative of the Permanent Mission of the Kingdom of Cambodia to the World Trade Organization and International Organizations, noted that the world is facing several serious challenges, including unilateralism, climate change, technological disparities, and increasing regional and international tensions.

Amb. Suon focused on the need for a collective approach to mitigate these challenges, emphasising on bridging the digital divide and curbing economic protectionism that disproportionately affects developing nations. He also highlighted the need for donor countries to fulfil their commitments to official development assistance, alongside the importance of environmental conservation and sustainable development.

Drawing from personal experience, Amb. Suon stressed the transformative impact of peace on development, citing examples from his own country's history of overcoming war and genocide. Stressing the interdependence of peace and development, he underscored the importance of multilateralism and peaceful dispute resolution in achieving global stability and progress.

As coordinator for the Group of 77 and China (G77+China) in Geneva, Amb. Suon called for greater unity among member countries to amplify their collective voice on the global stage. He recognised the significance of collaboration and commitment to addressing shared challenges that require concerted efforts towards a more peaceful, equitable, and sustainable future.

Amb. Suon concluded by recognising the complex interplay between global challenges and the imperative for collective action to address them effectively, underscoring the role of diplomacy in navigating the path towards a more prosperous and peaceful world.

The Pact of the Future Chapter on Sustainable Development and Financing for Development: Does It Respond to the Challenges of Developing Countries?

Prof. Yuefen Li, Senior Adviser on Finance for Development and South-South Cooperation of the South Centre, highlighted that government officials, international civil servants, academics, and civil society organisations have recognised that there is a disparity between the high expectations and ambition of the Summit of the Future's outcome and the current language included in the draft.

Prof. Li explained that the Summit of the Future needs to reflect on its historical context, particularly considering the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, and recent geopolitical tensions. These challenges have strained international governance structures and financial systems, increasing vulnerabilities of developing and least developed countries and reinforcing the need for reform.

Prof. Li stressed the deficiencies of the current international financial architecture, which, despite significant global challenges, has remained largely unchanged since post-World War II. She emphasised the disproportionate influence of certain nations within institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, calling for reforms to ensure fair representation for developing countries.

For Prof. Li, the escalating debt crisis in regions like Africa, where servicing costs divert crucial resources away from essential sectors like education and healthcare, is of particular concern. The size of developing countries' debt has ballooned significantly since establishing the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative in 1996, with Africa alone facing a staggering $1.1 trillion debt burden. This situation calls for comprehensive debt restructuring mechanisms and increased liquidity for developing nations. Reforming the quota system within international financial institutions and enhancing the representation of developing countries is also a critical priority for addressing systemic inequalities.

To address the daunting challenges, there is a need to promote a shared commitment to advancing solutions that uphold and promote equitable global governance. For example, reforming the Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) system to channel such reserves through debt restructuring mechanisms and increase liquidity for developing countries.

It is necessary to remain focused on translating rhetoric into concrete actions to confront the economic crisis the world is currently facing. For Prof. Li, the Summit of the Future could serve as a beacon of hope in pursuing a more just and sustainable future, where collaboration and solidarity prevail in addressing the most pressing issues of our time.

For Mr. Stefano Prato, Managing Director of the Society for International Development (SID), the Summit of the Future aims to reshape global governance and multilateralism. Still, there are concerns regarding its real implications and effects.

He explained that there is skepticism regarding the Summit of the Future’s overarching theme of reinventing multilateralism. Instead, for Mr. Prato, the Summit should have reaffirmed the traditional democratic processes within the United Nations. He noted that the current process seems inclined towards "networked multilateralism," arguing that the root of the problem lies in the roadblocks created by several member states that do not want to leave their grip on power, particularly on economic governance. For Mr. Prato, the Summit should focus on democratising economic governance, with the United Nations playing a much more substantial role in this process.

Mr. Prato voiced concerns about the process being a massive distraction that would end in non-concrete or actionable outcomes. This process seems flooded by proposals that will divert attention from critical negotiations towards reforming the international financial institutions. Mr. Prato highlighted that the process should avoid consolidating the power of the Group of 20 (G20) in the international financial architecture. Still, it should guarantee UN governance by shifting economic decision-making back to the United Nations and advocating for a more inclusive and democratic framework.

Central to his critique was the assertion that the true challenge in international financing lies not in monetary or policy matters but in governance. Mr. Prato called for a paradigm shift towards a new governance ecosystem centred around democratic discussions within the UN, highlighting the importance of initiatives such as the UN tax convention. While praising the efforts of the co-facilitators, Mr. Prato emphasised the need for a focused, streamlined approach to the Summit's proceedings. He cautioned against excessively long documents and advocated for clearer directives from member states regarding the Summit's outcomes.

Is the Chapter on Science, Technology and Innovation Identifying the Needs and Priorities of Developing Countries?

Mrs. Anita Gurumurthy, Executive Director and Senior Fellow of IT for Change, highlighted four crucial areas within the Science, Technology, and Innovation (STI) chapter of the Pact of the Future that require immediate attention. Mrs. Gurumurthy emphasised the critical importance of these aspects in ensuring the right to development for all.

For Mrs. Gurumurthy, the discourse surrounding digital public infrastructure inadequately acknowledges developing countries' constraints. The situation of infrastructure also considers financing foundational platforms for data and artificial intelligence (AI) infrastructure, which remains a pressing concern. A disproportionate reliance on private investment would fail to yield the desired outcomes.

She considered that the discussions should also consider the data sovereignty of developing countries, emphasising the need to address issues concerning the intellectual property and digital trade regimes. For Mrs. Gurumurthy, concerns regarding using trade secrets to monopolise data can hinder equitable access and innovation. Mrs. Gurumurthy highlighted that the current approach to equitable benefit sharing from data intelligence lacks emphasis on local innovation, as it prioritises global innovation over locally relevant solutions, necessitating a paradigm shift.

Mrs. Gurumurthy also mentioned that both the Pact of the Future and the Global Digital Compact have omitted references to the whole spectrum of human rights. Part of these efforts should be linked to data governance and eliminating harms, underscoring the importance of equitable distribution of data value, taxation, justice and equity on many other fronts.

Mrs. Gurumurthy also addressed the role of large technology corporations, the need to reconsider the dominance of private philanthropy in infrastructure development and a renewed focus on public financing through entities like the World Bank. She made an urgent call to address these gaps in the Science, Technology and Innovation chapter, including strengthening corporate accountability, recognition of digital sovereignty, and equitable development in the digital age.

For Mr. Daniel Uribe, Lead Programme Officer at the South Centre, the Global Digital Compact should be an opportunity to identify the complex interplay between technology, governance, and development. Mr. Uribe emphasised several key points, starting with the pressing need to address the disparity in access to digital infrastructure. He highlighted that while the developed world races ahead with quantum computing and AI, many developing nations struggle to access even basic 3G networks. For Mr. Uribe, planned obsolescence exacerbates this gap, perpetuating a cycle of dependency and debt for developing countries.

Likewise, he stressed the importance of capacity building and skills development. Despite private sector investments in developing countries, they still face limited knowledge sharing that hinders local innovation and participation in the digital economy. He also stressed the need for robust digital rights and governance frameworks, focusing on data ownership and privacy to control and benefit from their data.

Furthermore, for Mr. Uribe, there is a clear intersection between digital transformation and climate change, particularly the need to guarantee a just energy transition, ensuring that vulnerable communities aren't left behind in the digital revolution. Mr. Uribe also emphasised the role of international organisations like the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the World Trade Organization (WTO), and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in shaping digital governance. Additionally, emerging agendas, such as digital rights within the Human Rights Council, underscore the need for holistic approaches to inclusivity and democratisation in the digital age.

Finally, Mr. Uribe expressed the need to consider investment governance, particularly for developing countries. Investment frameworks should prioritise developing countries' strategic interests in digitalisation, ensuring they benefit from technology and knowledge transfer while safeguarding national security.

Does Chapter 5 on Transforming Global Governance Achieve Its Objective, Particularly Strengthening Multilateralism to Face the Current Poly-crisis?

Prof. Harris Gleckman, from the Transnational Institute, addressed the need to consider the real challenges that developing countries face in transforming current global governance. He highlighted the urgency of reevaluating existing structures to effectively tackle multifaceted crises ranging from climate change to economic inequality. Prof. Gleckman focused on the non-military facets of global governance and stressed that these elements have remained largely unchanged since their inception in the aftermath of World War II.

For Prof. Gleckman, there is still a stark difference between the changing global environment that characterises our current reality and the unchanging government systems in the mid-20th century. He also pointed out that new issues require completely reconsidering how global governance is structured. It should go beyond stopping conflicts and dealing with their consequences. While considering the past eight decades, Prof. Gleckman recognised that the world is witnessing unprecedented challenges ranging from food insecurity, gender equality, biodiversity loss, and climate change. Therefore, the existing governance mechanisms must adapt to address these contemporary issues.

One of the central pillars of discussion should be the long-standing call for a comprehensive review of the United Nations Charter, as outlined in Article 109, Prof. Gleckman recalled. Nonetheless, a conference for evaluating the UN Charter has not been materialised. Therefore, there is a need for a renewed commitment to revisiting and revitalising global governance structures in line with the UN Charter. In this regard, Prof. Gleckman discussed some key recommendations from a paper he produced with the South Centre and the Transnational Institute (forthcoming), which suggests institutional changes within the UN system, including the establishment of Security Council equivalents for non-military matters and the creation of specialised bodies to address economic security, human rights, and climate change matters.

For Prof. Gleckman, limiting multistakeholderism and networked multilateralism is highly relevant, as the UN should be leading efforts to address systemic issues in global governance. Likewise, he stressed that multilateralism should be strengthened rather than relying on a ‘decentralised network’ of solutions and forums. He also enumerated institutional reforms that encompass changes in intergovernmental consultation processes, specific rules’ amendments within the UN system, and enhanced collaboration between multilateral organisations.

He highlighted proposals to enhance the International Court of Justice’s (ICJ) role in promoting global justice and the need for specialised courts, including a dedicated court on environmental matters, a separate court for appeals related to debt restructuring, and an anti-corruption court. Furthermore, Prof. Gleckman mentioned the need for reforming consultative practices to better incorporate regional organisations into decision-making processes and civil society organisations to harness their expertise and facilitate their meaningful participation in shaping multilateral initiatives.

Prof. Gleckman considered exploring alternative working methods and decision-making processes that promote voting systems, ensure more effective decision-making within international institutions, and promote international cooperation. He also stressed that such mechanisms should include more cohesive and integrated approaches to global governance. Prof. Gleckman urged policymakers and stakeholders to consider and prioritise measures that can lead to tangible shifts in global power dynamics and explained that the forthcoming publication of the South Centre and the Transnational Institute offers a comprehensive roadmap for advancing transformative governance agendas.

An open dialogue with participants followed the panel discussion. Participants expressed gratitude for the insightful discussion and highlighted the importance of the negotiations of the Pact of the Future in New York, as well as the important role of the South Centre and the Transnational Institute in informing about these negotiations to developing countries in Geneva. One participant explained that the Group of 77 and China has established three working groups on climate change, digital economy, and financing for development and appreciated the valuable inputs from the discussion, emphasising the importance of promoting the role of Geneva’s chapter in the discussions in New York.

In addition, participants highlighted the role of the G77+China in advancing the development agenda, recognising the need to promote fair and sustainable financial mechanisms, technology transfer, inclusive education, affordable Internet access, data privacy, and reform in global governance to better reflect the interests of developing countries in the negotiations towards the adoption of the Pact of the Future, including the need for capacity building, technology transfer initiatives, and unity among developing countries to address common interests in the upcoming Summit of the Future.

In his concluding remarks, Prof. Carlos Correa emphasised the need for achieving a comprehensive reform that reflects the interests of developing countries and avoids fragmentation within the international system by taking a holistic approach to a reform of global governance. For Prof. Correa, efforts are still required to adequately reflect the interests of these countries in the global governance system. Given the importance of technology and the digital divide, he highlighted the need to increase research and support on these issues to advance the interests of developing countries within the framework of the United Nations reform. Prof. Correa concluded with assurances that the South Centre remains dedicated to facilitating dialogue and advocating for reforms that prioritise the needs and perspectives of developing countries.

Author: Daniel Uribe is Lead Programme Officer of the Sustainable Development and Climate Change Programme (SDCC) of the South Centre.

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