Background

Upon starting his tenure, the new Secretary-General outlined his strategic vision that seeks to revitalize the UN as the cornerstone of effective multilateralism and an instrument well-adapted to confront global challenges and generate collective action. In articulating the challenges and opportunities facing the UN today, he underscored the critical importance of “understanding global mega-trends”: multiple, evolving and mutually-reinforcing shifts of geopolitical, demographic, climatic, technological, social, and economic nature that were advancing at an unprecedented pace, creating, on one hand, unparalleled conditions for progress but, on the other, upending the established order, generating tensions, and changing the nature of threats. At its 33rd Session, HLCP engaged in a discussion on how best it can contribute to realizing these strategic visions and global priorities. Bearing in mind HLCP’s role as a think-tank for the UN system and its mandated perspective of system-wide policy coherence and programmatic coordination on global issues, this free-flowing retreat-style discussion scoped out prevailing global trends, identified key “frontier issues” of system-wide implications, and determined concrete areas of contributions and specific initiatives which HLCP was uniquely placed to pursue on.

Discussion

In its deliberations, HLCP drew on its past and ongoing efforts. The Committee had a solid track record in addressing global trends and frontier issues, including initiatives on: cybercrime and cybersecurity (UN System Internal Coordination Plan and Cybercrime and Cybersecurity, 2014); youth employment (Global Initiative on Decent Jobs for Youth, 2015); sustainable urbanization (2016); inequality (Shared Framework for Action on Equality and Non-discrimination, 2016); and the ongoing work on risk, resilience, and prevention and on climate change. The Committee acknowledged that these rapidly developing and converging new realities called for an urgent reexamination of the UN’s relevance and added value in the future world. There was consensus among HLCP members that the UN system needed to strategically position itself to fill the governance vacuum by providing the moral compass at the vanguard of changes and innovation. During the discussion, HLCP members identified five general categories of disruption: social, economic, ecological, technological, and political. HLCP acknowledged that most of these issues were interlinked and formed a complex network (or nexus) of inter-related and dynamic forces whose speed and trajectory were not always linear. Traditionally, the driving force behind innovations had been and continued to be the private sector. However, as technological change accelerated and expanded into ever greater “ungoverned/unregulated” territories, so did its potential to profoundly disrupt the established social, economic, political and cultural order. A striking commonality cutting across many of the frontier issues identified by HLCP as relevant for the UN system, was the diminished role and ability of governments, public institutions and international organizations to address and respond to the trends and changes unfolding around them and deeply affecting societies and their people. The Committee was unanimous in stressing the urgent need for global institutions to reinvent themselves to win back trust in multilateralism, universal values, and their continued relevance. It also acknowledged the importance of engaging and empowering young people, and especially women, in decision-making as imperative to ensure future stability, prosperity and peace.

Action

The Chair of HLCP requested the HLCP Secretariat to prepare, as an input to the Chair’s contribution to the discussions at the upcoming CEB session, a compilation of the key frontier issues of relevance to the entire UN system as identified by the Committee. As suggested by some members, based on the guidance emanating from the CEB session, the Committee might consider engaging in more in-depth examinations on particularly relevant issues, possibly before the scheduled 34th session of HLCP.