by Mona Juul, seventy-fifth President of the Economic and Social Council and Permanent Representative of Norway to the United Nations.
This year we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Charter of the United Nations, written and signed during a period of great global change. Today, the world is again shifting beneath our feet. Yet, the Charter remains a firm foundation for our joint efforts.
These uncertain times of global disruption shine a light on the interdependences of our world. The COVID-19 pandemic, and the inequality it has exposed, are a global challenge that we must solve through global solutions. These solutions call for more, not less, cooperation across national borders.
Global cooperation is the enduring promise of the Charter of the United Nations. I am honoured to preside over the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), one of the principal organs of the United Nations, at its 75th anniversary.
In January 1946, 18 members gathered for the inaugural meeting of ECOSOC under the leadership of its first President, Sir Ramaswami Mudaliar of India. ECOSOC was vested with a powerful mandate, to promote better living for all by fostering international cooperation on economic, social and cultural issues.
The Charter recognizes the value of social and economic development as prerequisites for stability and well-being. Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld once said that “while the Security Council exists primarily for settling conflicts […] the Economic and Social Council exists primarily to eliminate the causes of conflicts.”
For me, this is a reminder that sustainable peace and prosperity rely on global solidarity and cooperation.
Today, this unity of purpose to reach those furthest behind first is also the spirit of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The 2030 Agenda is our shared road map to transform the world as we recover better, protect our planet and leave no one behind. With ECOSOC serving as the unifying platform for integration, action, follow-up and review of the SDGs, our promise to eradicate poverty, achieve equality and stop climate change must drive our actions.
ECOSOC has the unique convening power to make this happen. It brings together valuable constituencies such as youth and the private sector to enhance our work and discussions. ECOSOC also remains the gateway for civil society engagement with the United Nations. Civil society has been central to progress on international economic, social and environmental cooperation, from the small but critical number of organizations present in San Francisco when the Charter was signed in 1945, to the 5,000-plus non-governmental organizations with ECOSOC consultative status today.
The Charter also outlines that ECOSOC should promote universal respect and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion. While much has shifted in our world, this mandate remains just as important today as in 1945. After all, human rights are a part of the foundation of the United Nations, quite literally. When Trygve Lie, the first Secretary-General and fellow Norwegian, laid the cornerstone of United Nations Headquarters at Turtle Bay in October 1949, it contained, together with the Charter, a copy of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Human rights have always been a part of the work of ECOSOC. The Human Rights Commission was one of the first functional commissions created within ECOSOC and was charged with drafting the Universal Declaration. Today, ECOSOC remains committed to playing its part to promote all rights: civil and political, as well as economic, social and cultural rights.
In stark contrast to the 18 men who formed the first meeting of ECOSOC in 1946, I am proud to be the third consecutive female president of ECOSOC and one of five female presidents in its 75-year history. Although slow, this is progress, especially compared to 1945, when out of the 850 international delegates that convened in San Francisco to establish the Charter of the United Nations, only eight were women, and only four of them were signatories to the Charter. Today, the Secretary-General has achieved gender parity in all senior United Nations positions, and the Commission on the Status of Women is perhaps the highest profile part of the work of ECOSOC. The Commission’s annual session is instrumental in promoting women’s rights, documenting the reality of women’s lives throughout the world and shaping global standards on gender equality and the empowerment of women.
ECOSOC must work to place gender equality at the heart of all our work. Women’s rights and gender equality are imperative to a just world. In all my endeavours, I strive to promote and advance these rights with a vision of a more prosperous, peaceful and fair world, for the benefit of women and girls—and men and boys alike.
Before the current crisis, more people around the world were living better lives compared to just a decade ago. More people have access to better health care, decent work and education than ever before. Nevertheless, inequality, climate change and the lasting negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are threatening to undo these gains. While we have technological and financial resources at our disposal, unprecedented changes will be needed to align resources with our sustainable development objectives. The United Nations must remain at the forefront of our collective efforts guided by our commitment to the Charter.
The true test of our success will be whether persons, communities and countries experience improvement in their lives and societies. The United Nations must be of value to people. To our family. To our neighbours. To our friends. Unless we achieve this, our credibility is at stake.
As we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Charter of the United Nations, let us remind ourselves of the promise it embodies, to help the world become a more prosperous, just, equitable and peaceful place.
To me, the opening words of the Charter, “WE THE PEOPLES OF THE UNITED NATIONS”, are a humble and empowering reminder of our capability to overcome current and future challenges. Even in troubling times, there remains great hope in the power of working together. That is the founding spirit of the United Nations—and in this 75th anniversary year, as we face grave and global challenges, it is the spirit we must summon today.
26 June 2020
About the author
Mona Juul is the seventy-fifth President of the Economic and Social Council and Permanent Representative of Norway to the United Nations.
Feature Photo Credit: Inga Rhonda King (left), Permanent Representative of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines to the United Nations and seventy-fourth President of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), hands over the gavel to Mona Juul, Permanent Representative of Norway to the United Nations and newly-elected seventy-fifth President of ECOSOC, at the opening meeting of the 2020 session of ECOSOC. New York, 25 July 2019. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
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From here at the United Nations, I join you in welcoming the New Year.
We enter 2020 with uncertainty and insecurity all around.
Persistent inequality and rising hatred.
A warring world and a warming planet.
Climate change is not only a long-term problem but a clear and present danger.
We cannot afford to be the generation that fiddled while the planet burned.
But there is also hope.
This year, my New Year’s message is to the greatest source of that hope: the world’s young people.
From climate action to gender equality to social justice and human rights, your generation is on the frontlines and in the headlines.
I am inspired by your passion and determination.
You are rightly demanding a role in shaping the future.
I am with you.
The United Nations stands with you – and belongs to you.
2020 marks the 75th anniversary of the United Nations.
We are launching a Decade of Action for the Sustainable Development Goals, our blueprint for a fair globalization.
This year, the world needs young people to keep speaking out. Keep thinking big. Keep pushing boundaries. And keep up the pressure.
I wish you peace and happiness in 2020.
Video message available here
Op-ed by Liu Zhenmin, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, United Nations
World leaders have committed to ending poverty everywhere for all people by 2030. Achieving this aim means facing up to the need for dramatic declines in inequalities – in income, in opportunity, in exposure to risk, across gender, between countries and within countries – over the next decade.
Inequality is a well-recognized barrier to poverty eradication, as well as many other
development challenges. It features in multiple dimensions across the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development—the universally adopted plan to promote prosperity and social well-being while protecting the environment. According to many metrics, income inequality among countries has declined somewhat in recent decades, driven primarily by strong growth in East Asian and South Asian economies. But there are many countries—particularly in parts of Africa, Western Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean—where income levels have continued to fall further behind, exacerbating income inequalities between countries.
The latest United Nation’s analysis in the World Economic Situation and Prospects 2019indicates that per capita income levels essentially stagnated or declined in a total of 47 developing and transition economies last year. Most of these countries have been consistently falling behind for several decades. This poses an enormous challenge as countries strive to reduce poverty, develop essential infrastructure, create jobs and support economic diversification. Most of the lagging countries are highly dependent on commodities, stressing the importance of both diversification and effective management of natural resource wealth to tap into their development potential. Several countries have also suffered long-standing armed conflict or civil unrest and political instability.
If this trend continues, eradicating poverty and creating decent jobs for all will become increasingly out of reach. Weak economic performance is also linked to insufficient investment in quality education, health services, social protection, programs for marginalized groups and mitigation and adaptation to climate change.
Faster GDP growth alone will not necessarily lead to broad-based improvements in living standards. Deep inequalities also persist in the distribution of income within countries, acting as a major barrier to development progress. High inequality within countries is associated with social exclusion and fragmentation; weaker institution-building and governance; and increased risk of violence and internal conflict.
Fundamental transformations are needed going forward, to narrow the income gaps between and within countries. According to UN estimates, without significant changes in behaviour, more than 7 percent of the global population may remain in poverty by the year 2030, including about 30 per cent of the populations in Africa and the least developed countries (LDCs).
In Africa, where the population is expanding at a rate of more than 2 per cent per year, reducing the level of extreme poverty to below 5 per cent by 2030 will require a combination of double digit GDP growth and dramatic declines in inequality; well-outside the realms of historical precedence.
Integrated and cross-cutting policy measures that both raise prospects for economic growth and reduce income inequalities are essential to shift the world towards a more sustainable and inclusive path. This includes investing in education, health care, resilience to climate change, and financial and digital inclusion, to support economic growth and job creation in the short-term, while promoting sustainable development in the long term.
Macroeconomic stability and a strong development-oriented policy framework, including a well-functioning and robust financial system, are key elements for successfully tackling inequality. Well-designed fiscal policies can help smooth the business cycle, provide public goods, correct market failures and directly influence the income distribution. Broadening access to quality education is also crucial, coupled with employment policies, such as raising minimum wages and expanding social protection. Prioritizing rural infrastructure development, through public investment in transport, agriculture and energy, can also support poverty alleviation and narrow inequalities within countries.
While there is no one-size-fits-all policy prescription that guarantees delivery of a more equal and prosperous society, one overarching message is clear: calls to eradicate poverty are meaningless without concerted and committed policy action to reduce inequality.
Mr. Liu become the Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs in July 2017. Prior to his appointment, he was the Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs of China since 2013. Mr. Liu brings to the position more than 30 years of experience in the diplomatic service, with a strong focus on the promotion of bilateral, regional and global issues. He was deeply involved for 10 years in climate change negotiations, including the conclusion of the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement.