The High-Level Advisory Board on Effective Multilateralism (HLAB) held its fifth plenary meeting on 6 September. The virtual session was chaired by the Board’s co-chairs – H.E. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, former President of Liberia, and H.E. Stefan Löfven, former Prime Minister of Sweden – who made the following statement. The Board will now begin refining recommendations ahead of its two final in-person sessions in Nairobi in October and in New York in early 2023.

The Board’s most recent meeting was an opportunity to review feedback received from UN Member States and other stakeholders during and after the 4 August Our Common Agenda consultation convened by the 76th President of the UN General Assembly, H.E. Abdulla Shahid, and recent meetings with experts within and outside the UN system.

During the meeting, Board members also reviewed submissions from HLAB’s recently concluded global public consultation, which generated close to 100 unique responses from a wide range of stakeholders around the world. These submissions were broadly consistent with HLAB’s own diagnosis of global governance deficits. The submissions helped identify gaps in the Board’s work and included several bold and practical recommendations for which the Board is most grateful. They will be given full consideration over the coming months.

The HLAB Framework

The Board fully recognizes that its work is unfolding during an extraordinary moment of complex and interconnected crises. Tensions are rising on many fronts, including once again among States armed with nuclear weapons, and faith in the multilateral system is dwindling. When it has mattered most, the multilateral system has underperformed for both people and planet.

And yet, we remain encouraged by the possibility of a renewed commitment to multilateralism. In our view, the only viable way forward lies in a system of stronger, deeper, and more inclusive global cooperation, with the United Nations at its core.

The Board’s work is fully aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals agenda and the recommendations will aim to accelerate its full implementation. We are also actively seeking cooperation and complementarity with other tracks in the Our Common Agenda process, in particular those leading up to the Summit of the Future in 2024.

Inclusivity and transparency are of paramount importance in the HLAB process. The Board is consulting widely and with a variety of stakeholders and has been specifically seeking the opinions of those who may not always be at the center of global decision-making. All of the Board’s recommendations will be people- and planet-centred; they will focus on delivering tangible results for people, while contributing to a circular, sustainable economy in balance with the planet.

The Our Common agenda report is clear on the need for the UN and the wider multilateral system to support meaningful change towards greater gender equity. It also stresses more systematic involvement of youth in decision-making and greater consideration of the interests of future generations. These goals are also the Board’s goals.

The central challenge for our Board has always been defining ‘how’ to do this—what concrete changes are needed to improve multilateral cooperation? Our work has explored ways governance improvements can be achieved, given existing institutional and legal arrangements, gaps, and emerging priorities and levels of urgency.

The Way Forward

Based on the HLAB framework, the Board is currently exploring recommendations to strengthen the multilateral system in the following areas:*

(1) Re-energize and develop the concept of Common Security

Forty years ago, facing growing nuclear threats, the Independent Commission on Disarmament and Security published a report on “Common Security.” This concept recognizes that all States and all peoples have a right to security, that no one is safe until all are safe. Today, we are facing existential risks from many sources, including nuclear weapons, climate change, and new technologies. It is time to revitalize and evolve the concept of common security, grounding it in a people-centric approach.

Our approach to common security is based on the need to develop: (a) a shared understanding of risks and greater opportunities for transparency around security; (b) more inclusive, networked responses to those risks, involving and capacitating a broader range of actors in global security governance; and (c) greater systems of monitoring and accountability to meaningfully reduce risks. Specific proposals under consideration relate to:

  • Reducing the threat of nuclear weapons use;
  • Governing new and emerging threats (biological threats, artificial intelligence, and others);
  • Energizing regional conflict prevention, including through improved transparency and confidence-building around regional security;
  • Reform of the UN Security Council.

(2) A plan for people and planet

HLAB is considering the best ways to advance a people- and planet-centered environmental governance framework. Our recommendations will support efforts towards speeding up the implementation of the Paris Agreement and addressing the triple planetary crisis. The Board is exploring recommendations that will address environmental protection and energy needs together as part of a common package that aims to transform the relationship between people and planet to one of mutual benefit rather than exploitation Specific proposals under consideration relate to:

  • A science-policy-accountability network for the planet;
  • Steps to encourage equitable investment in clean technologies;
  • Developing norms, rules and incentives around carbon usage and ending reliance on fossil fuels.

(3) A fair and effective global financial architecture

HLAB firmly believes decisive governance reforms in the global financial architecture are needed to achieve inclusive and sustainable development, equitable growth, and adequate financing of global public goods. A reformed global financial architecture must deliver vastly greater financing for the developing world, especially of a long-term nature, include a massive mobilization of public and private capital, and help prevent and respond more effectively to global crises. This will only be possible if long-standing concerns about fairness in decision-making and representation in the global financial architecture are addressed up-front. Specific proposals under consideration relate to:

  • Reforming specific governance layers in International Financial Institutions, including voting shares and voting practices to improve voice, representation, and fairness;
  • A new debt architecture that facilitates the participation of the largest official creditors and private creditors to address debt sustainability and distress;
  • Placing global public goods provision within the core mandates of the World Bank and other Multilateral Development Banks.

(4) Capacities for effective participation and fairer outcomes

HLAB recognizes that limited institutional capacities in the developing world stand in the way of effective participation in multilateral negotiations and broader cooperation initiatives. These capacity constraints are notable in a rapidly accelerating digital age. We will focus on improving capacities for fairer and more effective participation in multilateral processes with the aim of bolstering inclusive innovation, strengthening digital literacy, and broadening digital access globally. HLAB recognizes that one of the most important aspects of improving governance outcomes for people and planet is a broadened and shared understanding of risks, and more equitably distributed resources to manage those risks. Knowledge of global risks requires a bold and progressive approach to data governance in particular, centred on transparency, accessibility, and trust.

Specific proposals under consideration relate to:

  • Improving access to, and the capacity for safe navigation of, the internet and new technologies, as well as an equitable distribution of their benefits;
  • Data governance principles to improve early warning capacities, global public good provision, and equity in the new digital economy.

*Note this is not an exhaustive list nor a set of final priorities for HLAB. Many more proposals are under consideration, including those emanating from the Board’s public consultation process.