‘Mega-Trends’ Like Climate Change Best Tackled With Private Sector Help: New UN Chief

UN secretary general António Guterres on his first day at the UN headquarters in New York. Photo: UN
UN secretary general António Guterres on his first day at the UN headquarters in New York. Photo: UN

António Guterres says more engagement with the private sector and civil society will be key to the United Nation’s effectiveness.

On Sunday (1 January 2017), António Guterres officially took over the reins at the United Nations from Ban Ki-moon as the organisation’s ninth-ever top boss.

Last year, the former Portuguese prime minister and UN refugee commissioner submitted a vision paper as part of a selection process that saw Guterres compete with the likes of former UN climate chief Christiana Figueres.

Although many observers expressed disappointment at the missed opportunity of appointing a woman to lead the UN, Guterres has promised to introduce “gender parity at all levels” of the organisation.

On climate change, Guterres will be working with Figueres’ successor, former Mexican diplomat Patricia Espinosa.

Implementation, Implementation, Implementation

In his statement, he said landmark agreements such as the Paris Climate Agreement “lay out a clear strategy for action.” Moving forward, the United Nations should focus on “implementation, implementation, implementation,” he stressed.

Guterres put the spotlight on “global mega-trends,” and says it is crucial the international community understands them. “We live in times of multiple, evolving and mutually-reinforcing shifts.”

The dynamics of “geopolitical, demographic, climatic, technological, social and economic nature, enhance threats and opportunities on an unprecedented scale,” he says.

Guterres points out that “climate change affects economies and peoples, their lands, oceans and seas,” identifying it as a source of conflict in the world.

Private Sector Engagement

The new UN boss said he wants to increase his organisation’s engagement with civil society and the private sector, urging UN organisations to pursue “strategic cooperation.”

He wants the United Nations to be “less bureaucratic and more efficient, productive and field oriented,” and wants to “simplify processes, eliminate redundant structural costs and make full use of modern technology and innovation.”

Explaining one of the reasons for more cooperation, he wrote: “there can be no poverty eradication without generation of wealth.” Guterres also noted the “mutual benefits of corporate responsibility.”

The search for climate change solutions is one of the areas that already involves a huge amount of public-private collaboration.

Partnerships like the UN’s own Climate Technology Centre & Network, the European Union’s Climate-KIC and its recently launched Australian equivalent play a key role on the global stage.

A More Visible UN

In terms of climate diplomacy on the world stage, the UN may play a more prolific role under Guterres than under his predecessors – both in front of the cameras, online and behind closed doors.

He calls for an upgrade of the UN’s “communication capacity” and said the organisation should “communicate in ways that everybody understands and use the most modern digital platforms, reaching out to common citizens and making the most of its unique and powerful brand.”

In his vision paper, he wrote that the UN’s secretary general should also “actively, consistently and tirelessly exercise his good offices and mediation capacity” to act as a bridge builder.

Guterres stressed that the secretary general should make “full use” of the organisation’s “convening power” to bring international leaders and diplomats together to ease tensions.

Guterres And The Paris Agreement

With the uncertainty surrounding the involvement of the United States federal government in the Paris Climate Agreement, the kind of diplomatic engagement proposed by Guterres – whose new office is just a few subway stops from Trump Tower – may be key to ensuring the US stays on board.

But the vision statement’s closing sentences – written in April, well ahead of the US election and the UK’s Brexit referendum – show that the social-democratic politician may need to call on his much praised diplomatic abilities to find the necessary common ground to pull it off.

“In times of insecurity, when people feel uncertain about their future, when anxieties and fears are promoted and exploited by political populists, old-fashioned nationalists or religious fundamentalists, the success of the UN and the international community lies in our common commitment to our common values,” he concluded.

Find out how Climate-KIC’s public-private partnership works on climate change solutions.

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