Is there a future for the UN in a fast evolving landscape of new global challenges (as well as some old unsolved ones) and growing number of other multilateral institutions?
Yes, said Kevin Rudd, Chair of the Independent Commission on Multilateralism and former Prime Minister of Australia. The Honorable Kevin Rudd recently came to UNICEF to debate the future of multilateralism with UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake and a large audience, as part of UNICEF’s Conversations with Thought Leaders series.
Calling the UN “the Parliament of Humankind,” Kevin Rudd was clear: “we should remind ourselves of why the institution itself is inherently valuable. We should cherish what we have. We have been handed by those who have come before us a fragile institution. If it falls apart, it will be extraordinarily difficult to reconstitute anything of its kind.”
In his view, the UN is doing an “extraordinarily bad job” at explaining what it achieves. Hence, Mr. Rudd insisted “for the UN to have a future, we must recapture the imagination of the human family… not just in their hearts, but also in their heads through the record of achievement on the ground.” How? By investing in public relations. There needs to be a much more substantive investment in telling the wider public what it is that the UN does for peace, security and development.
At the same time, Mr. Rudd was realistic: often a swift action on emerging global challenges requires a smaller coalition of the willing and those who have influence. Just think of the global economic crisis. It required a smaller group of major players (the G20) who could take rapid decisions to avert the crisis. Similarly, he was optimistic about the international community reaching a climate change deal in Paris in December. Why? There is a clear commitment that China, India and the US have demonstrated in recent months, which is in turn creating a momentum for a global deal.
Reflecting on the ambitious task ahead – the Sustainable Development Goals – Mr. Rudd wasted no time on pondering where the funding would come from. He suggested to put global private capital to greater use in development, particularly to finance the infrastructure in developing countries. The international community should construct a deal whereby private capital takes on infrastructure projects in developing countries, often an underpinning challenge for development of any kind. The governments’ role would then be to finance the gap between the real return on investment and the minimum required to attract private capital. Mr. Rudd believed this would “turbocharge” the development agenda. How sustainable would this be in the long term, one may ask? It is an interesting idea to consider, which perhaps deserves a separate conversation altogether.
These are just some of the takeaways from the insightful Conversation with Kevin Rudd on the future of multilateralism. A need for a rolling policy research capacity at the UN to capture lessons learned and a global summit on people’s flows were some of the other ideas he put on the table.
Want to learn more? View the full Conversation here and let us know what you think!
This discussion took place on 10 July 2015 as part of UNICEF’s Conversations with Thought Leaders series. Yulia Oleinik is a Policy Officer in the Policy Planning Unit, Division of Data, Research and Policy at UNICEF.