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U.N. 101

Assistant Editor

Catherine Mengyun Yang ‘17

· Catherine Yang

The United States presidential election has attracted the attention of many. Meanwhile, the United Nations’ elections for next Secretary-General (SG) is progressing to a new level of intensity. The ongoing SG election can be seen as an opportunity to change the U.N.’s bureaucratic structure, which has long been criticized as inefficient and inflexible. But what exactly is the structure of the U.N.? The U.N. has six principal organs: The General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), the Secretariat, the International Court of Justice, and the Trusteeship Council. Many prominent agencies like UNDP, UNICEF, UNHCR are affiliated with one of the six main organs and are responsible for operating the groundwork and interaction with the local communities. In addition, the U.N. has 193 member states, including five permanent members with veto power. Ultimately, it is very difficult to find an efficient structure that can manage a system on such a large scale.

Despite criticisms, it is undeniable that the U.N. is still the key to global order. From the Millennium Development Goals to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)/2030 agenda, the U.N. is creating a comprehensive agenda that addresses many of the issues facing the world. Countless U.N. staff work to produce various campaigns and improve global awareness. The U.N. and its specialized agencies are fighting on the frontline of real problems, ranging from poverty, hunger, climate change, refugee crises, to armed conflict, violence, and nuclear proliferation. Unfortunately, the U.N.’s capacity is limited compared to its ambition. Without governmental support, the U.N. does not have the political capital to effectively implement its agenda. Additionally, the private sector provides innovations and new ideas. As the SDGs state, “a revitalized and enhanced global partnership that mobilizes all available resources from Governments, civil society, the private sector, the United Nations system and other actors is required to realize the 2030 agenda.” It is important for all organizations, either private or public, to work together to improve awareness of the sustainable goals and to transfer the idea to local communities.

Despite the issues, many parties have made progress. The Paris Agreement adopted by 193 countries in December last year showed the world’s commitment to improve the current climate situation. The ratification of the climate agreement by the US and China also brings new confidence in the initiation of concrete and specific emission reduction plans. Many CEOs and NGOs attended the recent Climate Change Conference in Paris and the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, making pledges to leverage their skills in finance, marketing, and technology to help achieve the SDGs. Corporations like HP have committed to achieving 40% renewable and green energy by 2020.

However, this change comes at too slow a pace. The humanitarian and development system led by U.N. after WWII is no longer appropriate for the 21st century. The methods by which the U.N. used to achieve change in the past are no longer effective for future challenges, and there is a pressing need for new solutions. Local players have become critical to resolving crises, as they can respond more quickly to emergencies than the U.N. Therefore, the U.N. is now pivoting to focus on the root causes of discord, the of empowering local actors, and making financing more inclusive for local organizations. Furthermore, the U.N. needs to concentrate more on development than humanitarian aid. Preventing crises from happening at the first place is more vital than providing humanitarian assistance afterwards. There is no doubt that changes and reinventions are necessary for a better U.N., but what is now most necessary is a strengthened global partnership to ensure the implementation of the U.N.’s 2030 agenda and to make sure no one is left behind.

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