The United Nations of 2018 exists in a world that is more interconnected than ever before. Countries are no longer insulated from the setbacks and challenges of other nations, and all profit in some way from each other’s innovation and success.
Global paths to shared progress, however, seem increasingly elusive among bitter social divides and growing inequality. Our success in overcoming these and other barriers to sustainable development will hinge on our response to two of the greatest challenges of our time — climate change and conflict.
This month’s U.N. report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is the starkest call yet for immediate and dramatic international efforts to avoid the catastrophic impacts of global temperature rise. From Bangladesh to the Caribbean, the tolls and tides from climate change are rising. The average global temperature over the past five years is the highest on record, and the 2017 North Atlantic hurricane season was the costliest ever recorded, pushing that year’s global economic losses attributed to disasters to over $300 billion.
Following years of U.N.-supported success improving nutrition worldwide, the number of undernourished people rose by 38 million between 2015 to 2016. This increase is largely the result of conflicts, drought and disasters linked to climate change.
Reversing these trends is at the forefront of U.N. efforts to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and achieve its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Progress on the SDGs in some areas has been slower than necessary. But as part of his efforts to revitalize and refocus the work of the U.N., Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has also launched reform initiatives to reposition the U.N. development system to more effectively deliver on the 2030 Agenda.
As Rector of the United Nations University (UNU) — the U.N.’s principal research arm — I am committed to ensuring that our research responds to changing U.N. needs and contributes to the vast evidence base so crucial to achieving the SDGs.
UNU’s work would be impossible without the government of Japan’s support, both as a gracious host for our headquarters in Tokyo and as a provider of vital financial backing.
This year, as we celebrate 73 years since the U.N. was established, Japan also commemorates 73 years since two of its darkest days — the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In August, I joined the secretary-general during his trip to Nagasaki for the 73rd Peace Memorial Ceremony. The visit and attendance at the ceremony — a first for a secretary-general — was a valued opportunity to meet with atomic bomb survivors, pay respects to those who died and celebrate the resilience of Nagasaki and Hiroshima.
Regrettably, the shadow of nuclear weapons continues to grow as states modernize their arsenals. Global spending on arms and armies is now 80 times the budget needed for worldwide humanitarian aid. Ironically, this aid is often necessitated by conflict.
As an organization that is known for its work in peacekeeping and helping to stabilize countries riven by war, the U.N. is responding with a renewed commitment to disarmament and nonproliferation. Following the launch of the secretary-general’s new disarmament agenda in May, the August visit to Nagasaki was a chance to spotlight and learn from Japan’s experiences and its leadership on nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation.
Sustainable development is impossible without peace. I warmly commend Japan for its peacekeeping efforts, and its humanitarian response and steadying role in global governance. Japan’s leadership and dedication to the U.N. is a model for other U.N. member states in meeting the rapidly evolving demands for change in the coming decades.