The Future We Want, the UN We Need: lessons for collective #ClimateAction

Corridors at the UN Headquarters in New York City are quiet this month as the calendar event of the year — the UN General Assembly — has been reimagined virtually. For the first time since the UN’s establishment after World War II, governments are not convening in person, instead sending just one representative each and delivering pre-recorded videos, to discuss multilateral, cross-cutting issues such as climate action.

This year, the UN marks its 75th anniversary at a time when multilateral leadership is perhaps needed most: as the Covid-19 crisis has altered our way of life on every conceivable front. However, just when we need collective action more than ever, support for global cooperation has been deteriorating as countries look inwards at national policy, supporting the local economy and their own citizens. Closing cooperation, borders, supply chains and people-to-people links to the rest of the world.

In many countries, public trust in traditional institutions is in decline and relations between countries are under strain. In all countries, consequences of our failure to get to grips with the climate crisis are everywhere: record heat waves, devastating bushfires and wildfires, floods, droughts. And these challenges will only get worse.

A global dialogue – and climate action – is now more urgent than ever.

So how do public and social sector leaders contribute to multilateral dialogues in the virtual world, where sometimes the loudest voice in the Zoom gets more time than quiet achievers like developing countries and grassroot NGOs. 

As a UN alumna previously working on food security and logistics with a team of 20 people from 20 different countries, I have learned some valuable lessons about collective action that should not be lost on public and social sector leaders looking to keep climate action on the agenda at UNGA this week — and beyond…

It’s in the art of finding the real problem, and defining its story, that visions succeed

SDG2 – the Sustainable Development Goal to combat hunger – reveals that 8.9% of the world population is hungry and undernourished, and this number has worsened in the past year. To really define how to live in a world with Zero Hunger the SDG2 Advocacy Hub was established as a cross-cutting organisation from the World Food Programme, governments, civil society and business. Realising that coordination and cooperation is critical for governments, the Hub offers a new game plan:

A way of working that engages the largest group of diverse actors to work together on SDG2 priorities, while focusing on individual specialist areas of work that will ultimately meet the targets.

An example of how civil society can teach UN agencies and governments how to think innovatively about defining sustainability story is the Overview Collective – bring big picture concepts down to Earth by supporting local SDG implementation, seeding new ideas and enabling action through digital media campaigns, XR content production and immersive activations such as hackathons, escape rooms, workshops and exhibitions.

Make decisions based on a strong value set, not just a data set

From continents to cities to communities, every level of government is making decisions informed by data, and importantly, by clearly communicating their values and leadership in climate action. 

Despite the COVID-19 crisis, the European Green Deal remains the top political priority of Commission President Ursula von der Leyen who branded it as Europe’s new growth strategy when she took office in December. Valuing frameworks like the circular economy, in conjunction with historical biodiversity and climate data, has become a no-brainer for governments, civil society, academia, even business, in contributing to climate action across Europe. For example, in CPI’s forthcoming report Innovation in the face of crisis, the city of Paris is featured for strongly advocating for residents and communicating clearly with them, listening carefully to the needs of marginalised communities. Mayor Anne Hidalgo remains one of the most visible city leaders on sustainability, following the 2015 signing of the Paris Agreement.

Be self aware and share your own values when contributing to #ClimateAction

At CPI, we, as individuals and as a collective, prescribe to four values that connect us all – whether we are in London, Washington DC, Melbourne or working remotely from another place. We are:

We work to reimagine government so that it works for everyone, and in this context we support governments and changemakers with our vision for better government. This is a moment to change course and build a sustainable future – for people and the planet.