A Breakthrough for People and Planet

A Breakthrough for People and Planet:
Effective and Inclusive Global Governance for Today and the Future

UN High Level Advisory Board on Effective Multilateralism
Report released 25 April 2023

The High-Level Advisory Board on Effective Multilateralism (HLAB) was established by the United Nations Secretary-General and builds on Our Common Agenda, a report released by Secretary-General António Guterres in September 2021 that calls for stronger governance of key issues of global concern. The HLAB was co-chaired by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, former President of Liberia, and Stefan Löfven, former Prime Minister of Sweden, and supported by the United Nations University Centre for Policy Research (UNU-CPR).

For more information: https://highleveladvisoryboard.org

The following summary includes excerpts from the final report on the environmental dimension of the HLAB proposals (emphases in bold added). The HLAB proposal on global environmental governance is based on the paper “Towards a Global Environment Agency Effective Governance for Shared Ecological Risks” by IEF board members Sylvia Karlsson-Vinkhuyzen and Arthur L. Dahl and gives the IEF website as the source. Three of the reports sourced by the HLAB were commissioned by the Climate Governance Commission coordinated by IEF member Maja Groff. IEF members made other submissions to the HLAB as well.

The report calls for Six Transformative Shifts for a More Secure and Sustainable Future: rebuild trust in multilateralism, people and planet, global finance, digital and data governance, peace and prevention, and anticipatory action. These are listed below with their recommendations.

Shift One | Rebuild Trust in Multilateralism

Improve Legitimacy and Effectiveness through Inclusion and Accountability

Recommendation 1.
Represent “we the peoples” in the multilateral system.

Give more voice to civil society.

Faith-based and charitable organizations play a significant role in providing public services, extending critical safety nets, peacemaking, and environmental efforts in many countries. Such organizations should continue to be engaged as multi-faith stakeholders in discussions and implementation, within and across countries, and as part of multilateral efforts. (p.15)

Recommendation 2.
A role for cities and subnational regions in multilateralism.

A special status for cities and regions. The Summit of the Future can identify relevant institutions and processes where Local and Regional Governments (LRGs) are offered a formal and permanent status, independent of civil society and non-governmental organizations, notably in the areas of the environment, global health, migration, refugee response, addressing transnational organized crime, and sustainable development. (p.17)

Recommendation 3.
Include and obligate the private sector.

Our global governance system has a glaring hole: the private sector.... The result is a system where a relatively small number of large private sector actors can influence processes without being held to account…. While this form of inclusion should be approached carefully, participation of the private sector is an unavoidable and necessary aspect of more effective multilateralism and would enable greater accountability in areas of global concern. (p. 18)

Recommendation 4.
More effective decision-making.

A frequent obstacle to more effective multilateralism is the over-reliance on decisions by consensus…. This has enabled a minority to obstruct meaningful action on the environment. (p. 19)

More effective decision-making could help to address long-standing shortcomings in environmental governance. (p.20)

Shift Two | Planet and People

Regain Balance with Nature and Provide Clean Energy for All

The triple planetary crisis is accelerating and intensifying. Due to human activity, our climate is warming towards levels well above the crucial 1.5-degree threshold; our biodiversity is being destroyed at the fastest rate in human history; and we are polluting our land, air, and water at unsustainable levels. The triple planetary crisis has created an inequitable burden for women in particular, exacerbating existing disparities in a world already beset by inequalities. (p. 23)

Since the world’s first climate treaty in 1992, more than three decades of inaction have turned our planetary challenge into an existential crisis. Meanwhile, the gap between needs and action widens as fossil fuel production and unsustainable industrial production continue to soar. We now face irreversible tipping points in our global ecosystem, including the melting of the Antarctic ice sheets, tropical coral reef collapse, and the large-scale loss of rainforests. The impacts are clear and horrifying: biodiversity loss is undermining the well-being of billions of people, pollution costs nine million lives per year, and entire countries risk being swallowed by rising sea levels in only a few years. Without a radical change in our relationship with the planet, our collective future is at risk.

Our starting point for an equitable, green transition is the recognition that countries and communities who have benefited most from decades of planetary exploitation have a special responsibility. The Paris Agreement is clear that governance of our environment should be taken forward on the basis of “common but differentiated responsibilities”.

Women and Indigenous peoples are pivotal agents of global environmental change, playing a significant role in securing food supplies, mitigating the effects of climate change, and safeguarding biodiversity. Their essential role should result in specific opportunities to engage in decision-making, policymaking, and access to finance for a just and sustainable transition to a circular economy. This is not a zero-sum game. All of us will benefit collectively if we treat a healthy planet as a global public good, building a networked and inclusive governance system to protect it, ensuring equitable access to resources, and living within its boundaries sustainably. To flourish as a species, we must regain balance with nature and with one another, treating ecosystems as a primary asset for securing our collective well-being. Indeed, the recent breakthrough in agreeing to the Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction (Oceans) Treaty is evidence that principles of equity and collective responsibility for the planet can be the basis for our international legal obligations. A circular economy that delivers for all is our only pathway to achieving the SDGs, global security, and prosperity. This is the basis of the General Assembly resolution recognizing the human right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment, which signals the interconnectedness of the well-being of people and a healthy planet. Our responsibilities to current and future generations can only be met if we act in trusteeship for the planet. (p. 23)

Recommendation 1.
Conclude a pact for people and planet.

We call on Member States to conclude a pact for people and planet (see annex 1 below), pledging to hold us collectively accountable for implementing ambitious, measurable commitments to address the triple planetary crisis. Such a declaration should be articulated at the upcoming 2023 Climate Ambition Summit and taken forward as an integral part of the Summit of the Future. (p.24)

The pact should include specific commitments to:
- Net-zero carbon emissions;
- A phase out of fossil fuels;
- Provision of energy to the 800 million people without access to electricity, prioritizing investment in clean energy at scale;
- Zero loss of forest cover, zero deforestation, and a global incentive mechanism to protect standing forests;
- Biodiversity targets that respect the rights of Indigenous peoples and local communities;
- Nature regeneration; and
- A pollution-free planet. (p. 24)

This would be part of a system of accountability that holds all actors responsible and generates behavioural change at the global level. (p. 24)

Recommendation 2.
Equitably distribute clean energy.

Reform is needed of the global trade and intellectual property system; the technology for a green transition is a global public good. We need a global distributed renewable energy platform, and a green technology licensing facility. (p. 25)

Recommendation 3.
Price and regulate carbon to accelerate a just, green transition.

Specific actions must be taken to put a meaningful price on carbon, end the widespread practice of subsidizing fossil fuel production, enhance transparency around carbon generation and capture, and offer incentives to accelerate the shift to clean energy. (p. 25)

Recommendation 4.
Elevate the environment within the multilateral system.

The central importance of the environment to all aspects of our lives and collective well-being must be accompanied by an elevation of the environment within our global governance system. This requires strengthening UNEP and the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) with mandates and resources comparable to the UN’s development, peace and security, and human rights institutions. Specifically, UNEP should be empowered to act as a more effective global environment agency, able to track our interrelated impacts on the environment, consolidate and measure our commitments, condition our global financial investments, and drive a transformative agenda for people and planet across multilateralism. (p.26)

[Elements of this proposal are drawn from “Towards a Global Environment Agency Effective Governance for Shared Ecological Risks” by Sylvia Karlsson-Vinkhuyzen and Arthur L Dahl for the Climate Governance Commission, Global Challenges Foundation, https://iefworld.org/fl/dkarlsson_dahl21.pdf]

In line with the above principles of effective multilateralism, and to build a global environmental governance system that can deliver a just, green transition, UNEP and UNEA could be elevated and strengthened along the following lines:

A bolstered monitoring/accountability role. To uphold the newly recognized right to a healthy, clean, sustainable environment, UNEP and UNEA should be provided with a special rapporteur group possessing mandates to investigate and report publicly on environmental violations. These bodies should be mandated to issue more regular public reporting on the gaps between international commitments and current trends, including those related to carbon emissions, pollution, and encroachments on protected sea and land areas.

Integration with the international financial system.

A Science-Policy-Action Network for the planet. UNEP should be resourced with a Science-Policy-Action Network (SPAN) to consolidate information regarding the triple planetary crisis into a coherent, constantly updated, actionable assessment of risks to the planet. Such a body could act as a policy clearing house to draw from existing bodies and generate recommended actions for governments and non-State actors in real time. The SPAN would issue reports on horizon scanning and strategic foresight; trace environmental impacts, including on climate-driven security risks; use behavioural science to generate global shifts in our policies and practices; and offer clear, actionable recommendations for policymakers. Its mandate could include country-specific reports based on national commitments, a facility to feed into policy decision-making, and resources to build adaptation and green technological capacities in developing countries. Drawing on models like the Climate Trace initiative, the SPAN could track a broader range of environmentally harmful activities, including pollution of air, water, soil, and the seas; deforestation; desertification; destruction of protected habitats; safe production of critical minerals for renewable technologies; and violations of international environmental commitments. (pp.26-27)

A public accountability platform for our planetary commitments. Across the major environmental conventions, signatories should be held publicly accountable for their commitments and supported in their efforts to reach the core goals of net-zero carbon emissions, biodiversity protection and restoration, and a pollution-free planet. This could be achieved by establishment of a UNEP-supported platform containing publicly available information, capacity-building for developing countries, information-sharing around best practices, and an annual reporting requirement to the General Assembly for all conventions. (p. 27)

A platform for water diplomacy. Water is at the heart of the people/planet relationship and is a key aspect of many peace efforts around the world. Improving the global governance of water is crucial to addressing the triple planetary crisis and achieving the SDGs. Unfortunately, today’s governance regime is outdated, fragmented, and unable to keep pace with the fast-moving trends affecting water worldwide. Building on the Global Commission on the Economics of Water, an inclusive platform for water diplomacy should be established, offering a safe, neutral space to exchange on a wide range of water-related issues, including infrastructure (hydropower), water-sharing, combating water pollution, and safeguarding the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation. Such a platform should avoid reinforcing existing fragmentation of water governance, instead drawing on existing initiatives and resources, and could be included within a strengthened UNEP structure to ensure global coherence. (p.27)

A forum on the governance of climate-altering technologies. A strengthened UNEP could better support dialogue on the governance of climate-altering technologies, drawing on a global network of scientific experts, and with a commitment from Member States to shape policies based on their findings.

A global hub for the conservation, preservation, and dissemination of Indigenous knowledge, and its inclusion in policymaking processes. Establishment of such a hub supported by UNEP would expand from UNESCO’s Local and Indigenous Knowledge Systems programme, and the Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform under the umbrella of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which helps to amplify Indigenous voices and facilitate their participation in climate negotiation processes. (p. 28)

Advancing environmental rights within the multilateral system. The 2022 UN General Assembly resolution on the human right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment was a watershed moment demonstrating broad recognition of the central importance of the planet to the multilateral agenda. In the event of conflict between this right and profit-motivated exploitation of natural resources, the human right to a clean, healthy, sustainable environment should prevail. To this end, international investment law should be realigned to avoid undermining the climate and environment goals in the Paris Agreement. The right to a clean, healthy, sustainable environment, however, carries no legal weight unless it is attached to judicial bodies at the international and national levels. Our proposal for an elevation of the environment within the multilateral system could be accompanied by specific steps to consolidate environmental rights within our current and future systems, some of which could include:

(i) modernizing the International Court of Justice to better address global environmental issues;

(ii) codifying the human right to a clean, healthy, sustainable environment in a new international treaty, or in a protocol to an existing treaty body;

(iii) inclusion of ecocide in the statute of the International Criminal Court; or

(iv) a call for all Member States to codify the right to a clean, healthy, sustainable environment in their national laws.

Some of these efforts could be led by the newly created Envoy for Future Generations, linking environmental rights to normative and legal obligations to future generations. (p. 28)

Shift Three | Global Finance

Ensure Sustainable Finance that Delivers for All

Delivering critical global public goods and inclusive economic development requires significantly greater investment in a longterm vision of collective resilience.

We have also underinvested in our planet, which is rapidly becoming a place of brutal extremes. Environmental changes are likely to plunge millions into food insecurity, exacerbating and multiplying global famines. (p. 30)

Collectively, we have been unable to direct the available capital toward long-term productive investments at sufficient scale and speed to effectively mitigate risks in a shock-prone world, nor have we closed the gap between developed and developing countries in any meaningful sense. (p.30)

Forests, an important carbon sink, together with other natural climate solutions, can deliver one-third of the needed emissions reductions, yet have received only 3 per cent of climate finance. (p.30)

This Board joins the UN Secretary-General in calling for a rapid, sizeable increase in longterm investment for people and planet that reduces inequalities and safeguards our shared life support systems. (p.30)

Recommendation 1.
Repurpose the Multilateral Development Bank (MDB) system to catalyse a new generation of public and private investments in global public goods, development, and inclusivity.

The World Bank and the other Multilateral Development Banks must update and expand their mandates to include the financing of global public goods and the protection of the global commons, alongside the twin goals of poverty alleviation and shared prosperity. (p. 31)

They also must be accompanied by conditions to ensure that such financing meets social and environmental goals.

Recommendation 2.
Strengthen the Global Financial Safety Net.

Recommendation 3.
Ensure greater automaticity and fairness in SDR allocations.

Recommendation 4.
Enact governance changes at the World Bank and IMF that improve representation and credibility.

improving the typical conditionalities associated with loans to take account of contemporary economic realities and their implications for inequality, human development, gender equality, the environment, and vulnerable groups. (p. 35)

Recommendation 5.
Strengthen the global debt architecture.

Sharp adverse changes in the global environment have already unleashed a wave of debt defaults across the world, and the ecological and humanitarian crises on the horizon foreshadow further declines in development and international cooperation on a wide range of issues. (p.36)

As countries look to borrow to invest in development, debt-for-climate, debt-for-nature, and debt-for-SDG swaps become new viable tools. (p.37)

Recommendation 6.
Enable and facilitate strengthened regulatory frameworks for financial flows.

Many of the measures required to stabilize financial markets must necessarily be national, and this is also true of measures designed to direct financing towards the desired social, developmental, environmental, and planetary goals.

We must support efforts to re-orient regulatory structures to serve the interests of people and the planet, rather than only safeguard the interests of capital. (p.38)

Recommendation 7.
Pursue global taxation reforms.

There is a need to review the current international tax architecture to keep pace with efforts to tackle illicit financial flows, tax avoidance, and tax evasion. (p.38)

Shift Four | Digital and Data Governance

Support a Just Digital Transition that Unlocks the Value of Data and Protects Against Digital Harms.

Effective multilateralism must support critical, multilateral, and generational reflection on the benefits and risks of the digital age. Collaboration in the digital space has been slow because the complexity and political sensitivity of the topic have inhibited effective multi-stakeholder approaches to digital governance fit for our future. (p.40)

Our solutions must be human-centred and rights-respecting; encourage open dialogue, exchange, and learning between cultures, stakeholder groups, and sectors; and, crucially, build on past successes. (p. 40)

Recommendation 1.
Support a just digital transition by addressing digital poverty, inequality, and harms.

Expand the definition of threats to peace and security to include digital harms and strengthen judicial capacity for the digital age. (p.43)

Recommendation 2.
Lay the foundations of an enabling architecture for the data century with the explicit aim of removing all barriers to realizing the potential of data for the public good.

Support research, data collection, and dissemination capacities of the multilateral system by ensuring they are adequately funded and remain free of political influence. (p.45)

Shift Five | Peace and Prevention

Empower Equitable, Effective Collective Security Arrangements.

The United Nations was established in 1945 to “save the succeeding generations from the scourge of war.” Today, however, it is failing to realize that core purpose of maintaining international peace and security, even as threats have multiplied and grown. In addition to traditional military threats, we now understand that a wide range of social, political, economic, and environmental factors play an important role in our security. The interconnected nature of this risk landscape gives rise to our call for collective security, recognizing that countries and their citizens can only feel safe when all feel safe. Rather than a negative and reactive approach, collective security is a vision of positive peace that can be achieved if peace is treated as a global public good. (p.47)

Recommendation 1.
Commit to our collective security.

The Summit of the Future should adopt a definition of collective security that includes not only traditional threats contained in Article 2(4) of the UN Charter but also a broader range of risks, including from the triple planetary crisis, transnational organized crime, and deepening socioeconomic inequalities. (p.47)

Recommendation 2.
Reform the UN Security Council and strengthen the Peacebuilding Commission.

We propose that the UN Peacebuilding Commission (PBC) be provided with an expanded mandate to address a broader range of risks and resourced with greater investigative and decision-making powers…. Its mandate should include the growing impacts of climate change and environmental changes on security risks (p.49)

Recommendation 3.
Establish a collective security framework between the United Nations and major regional bodies.

The Summit of the Future should commit to an international conference to agree on a set of global/regional security arrangements based on three pillars of cooperation: (1) security (including fundamental freedoms, confidence-building measures, and military transparency), (2) economy/sustainable development (including scientific and environmental cooperation, anti-corruption, and financial sector risks), and (3) humanitarian cooperation (food/water security and basic protections) (p.50)

Recommendation 4.
Increase transparency on peace and security.

Recommendation 5.
Strengthen and accelerate denuclearization.

Shift Six | Anticipatory Action

Strengthen Governance for Current and Emerging Transnational Risks.

The breakdown scenario in Our Common Agenda describes the multilateral system lagging behind emerging and re-emerging threats, unable to anticipate risks before they escalate, and chronically slow to generate the resources and political action to manage and reduce those risks. (p.55)

We believe this must change – we should position the multilateral system to more nimbly and effectively respond to emerging threats and act quickly and decisively in situations of uncertainty. We believe the future of global governance is not heavy, bureaucratic bodies with endless time horizons and bulky mandates. Rather, it is a connective tissue, linking knowledge of collective risks to the capacities best placed to address them. It will not burden future generations with inflexible institutions, but position resources that can adapt to their needs. Tomorrow’s multilateralism can evolve alongside fast-changing risk landscapes, rising to emerging challenges with a common sense of purpose. (p.55)

Recommendation 1.
Climate change, peace, and security.

Climate change is far more than an environmental challenge; it poses a risk to every aspect of our lives. A growing body of scientific evidence is revealing how accelerated environmental changes are impacting human and collective security, including as a result of extreme heat, drought, flooding, crop failure, water shortages, desertification, disease, food insecurity, famine, forced migration, threats to critical social and physical infrastructure, and unprecedented disruptions. These diverse impacts are disproportionately affecting regions and countries that are the least responsible for greenhouse gas emissions and environmental degradation, such as less developed countries (LDCs), Small Island Developing States (SIDS), and countries with vulnerable areas, many of which are also suffering from conflict, fragility, violence, and other forms of instability. Predictably, it is the poorest and least-able to respond who bear the brunt of these changes. The multilateral system should not be held hostage to a narrow definition of security limited to national borders and military power. Indeed, we recognize the significant efforts across the three pillars of the UN to enhance our collective knowledge of the empirical links between climate change and our collective security. We also acknowledge efforts to upgrade the capacities and instruments available to address and respond to climate-security risks, including through the UN Climate Security Mechanism and partnerships amongst UNEP and other international bodies. A bolstered UNEP and UNEA, along the lines proposed in this report, would provide greater capabilities to the UN system and Member States to respond to climate-driven security risks. (p.55)

Declare that the triple planetary crisis poses a grave risk to global stability and security. The Summit of the Future should be an opportunity to make a leap forward in our collective recognition of the strong relationships between environment change and security, the unevenly distributed nature of these risks, and the critical importance of a UN system capable of addressing them. (p.56)

Bring climate change and security to a wider variety of debates at the General Assembly, Human Rights Council, Economic and Social Council, and Security Council. (p.56)

Ensure that climate-driven risks are an explicit feature of UN peacebuilding mandates. (p.56)

Incorporate a gender perspective to climate response. (p.56)

Recommendation 2.
Governance of biological and health risks.

Critical gaps persist in our ability to assess the global health landscape, prepare for potentially lethal manifestations of biological threats, and act in the face of fast-moving health risks. (p.56)

Global agreement on bio-risk management standards: The Summit of the Future is an opportunity to recognize, consolidate, and globally agree on a common process to identify, assess, control, and monitor the risks associated with hazardous biological materials. (p.56)

Recommendation 3.
Safe, effective management of emerging technologies.

Agreeing on a timeline for the development of a global architecture for AI design, development, and use based on common standards and approaches. (p.59)

Recommendation 4.
Combat transnational organized crime.

The negative impacts from TOC – from extreme levels of violence and small arms proliferation to natural resource extraction – inhibit progress on the SDGs, reduce State capacities to govern and transition to a green economy, drive inequality, and are directly related to the spread of violent conflict. (p.59)

Annex 1.

A Pact for People and Planet

(main points)

A Pact for People and Planet should contain the following elements that would help to align existing treaty commitments and raise the level of collective ambition for global environmental governance. The goal of such a pact should be a global transition by States and non-State actors to a circular economy, addressing both supply and demand in a way that achieves balance with the planet. The essential elements of such a pact would include: (p.66)

1. A net-zero carbon pledge by 2050, with annual progress reports starting today.
2. Ending of the fossil fuel era via a phaseout plan, starting with coal, followed by oil and gas.
3. A commitment to provide abundant energy to the 800 million people who lack sufficient access to electricity to meet their basic needs while prioritizing a rapid transition to clean energy, through a set of specified financing and implementation mechanisms.
4. Zero loss of forest cover by 2025 and zero deforestation by 2030.
5. A global incentive mechanism to protect standing forests, starting with tropical forests.
6. Biodiversity targets.
7. Nature regeneration by 2050.
8. A pollution-free planet.

Citation: High-Level Advisory Board on Effective Multilateralism (HLAB), A Breakthrough for People and Planet: Effective and Inclusive Global Governance for Today and the Future (New York: United Nations University, 2023). ISBN: 978-92-808-6597-4 © United Nations University 2023

(The Bahá'í International Community's United Nations Office is among the 12 supporters of the HLAB)

Last updated 29 April 2023