The 76th annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA76) was unusual for a number of reasons.
First, the dangerous spread of the highly contagious delta variant of COVID-19 made most of the sessions virtual, while smaller than usual groups of diplomats and heads of state sat together in the main hall.
Meanwhile, the historic push to vaccinate people across the world is still not fully underway. While some countries have more than 70% vaccination rates, more than 100 countries have been able to vaccinate almost no one.
This year’s northern summer has produced a long list of historic and devastating climate emergency impacts, with the Secretary-General describing the IPCC’s latest science report as “a code red for humanity.”
The need for cooperation and co-financing of solutions to international emergencies is urgent and escalating—even as corruption, disinformation, and extremism, undermine our ability to respond cohesively.
A landmark UN Special Rapporteur’s report on “The right to science in the context of toxic substances” outlines specific and serious threats to human rights from the manufacture and commercialization of disinformation about scientific evidence. The report [PDF] notes:
The ability of society to benefit from scientific knowledge is also threatened by the propagation of disinformation about scientific evidence. The manufacturing of doubt about the risks and harms of hazardous substances by producers of deadly products has become a lucrative business... Tactics of denial, diversion and distortion are intended to keep hazardous products on the market, despite knowledge of their risks and harms, and at the expense of adequate human rights protections.
The report also calls on governments to proactively “correct disinformation” and “ensure the avoidance of conflicts of interest in science-policy interface mechanisms”. What some commercial interests see as convenient confusion is in fact undermining the rule of law and preventing governments from defending the rights and wellbeing of their people.
The UNGA76 also featured a United Nations Food Systems Summit, the first of its kind, which convened member states, stakeholders, experts, and innovators, from around the world, to outline leverage points and national pathways for system-level upgrading of the human food supply.
EAT, FAIRR, Food Systems for the Future, the U.N. Environment Programme, and the World Business Council on Sustainable Development (WBCSD), brought together leaders in public and private finance, as well as senior diplomats, U.N. leaders, experts, and stakeholders, to launch of the Good Food Finance Network.
The Network brings together leaders in the public, private, and multilateral sectors, to mobilize innovative finance for food systems transformation.
The Good Food Finance innovation consultations have identified 14 areas where food-related financial innovation can begin to move quickly and provide cooperative and compounding benefits.
An emerging Action Agenda will address core imperatives outlined in a Food Finance Architecture brief from the Summit’s Finance Lever process.
The United States committed $10 billion to address hunger, poverty, resilience, and innovation imperatives linked to food systems. A statement from the White House noted that:
The 2021 UN Food Systems Summit is an extension of longstanding U.S. leadership and investment in ending hunger, malnutrition, and poverty and building more sustainable, equitable, and resilient food systems.
That will to lead has often transcended partisan divisions and had widespread support from the American people. It should be that way now, because it reflects deep-rooted values and because the COVID pandemic, climate emergency, mass migration, and income inequality, show that we cannot prosper in peace while millions around the world are devalued and disregarded.
The US also announced its largest ever commitment of new funding to assist other countries in speeding the climate transition. President Biden said the US would deliver $11 billion per year to assist developing countries by 2024. US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry told Bloomberg this funding is an investment, not an expenditure, because the benefits of mitigating climate emergency as so great.
China announced it would stop funding and building coal plants outside its borders. The precise details of that prohibition, including the effect on ongoing projects, is not yet clear, but it does suggest China’s Belt and Road Initiative—a vast international infrastructure project—is more likely to be oriented toward lower emissions.
The scale of new action and investment needed to achieve sustainable, green recovery from the COVID crisis demands still more.
Vaccine inequity is troubling and is slowing all nations’ efforts to emerge from the pandemic. Variants, like delta, emerge in major outbreaks and then spread elsewhere.
Ongoing Nature loss and biodiversity collapse, climate destabilization and COVID-related disruptions of supply chains and basic services, are all undermining sustainable development.
Economic recovery from the COVID crisis must be inclusive and sustainable, with real improvements for the health and wellbeing of all people, or recovery will not overcome these risks.
The unprecedented Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero can and should lead to an unprecedented flow of new investment into health-building sustainable activities. The Alliance includes more than 250 financial firms responsible for assets in excess of $88 trillion.
Their commitments are aimed at “science-based” pathways to net-zero global heating pollution.
Science says to avoid global heating above 1.5ºC, half of all emissions globally must be eliminated by 2030.
To achieve that, capital flows far bigger than most nations’ whole economies will need to align with climate-smart energy and food systems innovations in the next few years.
That should give world leaders confidence to fully commit to and act on the most ambitious national pathways for climate resilient economies.
It should mean all industries, all finance, and all traded goods and services, are starting to get onto science-based net-zero pathways without further delay.
Today, the General Assembly culminates in a high-level plenary session to commemorate and promote the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons. The event highlights the need for renewed and expanded multilateral cooperation to eliminate the most devastating threats to future wellbeing.
Meanwhile, the pre-COP26 meetings have begun in Milan, with a special global conference Youth4Climate: Driving Ambition. Young people are calling for a rapid transition from talk to action, from deliberation to delivery. Courts are finding inadequate climate action unlawful, because of the undue burden it places on young people and future generations.
It is time to honor and uphold basic human rights by acting on global challenges like climate, biodiversity, food systems, and inclusive financial innovation.
Stay tuned for the Year 1 report from Resilience Intel on progress toward alignment with the Principles for Reinventing Prosperity.