Photo: Ambassador Hahn with MA students from Harvard University majoring in international education policy. He gave them a special lecture on global citizenship. Credit: Hyun June Chung, MA student from Harvard University. - Photo: 2018

The Importance of Global Citizenship in Multilateral Diplomacy

By Hahn Choonghee

Hahn Choonghee was Ambassador and Deputy Permanent Representative of the Republic of Korea (ROK) to the United Nations in New York for four years until early 2018. He is now Special Advisor to the Speaker of the National Assembly for Foreign Affairs, ROK. This article first appeared in UN Chronicle, Vol. LIV No. 4 2017 January 2018. – The Editor

NEW YORK, SEOUL (IDN-INPS) – We are currently facing unprecedented challenges, including continued conflicts, increased violent extremism and obstacles to sustainable development such as extreme poverty, gender and economic inequality, refugees and internally displaced persons, and climate change. These challenges are global in their scope and interwoven in nature.

Therefore, there is a great need for a holistic and integrated approach comprising all three pillars of the United Nations, which are peace and security, development and human rights. We have to also address the very fundamental and core parts of the problem at hand; that is people’s mindsets, attitudes, orientations and relationships vis-à-vis one another.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has emphasized peace and the prevention of conflict as one of the most important and urgent agenda items for the United Nations. An emerging concept of sustaining peace, as highlighted in the twin landmark resolutionsadopted both by the Security Council and the General Assembly in April 2016, underlined the importance of the prevention of conflict as well as addressing its root causes and paying increased attention to post-conflict reconstruction and reconciliation.

In particular, preventing violent extremism has become an important priority of the United Nations. Violent extremism and radicalization are becoming a source of instability, conflict, violence, or even atrocities within and between countries. It is known that the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has reached out to and/or recruited around 40,000 people from more than 100 countries. Many of them are known to be highly educated.

There is also an increased use of the Internet and social media by terrorists and their supporters to recruit and incite young people, as they are more susceptible and vulnerable to extremist messages and narratives. The world view and mindset of young people, as well as their sense of identity and belonging, are often weak and low. Now the orientation of education matters, and not just its quality.

Why Global Citizenship and how its discourse has been advanced

Against this backdrop, there has been increased attention placed on Global Citizenship Education as a fundamental and long-term approach to tackling rising global challenges. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), present and future generations need education for global citizenship, which “aims to empower learners to engage and assume active roles, both locally and globally, to face and resolve global challenges and ultimately to become proactive contributors to a more just, peaceful, tolerant, inclusive, secure and sustainable world”.2

The international community should discuss how global citizenship education on can be inclusive and respectful, universal in its principles and local in its impact, and how it can equip all learners with the capacities and qualities necessary to address the complex problems facing humanity today.

Therefore, global citizenship is not just an educational agenda but a new global discourse on how we can construct an environment around the world where the next generation can be equipped with a sense of global citizenship. It has been steadily emerging as a new development on the educational agenda. In 2012, the United Nations Global Education First Initiative (GEFI) highlighted global citizenship as one of its three pillars alongside access to education and quality of learning.

United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI), launched in 2010, has had global citizenship among its 10 principles. And the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) features education in its four pillars together with media, youth and migration. In the landmark Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), SDG 4, target 7 contains references to global citizenship and paragraph 36 of the Sustainable Development Summit Declaration, Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development also explicitly emphasizes global citizenship.3

Key concepts of Global Citizenship

Global citizenship education now very much focuses on, first of all, respect for human dignity, human rights and other universal values as its defining purpose and goal. This recognition of the importance of respect for dignity should be present in global citizenship education throughout one’s life, turning it into the process defined in the 1996 Delors Report to UNESCO as “Learning to be”. Viewed as a lifelong opportunity to fulfil one’s potential, it is crucial for helping people to better develop their personalities and to “be able to act with ever growing autonomy, judgment and personal responsibility”.4

Based on this sense of human dignity and universal values, students will learn three relationships: 1) relationships with people, 2) relationships with people in need, and 3) relationships with the planet.

Relationships with people will focus on mutual respect and understanding, tolerance, and cultural diversity with a view towards helping counter violent extremism and intolerance while simultaneously enhancing good relationships and interconnectedness with others, thereby eventually building more peaceful societies.

This development seems to be related to another pillar of global citizenship education, defined in the Delors Report as “learning to live together” by “developing an understanding of other people and an appreciation of interdependence”.5 In relationships with people in need, students will learn a sense of compassion and empathy for marginalized, isolated and vulnerable groups. They will learn what “leave no one behind” is all about and how to achieve social justice and overcome inequalities. This will be an important step in helping young people work together for a more just, fair, equitable and inclusive society.

Relationships with the planet will help reinforce our mutual responsibilities in protecting Mother Earth, ensuring sustainable development, and emphasizing the importance of climate change and environmental protection, which will suggest a sense of one global community moving towards a common destiny.

Global Citizenship shaping people’s attitudes and the world

Global citizenship, if introduced at an early stage of education in primary and/or secondary school, will serve as a robust basis for nurturing critical thinking and a sense of discernment and judgement on the fundamental and universal values for humanity. Global citizenship will enhance a sense of belonging to the global community and common humanity. It will strengthen identity and solidarity at a personal and local level, as well as collective responsibility at the global level.

In order to foster global citizenship, many countries, including the Republic of Korea, have made efforts to produce a curriculum and/or textbook to be used in school with support from UNESCO and international NGOs and institutes. Innovative pedagogies, such as critical thinking, interactive dialogues and debates, scaled-up use of art, music, design and sports, field trips to teach empathy, and meeting with peer groups coming from different cultures, are all important for an effective and impactful curriculum for global citizenship. A prudent and transparent evaluation mechanism is also critical.

The discourse on global citizenship should be continued and reinforced at the United Nations with the participation of diverse United Nations programmes such as UNESCO, UNAI, UNAOC, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and UN Women, together with civil society organizations such as the DPI/NGO Committee and the Coalition for Global Citizenship 2030.

The Republic of Korea, together with Qatar, established the Group of Friends of Education for Global Citizenship, with an inaugural meeting in June 2017 and a second season in October 2017, with the active participation of 45 member states. The Group of Friends will continue to play a leading role as a central platform in fostering global citizenship at the United Nations, as well as around the world.

Global citizenship education is also positioned to build the defences of peace in the minds of men and women, as emphasized in the UNESCO Constitution: “since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed”. It will contribute to mutual respect and understanding, tolerance, cultural literacy and diversity so that violent extremism and radicalization lose their power. ‘Leave no one behind’ will be the continued motto for all of us as we strive to collectively achieve the ultimate objectives of the SDGs along with the 5 Ps of Sustainable Deveopment (People, Planet, Prosperity, Peace, Partnership), as well as justice, inclusiveness and dignity. Global citizenship should and will focus on humanity, civility and dignity.

Toward a more peaceful, just, and inclusive society

Global citizenship itself may be one of the most important overarching objectives of the United Nations, covering all three pillars of the Organization.

We have to promote increased community and societal dialogue and relationships such as intercultural or interreligious dialogue. Promoting a culture of peace should be reinforced. More approaches that focus on root causes of conflict alongside the concept of sustaining peace and peacebuilding should also be taken into consideration. Inclusive and accountable institution-building, the rule of law and good governance together with the empowerment of women and youth should be prioritized in fragile societies and States. Reducing inequalities and injustice, as well as enhancing social cohesion and reconciliation, will help prevent creating the parasite of violent extremism and radicalization.

Youth engagement is absolutely critical as young people are the agents for change and will play a leading role in the realization of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Possessing a strong sense of belonging to one’s own community and nurturing hope will drastically reduce susceptibility of youth to the propaganda of extremists.

This will also provide them with resilience, the power of discernment, and sound judgement so that they can ‘say no’ to any attempt from extremist groups. We have to also construct healthy and positive counternarratives to outsmart and prevail against negative and destructive narratives.

Paragraph 53 of the Sustainable Development Summit Declaration says that “the future of humanity and of our planet lies in our hands. It lies also in the hands of today’s younger generation who will pass the torch to future generations”. As such, we should not leave young people unprepared to persevere over radicalized narratives.

We cannot leave young people unprepared to confront pressing global challenges including climate change, refugees and displaced persons. We cannot leave young people unaware of the objective to ‘leave no one behind,’ or the importance of having a sense of compassion and empathy. We need new leadership equipped with an ethic of global citizenship. All key stakeholders, including the public and private sectors, civil society organizations, academia, teachers and parliaments, in particular, young people who are the ultimate agents of change, should work together.

Education today has a rare opportunity to contribute substantially to peace and security. Global citizenship should be promoted as a ‘global social movement’ or ‘global social contract’ so that human dignity of all is both restored and preserved. Our current world should positively transform into the world we want. This is certainly possible, particularly if we are determined and work together based on passion and compassion.

Global citizenship should be a sustainable mechanism and strategic process where human dignity will take center stage. Global citizenship will be a litmus test as an overarching and ultimate goal of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, as well as the United Nations as a whole. The stakes are too high and urgent to lose and now they are firmly in our hands to make the world more peaceful, just, inclusive and sustainable. [IDN-InDepthNews – 30 March 2018]

Photo: Ambassador Hahn with MA students from Harvard University majoring in international education policy. He gave them a special lecture on global citizenship. Credit: Hyun June Chung, MA student from Harvard University.

IDN is the flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate –


  1. S/RES/2282 (2016) and A/RES/70/262.
  2. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Global citizenship education: Preparing learners for the challenges of the twenty-first century (Paris, 2014). Available from
  3. A/RES/70/1.
  4. UNESCO, “Learning: the treasure within. Report to UNESCO of the International Commission on Education for the Twenty-first Century”. UNESCO Publishing (Paris, 1996) p. 37. Available from
  5. Ibidem.

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