Image source: The New World Economy. - Photo: 2024

The Summit of the Future: An Invitation to Intensive Global Brainstorming

By Jeffrey D. Sachs*

This article was published in New World Economy and is being republished with the author’s permission.

NEW YORK | 6 July 2024 (IDN) — The world’s geopolitical system is not delivering what we want or need. Sustainable development is our declared goal, meaning economic prosperity, social justice, environmental sustainability and peace. Yet our reality is continued poverty amidst plenty, widening inequalities, deepening environmental crises and war. To get back on track, UN Secretary-General António Guterres has wisely called for a summit of the future at the UN on Sept. 22 and 23, a call that has been endorsed by the 193 UN member states.

The core idea of the summit of the future is that humanity is facing a set of unprecedented challenges that can only be solved through global cooperation. The crisis of human-induced climate change (especially the warming of the planet) cannot be solved by any one nation alone. Nor can the crises of wars (such as in Ukraine and Gaza), or geopolitical tensions (between the US and China) be settled by one or two nations alone. Each nation, even the major powers including the US, China, Russia, India and others, are part of a complex global structure of power, economics and politics that requires truly global solutions.

The summit is to revolve around five core topics, all of them related to multilateralism, meaning the system by which nations coexist with the rest of the world. These topics are: the goal of sustainable development; the goal of peace; the control of new technologies such as artificial intelligence; the empowerment of young people and future generations; and reform of the UN architecture.

The UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, which I direct on behalf of Guterres, has issued a statement summarizing the view of leading academics around the world about the reform of the multilateral system. The statement on the summit of the future is chapter 1 of this year’s Sustainable Development Report.


Global finance

On the goal of sustainable development, the core challenge is global finance. Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals — including the fight against poverty, hunger, disease and environmental degradation — requires sizeable public investments. The main priority public investment areas including education, healthcare, zero-carbon energy, sustainable agriculture, urban infrastructure and digital infrastructure. The problem is that the poorer half of the world — the low-income and lower-middle-income nations — lack the access to financing they need to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. The most urgent reform of the global system these nations need is access to long-term, low-cost financing.


On the goal of peace, the core challenge today is great-power competition. The US is in competition with Russia and China. The US aims for primacy in Europe over Russia, and primacy in Asia over China. Russia and China resist the US. The result is war (in Ukraine) or the risk of war (in Asia). We need a stronger UN-led system in which great-power competition is governed and restrained by the UN Charter rather than by militarism and power politics. More generally, we are past the era when any single nation can or should aspire to primacy or hegemony. The major powers should live in peace and mutual respect under the UN Charter, without threatening each other’s security.


On the goal of technology, the main challenge is to ensure transparent and responsible governance of new advanced technologies, including biotechnology, artificial intelligence and geoengineering. Such powerful technologies cannot continue to be managed in secrecy by militaries and powerful corporations. They need to be governed by honesty, transparency and responsibility to the public.

Young people and future generations

On the goal of young people and future generations, the major challenge is to ensure that every child can achieve his or her potential through high-quality education. Education is essential for a decent job and a life of dignity. Yet hundreds of millions of children, especially in poor nations, are either out of school or in sub-standard schools that are not teaching the skills needed for the 21st century. Without a quality education, these children would face a lifetime of poverty and underemployment or unemployment. We need a new global financial arrangement to ensure that every child, even in the poorest nations, is given the opportunity for a decent education.

Reforming the UN system

On the goal of reforming the UN system, the key is to give more power to UN institutions and to make them more representative. The UN today depends too much on a few powerful nations, most on notably the US. When the US does not pay its dues to the UN, for example, the whole UN system is weakened. We need to strengthen the UN system by ensuring that it is properly and reliably financed through a new system of international taxes — for example, on carbon dioxide emissions, shipping, aviation and financial transactions — rather than the contributions of individual governments.

We also should make UN institutions more representative of today’s world rather than the world of 1945, when the UN was established. India, for example, should become a permanent member of the UN Security Council. India is the world’s most populous nation, the third-largest economy and a nuclear power. In 1945, India was still a British colony and so was not given its proper place in the UN system at that time.

UN parliamentary assembly

Another core recommendation of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network is to introduce a UN parliamentary assembly as a new chamber alongside the UN General Assembly. The General Assembly gives each member state one vote, with the power of that vote in the hands of the executive branch of each government. A UN parliament would represent the peoples of the world rather than governments.

Most importantly, the summit of the future is an invitation to intensive global brainstorming on how to make our deeply interconnected world fit for sustainable development in the 21st century. It is a great challenge that should be welcomed and joined by people all over the world. A great debate is to begin in September and continue for years to come.


*Dr. Jeffrey D. Sachs is a Professor at Columbia University, Director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University, and President of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network. He has served as an adviser to three UN Secretaries-General and is an SDG Advocate under Secretary-General António Guterres. [IDN-InDepthNews]

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Image source: The New World Economy.

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