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SG/SM/20985
22 October 2021

Secretary-General, Addressing Peacebuilding Commission, Says New Agenda for Peace ‘Is Our Platform to Update Promise’ of Saving Future Generations from War

Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks to the Peacebuilding Commission on “Our Common Agenda and the New Agenda for Peace”, in New York today:

You all have heard my warnings and many of you share my sense of urgency.  The climate crisis is looming, the pandemic is upending our world and conflicts continue to rage and worsen.  The world is experiencing its biggest shared test since the Second World War, and I believe we are at a turning point.

The choices we make — or fail to make — today could result, as I have been saying, in further breakdown and a future of perpetual crises, or a breakthrough to a better, more sustainable, peaceful future for people and for the planet.  Our Common Agenda is an agenda of urgent collective action to strengthen multilateralism and make it fit for the challenges we are facing in the twenty‑first century.

If there is a central message in my report it concerns preventing war and strengthening global peace and security.  It builds on the great preventive treaties of our time, but also the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement [on climate change], and seeks to accelerate their implementation.  It sets out the parameters of an upgraded social contract, anchored in human rights, to tackle growing inequality and exclusion, and build trust and social cohesion.

It is for us, the Secretariat, to support Member States, because obviously the social contract will be done at the country level, and social contracts will be different according to the options that in each country are made by the Government and the people in its different forms of organization and dialogue.

The agenda calls for renewed solidarity among peoples and greater responsibility for the long-term consequences of today’s policies on young people and future generations.  It also recommends better management of critical commons; usually we can see the global commons — the oceans, the atmosphere, outer space and Antarctica — but there are other global public goods:  health, the economy, science and digital technology, among others.

World peace in itself is a critical global public good and a global public good that the United Nations was created to deliver — our primary mission.  The Peacebuilding Commission is therefore central to my report on Our Common Agenda, and I thank you for this important opportunity to brief you today.

Seventy-six years since the United Nations was founded, we have successfully avoided another world war.  However, peace remains elusive in many parts of the world.  Conflict and violence continue to devastate lives and livelihoods in many regions.  In others, the technical absence of war does not mean that people enjoy peace because record numbers of people are on the move, fleeing rising levels of violence of all kinds.

While we have made progress, including the twin General Assembly and Security Council resolutions on peacebuilding and sustaining peace, a central element when we consider the common agenda we must do better to deliver on the promise of the United Nations Charter.  And the report proposes a New Agenda for Peace that takes a comprehensive, holistic view of global security.

Such an agenda should include measures to reduce strategic risks from nuclear arms, cyberwarfare and lethal autonomous weapons; strengthen foresight of future risks; and reshape responses to all forms of violence, including by criminal groups and even violence at home.  It should boost our investment in prevention and peacebuilding by addressing the root causes of conflict, increasing support for regional initiatives that can fill critical gaps — and we have excellent experiences with the African Union, for instance; and put women and girls at the centre of security policy.

I hope that work to delineate this New Agenda for Peace will include a process of deep reflection on what peace means in today’s world, and how we can most effectively work together to achieve it, leaving no one behind — a reflection in which the Peacebuilding Commission has a central role to play.

I believe several areas require particular effort and attention in the New Agenda for Peace, either because the threats we face have evolved, or because our capacity to act has progressed.

First, we need to reduce and better manage existential risks that could — even inadvertently — bring about our own annihilation.  This calls for a recommitment to the non-use of nuclear weapons and a timetable for their progressive elimination.  We also need new measures to de-escalate cyber‑related risks, and to boost cooperation to prevent and counter terrorism.

Second, we need to strengthen strategic foresight and capacities to identify and manage new risks.  I intend to make fuller use of the capacities for foresight across the United Nations family, bringing them together in a futures lab and harnessing their expertise in regular reports — a futures lab that will also be at your disposal — because the Peacebuilding Commission has an absolutely central role in these efforts.

Third, we need to recognize the links between all forms of violence, from terrorism to violence against women and girls.  Whether violence is political or criminal, the harm it causes individuals, communities and societies does not necessarily differ.  We must strive to reduce all these forms of violence and to join our best efforts across sectors.

The Peacebuilding Commission is already playing a leading role here, helping to reshape our response to multidimensional threats to development, peace and security, through an inclusive approach.  Our Common Agenda is also a human rights agenda, and human rights commitments are a key reference point in the design and delivery of prevention and peacebuilding initiatives.  The Commission’s engagement with human rights mechanisms will help to deliver the holistic approach of the New Agenda for Peace.

And then, more important than anything, we need to massively invest in prevention and peacebuilding.  As Peacebuilding Commission Members know best of all, scaled-up preventive action could prevent loss of human life and incalculable suffering.  Prevention must be based on better links between peace and security, human rights, climate and development work, focusing on factors that exacerbate grievances and drive conflict and violence.  An expanded role for the Peacebuilding Commission would enable us to work in more locations, supporting preventive measures related to climate change, health, gender equality, development, human rights and more.

The Peacebuilding Fund has a similar multiplying effect.  By ensuring adequate, predictable and [sustained] financing, including through assessed contributions, the Fund will have more bandwidth to grow its investments in support of Our Common Agenda.  We also need to be focused on making sure that it delivers on the ground.  To that end, I want every United Nations mission and country office to be a centre of prevention expertise.

Fifth, we need to put women and girls at the centre of our peace efforts.  Everyone recognizes the value of the women, peace and security agenda, but few have made serious efforts to implement it.  This must change.  Here, too, the Commission has a key role to play, with experience in mainstreaming gender considerations through your strategy and action plan.  I encourage you to continue to support women peacebuilders and to amplify their voices.

Our Common Agenda also includes many recommendations on the meaningful participation of young people in all decision-making processes, including prevention and peacebuilding.

A New Agenda for Peace could include all these ideas, and many more.  I look to Member States, and particularly those with rich expertise in peace and security issues, to take these proposals forward and to present their own contributions.  Next steps could include a dialogue on how to update our collective view of the peace and security landscape and match our resources and efforts to the nature and severity of the threats we face.

I hope we can advance the New Agenda for Peace as a key component of the Summit of the Future that I proposed for 2023, which will aim to find ways forward on critical global commons and global public goods:  peace, the health of our planet, the economy, outer space, and the digital commons.

Our Common Agenda is an opportunity to revisit the pledge of the United Nations Charter to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, recognizing that such a promise today would encompass a much broader array of threats.  The New Agenda for Peace is our platform to update that promise, and to keep it.  I look forward to working with you.  Your contribution will be decisive.

Thank you very much for being here today in this discussion and I look forward to our continued dialogue.  Unfortunately, today I will have to leave at 11 a.m., after which Assistant Secretary-General [Oscar] Fernandez-Taranco will represent me.

For information media. Not an official record.