António Guterres, the former prime minister of Portugal and UN high commissioner for refugees, took over on January 1 for a five-year term as the United Nations secretary general.
Guterres’s appointment takes place while the citizens in many leading economies view globalization with a gimlet eye—as reflected by Brexit and Donald Trump’s election. The UN, under its new leadership, will have to find areas where a political consensus can be achieved to promote multilateral economic initiatives.
In recent years, while peacekeeping and diplomatic efforts of the UN have struggled to show results, especially in war-torn countries such as Syria, economic initiatives have shown promise, such as the UN Global Compact, an initiative to encourage companies worldwide to adopt sustainable business practices.
“The U.N. needs to build strong partnerships with other multilateral organizations to execute its programs and achieve the sustainable development goals,” confirms Marcos Bonturi, the new permanent observer at the UN for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). “The OECD is well-positioned with its global standard-setting experience and interdisciplinary innovative policy making.”
The fact that Guterres ran a major UN agency during a global refugee crisis would help him to focus on ways to better integrate the various UN operations and to partner with other institutions.
The UN Economic and Social Council (Ecosoc), the economic organ of the UN, has attracted a large number of NGOs that support its economic development goals and their execution. The UN Conference on Trade and Development (Unctad), the body dealing with trade and investment, has become influential in dealing with the investor/state dispute resolution crisis by introducing dispute resolution reforms and policy tools for governments, and in building a dialogue that would lead to a new generation of bilateral treaties, including the draft agreement between the United States and China. The Paris Agreement, the recent pact on climate change, also demonstrates the UN’s impact on economic activities.
The U.N. Sustainable Development Goals, the post-2015 U.N. development agenda, seeks to create opportunities for more companies to enter new markets.