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Climate Action

Breathing new life into the SDGs: What is the UN Summit of the Future in 2024?

Deep dive

As of September 2023, only 15% of the 17 SDG goals were on track. Image: Unsplash/kellysikkema

Kate Whiting
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
  • The United Nations Summit of the Future will be held on 22-23 September 2024.
  • The aim is to build upon the SDG Summit and deliver an action-oriented Pact for the Future to accelerate progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals.
  • The World Economic Forum’s Chief Economists Outlook has warned of a “deepening trade-off between development and climate action”.

In footballing terms, the UN SDG Summit in September 2023 was a moment to “go back to the locker room and re-strategize – because games are won or lost in the second half”.

So said a trio of UN experts in summing up the outcomes from the meeting in New York that took place during the United Nations General Assembly.

It marked the halfway point to the 2030 deadline for meeting the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. As of September 2023, only 15% of the goals were on track.

The SDG Summit resulted in the adoption of the SDG Political Declaration, in which world leaders reaffirmed their commitment to the goals and expressed concern over the lack of progress to date: “The achievement of the SDGs is in peril… Our world is currently facing numerous crises. Years of sustainable development gains are being reversed.”

The Declaration brought new emphasis to the need for both SDG financing and better data to help close gaps in sustainable development.

It ended with a nod to the Summit of the Future in 2024 as an “important opportunity to accelerate the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and its SDGs”.


What is the UN Summit of the Future?

The Summit of the Future: Multilateral Solutions for a Better Tomorrow was first proposed by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in his Our Common Agenda report in September 2021. The report was his response to a call from Member States for ideas on how better to respond to current and future challenges.

It will be held in September 2024 and is billed by Guterres as a “once-in-a-generation opportunity to reinvigorate global action, recommit to fundamental principles, and further develop the frameworks of multilateralism so they are fit for the future”.

The UN says that if the 2030 Agenda, the Paris Agreement and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda (among others) were the “what” in terms of goal setting and commitments, the Summit of the Future will be the “how”: How can we work together effectively to meet those targets and tackle the most pressing issues, while preparing for a more resilient future?

When the 2030 Agenda was formulated in 2015, artificial intelligence and other emerging digital technologies were still nascent, so the Summit of the Future will address the potential and challenges they present and develop the tools to “turbocharge the SDGs”.

Among other things, this means renewing or fine-tuning multilateral systems of governance to ensure the 43 points agreed in the SDG Summit’s Political Declaration are advanced.

The outcome will be a Pact for the Future negotiated and endorsed by UN Member States in the lead-up to and during the Summit in September 2024.

Image: X/@antonioguterres

Why does it matter?

In 2023, the climate crisis has brought record-breaking extreme weather events that have affected millions of people across the globe – with a disproportionate impact on less developed countries.

Research by Carbon Brief estimates more than 15,000 people were killed in Africa by extreme weather in 2023, which affected 34 million lives.

Between 1970 and 2021, 11,778 disasters have been attributed to weather, climate and water extremes. They caused more than two million deaths and $4.3 trillion in economic losses, according to the World Meteorological Organization and multi-agency United in Science 2023 report.

Failure to mitigate climate change is the biggest global risk over the next 10 years, and is deeply interconnected to other major geopolitical, societal and economic global risks, including conflict, infectious diseases and the cost-of-living crisis, as the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2023 showed.

Image: X/@wef

Climate change impacts the world’s ability to meet the Agenda 2030 SDGs: from Goal #2 Zero Hunger, as crop failure threatens food security, to Goal #14 Life Below Water as warming seas threaten marine ecosystems and the livelihood of humans that rely on them.

In September 2023, three-quarters of Chief Economists polled by the Forum said geopolitical tensions will undermine progress towards the SDGs, while six in 10 warned of a deepening trade-off between development and climate action.

But humans can change the course of the climate crisis. The UN declared 2024 to 2033 as the International Decade of Sciences for Sustainable Development.

Scientific solutions can “supercharge” progress towards the SDGs, the WMO says, including the use of weather predictions to boost food production and early warning systems to limit the impact of extreme weather events.

Figure illustrating the weather-, climate- and water-related sciences support in the achievement of many of the SDGs
How science can help to achieve the SDGs. Image: WMO

What’s on the agenda?

UN Member States have agreed the Summit of the Future is centred around five key targets:

1. Reaffirm the UN Charter.

2. Reinvigorate multilateralism.

3. Boost implementation of existing commitments.

4. Agree on solutions to new challenges.

5. Restore trust.

In February 2023, Guterres released 11 policy briefs offering “concrete ideas” on how to advance Our Common Agenda as Member States prepare for the Summit.

These are:

The UN says: “Every proposal offered by the Secretary-General for consideration at the Summit of the Future will have demonstrable impacts on achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.”

Have you read?
Related topics:
Climate ActionNature and BiodiversitySustainable DevelopmentForum Institutional
What is the UN Summit of the Future?Why does it matter?What’s on the agenda?

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