On October 25th, Finn Reske-Nielsen, former UN’s Assistant Secretary General and Ben Dorfman, Associate Professor of the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities at Aalborg University, met at Aalborg’s International House to talk about the future of the United Nations. 

Inspiring a long generation of people that seek change, the UN has been a key actor in influencing International Law and Diplomacy around the world. In this tradition of though, Reske-Nielsen pointed out the importance of the UN for development and peace and presented insights into his work with pictures he took himself for example in Timor-Leste. Ben Dorfman focused on his input on the United Nations Security Council and how the council is facing challenges and ideas for reforms. 

The inputs were followed by discussions among the young participants regarding the future of the UN, the question of intervention and also critique on present policies and modes of action. Nevertheless, “coming together and talk” is still perceived as pressing and marks the hope and aspiration of the participants of the discussion. 

A glance at the future 

Talking about the UN for young people does also mean “talking about the future”. For Denmark this future within the UN Security Council might come very soon as the country is a running candidate for one of the seats for non-permanent members. The participants were particularly interested in the Danish goals and visions of foreign policies for that period. Dorfman predicted that the Danish visions may not differ drastically from the ones of its partners in the council and Reske-Nielsen pointed out the ”secretive” nature of the Danish ideas: The country still has to gather votes and support and might hold back on strong visions as for now. 

“What is the role of young people?” – that question was hovering above the inputs and discussions. “It is about your future, thereby young people play a gigantic role” responded Reske-Nielsen and referred to the Summit of The Future which will be held next year in New York. 

Summit of the Future – More than Words? 

Finding “Multilateral Solutions for a Better Tomorrow” says it on the official UN-website for the scheduled summit in September 2024. Declared by UN-General-Secretary Antonio Guterres, the summit is supposed to bring world leaders together. As many Declarations and Pacts (e.g., Declaration of Human Rights, the Sustainable Development Goals or the UN Charta) explain the UN values and goals, the “how?” seems rather unclear in times of international crises. 

The desired outcome of the summit is the “Pact for Future” (the term “for future” appears to be the term of the decade and may promise credibility and success). 

As stated in a draft decision from August 2023, the pact will focus on five chapters: 

  • Sustainable development and financing for development 
  • International peace and security 
  • Science, technology and innovation and digital cooperation 
  • Youth and future generations 
  • Transforming global governance 

Youth and Future Generations – What will the Summit Deliver? 

The Pact for Future plans to “change our world” (UN, The Summit for the Future in 2024) and a published overview maps the planned changes and ideas. “Meaningful Inclusion of Young People” – just a headline or also actions? 

The paper focuses on youth participation and involvement in decision-making progresses. That is what the Pact for Future wants to deliver, the “how” is not yet resolved. As the call for participation and involvement are often heard yet barely delivered “hollow” words, young people are allowed to skeptically await the summit and the pact for Future. 

Still, there is reason for hope and positivity. The question of “youth” does seem to be taken seriously by the co-facilitators (Germany and Namibia) of the Summit. In a letter to the President of the General Assembly, both officials asked for an explicit inclusion of youth and future generations in the pact: “All delegations echoed the significance of promoting the meaningful, inclusive and effective engagement of youth as well as the need to think and act in the interests of Future Generations [….]” (Read the full letter here.) 

Hopefully, the significance will echo back into meaningful changes and policies that will include young people. But already before the beginning of the summit there was more reason for hope: With a Resolution adopted by the General Assembly on 8 September 2022 (76/306), a United Nations Youth Office was established. May that only be the beginning of a path towards more engagement with the future and hence with younger generations. 

Authors: Laureen Hannig & Aline Christine Perfeito Silva