It’s time for citizens to have a voice at the global level. With complex challenges that are increasingly global in nature, we need global solutions. A UN World Citizens’ Initiative gives citizens a say in global issues that directly affect them.
The UN's democratic deficit
The coronavirus pandemic, climate change, and many other challenges underline the fact that all people on this planet are connected to each other. As world citizens we are all in the same boat, but we have no say at the United Nations (UN) as the most important arena of global politics. The Security Council decides on matters of international peace and security, and the General Assembly makes recommendations, launches treaty negotiations, or is engaged in international agenda-setting. The UN, however, is an exclusive club of appointed government diplomats. The UN’s democratic deficit has been known for decades. While the UN has made some effort to include civil society organizations and other major groups in some of its deliberations, there are no means for ordinary citizens to take influence.
Examples for citizens' input
In many countries, there are instruments that allow citizens to provide input for consideration of the executive or legislative branch of government. In the European Union, there is the official instrument of a European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) which gives citizens the right to submit a legislative proposal to the European Commission. In principle, the ECI enables everyday citizens to identify a problem, propose a solution, and submit their proposal, based on the support of one million EU citizens, to the European Commission for review. This has the potential to revolutionize citizenship participation at the highest political levels and represents the first and only transnational tool of participatory democracy that exists in the world.
A UN World Citizens' Initiative
The idea of a UN World Citizens’ Initiative (UNWCI) is that if a certain number of global citizens endorses a citizen-launched initiative, UN bodies such as the General Assembly or the Security Council have to put the item on their agenda and give representatives of the initiative the floor to make their case. In terms of the General Assembly, this could be done during the annual general debate while heads of state and government are present.
A UNWCI will allow global citizens to have more impact in a world with growing dilemmas that require global cooperation of both states and citizens alike. It will help create a citizen-based global political sphere and give citizens the platform to bring issues important to them to the global stage.
The UNWCI has the transformative potential to kickstart action on global issues that until now have largely been ignored. Making the UN more democratic and inclusive is the key to tackling many of the challenges we face today: a truly diverse community of activists from all over the world agrees with us on this. Over 300 civil society organizations have already joined our campaign. Their work focuses on issues ranging from climate change to promoting peace.
Why this matters now
We are not alone in thinking that the UN needs an urgent update. At the occasion of the UN’s 75th anniversary last year, Secretary General Guterres organized a yearlong round of discussions with a total of over 1.5 million citizens in over 195 countries. The goal was to find out how people around the world see the UN and what role it should take on in the future. An astounding 97% of them said that they think the work of the UN is important and necessary, but 40% also said that it is very remote from their lives. Many of them pointed towards a UN World Citizens’ Initiative as a solution and it was even suggested in the UN’s own concluding report.
Our Common Agenda
The results of these consultations were a wake-up call for UN member states and they decided to launch a real reform process. They tasked Secretary General Guterres with drafting a roadmap for the future of the UN ahead of the General Assembly in September 2021. One of the main elements he should investigate is how the UN itself can be upgraded. To collect ideas from citizens and civil society, he launched an online consultation where people could propose solutions and vote for the ideas of others. The UN World Citizens’ Initiative was the second-most voted for on the platform!