UN2020 Initiative

UN2020 Initiative


In September 2018, CIVICUS published the following article by Fergus Watt to their series “Reimagining Democracy” that offers an update on UN2020 efforts.

Read the article below:
Mobilising for a people-centred United Nations
Fergus Watt is Board Chair of the World Federalist Movement - Institute for Global Policy and Coordinator of the UN2020 Initiative.

To find out more, receive updates and get involved, email info@un2020.org, or contact the CIVICUS UN office in New York.

Visit UN2020.org to learn more about the initiative or subscribe for regular updates. 

The year 2020 will mark the 75th anniversary of the United Nations. It will also be the occasion for several multi-year reviews of major treaties and processes and a time to take stock of the UN's role in the world. Support is growing for using the occasion of the UN's 75th anniversary to develop potential synergies among these high-level reviews, and to develop progressive improvements to global institutions and policy.

There is a need to establish an effective United Nations preparatory process leading to renewal of the United Nations system in 2020. The UN 2020 Initiative presents a Call to Action for a UN Summit, in September 2020, in New York, to address today’s crisis in multilateralism through a U.N. General Assembly-mandated, multi-stakeholder process of stock-taking, recommitment to the principles of the Charter, and organizational reform.

The Reform Agenda

While not presently advocating any specific measures, the UN2020 Initiative has identified some core principles and approaches for renewing the UN system. Among others, these include:

A Leading Role for the Secretary-General. An effective preparatory process leading to the UN2020 summit must support and build on the reforms initiated by Secretary-General Guterres, including through his review of the Secretariat’s peace and security architecture, his efforts to follow up on the UNGA’s 2016 resolution on the Quadrennial Comprehensive Policy Review of Operational Activities for Development, and associated management reforms.

Prevention and Sustaining Peace. In addition to management reforms, the Secretary-General has prioritised the need for conflict prevention and sustaining peace. Such an approach to peace and security — one that spans prevention, root causes, peacemaking, mediation, peacekeeping and post-conflict peacebuilding and reconstruction — will require substantial strengthening of heretofore under-utilized and under-funded parts of the UN system.

One UN. A more coherent and coordinated delivery of UN services at the country level has been a long-agreed goal. Member States would experience a more responsive and efficient system if the range of UN agencies, programmes and expertise were better aligned in support of country needs and demands. This could strengthen the impact of the UN system in delivery of critical areas of development, environment and humanitarian assistance, among others.

A people-centered UN. The United Nations needs to better incorporate the views of diverse stakeholders in its decision making processes, not only the positions of Member States’ executive branches. Women must be given more equitable representation. Marginalized groups, especially indigenous peoples, must be given a greater voice. The space for civil society contributions – under threat today in countries worldwide – must be expanded and refined. New forums for parliamentarians and other citizen representatives should be established. Mechanisms for ensuring accountability for upholding human rights commitments must be strengthened.

Regionalism. There is need for better integration of regional organizations within the United Nations system. Regions can and should be links between that system and individual national governments.

Adequate funding. The funding of the United Nations, including its various funds, programmes and agencies, relies primarily on combinations of assessed and voluntary contributions from member states. The contributions are assessed and allocated using an arcane and opaque set of rules that have generated much controversy, while failing to generate adequate funding for the UN’s work. To meet growing demands, a UN 2020 preparatory process must include a wide-ranging review and reform of the means and methods for more securely providing essential funding of the United Nations system. Numerous viable proposals already exist.

A continuing reform process. Progressive reform results from a process of dialogue and negotiation. Some reform measures will be more easily agreed upon by the time of the 2020 Summit than others. The 2020 Summit should not only include outcomes that lead to agreed reforms and the introduction of new norms, but also establish an expectation and a process for the realization of further reforms in the years that follow.

The initiative does not anticipate that the composition of a reformed Security Council would fall within the scope of a 2020 reform process. Questions of equitable representation on and composition of the membership of the Security Council are under discussion through the General Assembly mandated Intergovernmental Negotiations (IGN) framework.


The UN2020 initiative is canvassing the views of various stakeholders, including civil society representatives, scholars, member states and UN officials. Discussions at this stage are focused on two aspects: (a) the desirable structure and scope of an inclusive and effective 2020 preparatory process; and (b) how such a process can be formally initiated, while also reinforcing ongoing agendas (including the Secretary-General's reforms). To this end, the following characteristics may be noted.

  1. The Ad-Hoc Working Group on the revitalization of the work of the General Assembly (AHWG) serves as one possible vehicle for mandating this process.

  2. The 2020 process would need to be complementary to and build upon the Secretary-General’s internal reforms on peacebuilding architecture, development and management.

  3. The year 2020 will also be the occasion for a number of key multilateral processes and “+5 reviews”, including: the 5-year anniversaries of the Paris Climate Agreement and the adoption of Agenda 2030 for the Sustainable Development Goals, the review conference of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Agreement, the mandated reforms for the Human Rights treaty bodies, the 20-year anniversary of Resolution 1325, the 25-year anniversary of the Beijing Women’s conference, the 15-year anniversary of the Biodiversity Convention, as well as the Peacebuilding Commission and other norms and processes that came about in the UN’s last major dedicated reform effort in 2005. Though not a certainty, it is possible that the overlay of a UN2020 leaders summit could lead to a dynamic whereby mutually reinforcing synergies may be explored.

  4. It is anticipated that the scope of the 2020 process would be unlikely to entail changes to the UN Charter. Considering the paralysis at the Intergovernmental Negotiations (IGN) on Security Council Reform, and the impact of incorporating those fraught political dynamics in another process, steering clear of Charter reform may well be a good thing. One can achieve a lot without opening up the UN Charter.


The UN2020 Project is initiated by a coordinating group of civil society representatives including CIVICUS, the Stimson Center, The Workable World Trust and the World Federalist Movement – Institute for Global Policy (WFM-IGP). The group is consulting actively with government representatives, UN officials and other stakeholders.