By: TANDOKO Efendi,UNU-IAS

“On New Year’s Day 2018, I am not issuing an appeal. I am issuing an alert, a red alert, for our world.” – United Nations Secretary General
António Guterres, 31 December 2017

The end of 2017 marked a new pinnacle for unpredictability, challenges, and innovation. From the imminent probability of a nuclear war to the highest growth rate of global economy since 2011, the prospect of 2018 can both be unnerving and exciting at the same time.

During the first four months of its 72nd session, the United Nations General Assembly has taken a number of key actions. H.E. Mr. Miroslav Lajčák, President of the General Assembly emphasized three things in his latest remark; the adoption of over 250 resolutions, the launch of new initiatives – including a series of Morning Dialogues for permanent representatives, and the adoption of a new USD 5.4 billion regular budget for 2018-2019 period. However, progress should not be accounted to the amount of resolutions adopted or budget achieved, but rather by the impacts the organization has made for people’s lives.

In the same statement, Mr. Lajčák also noted three more priorities for his agenda in 2018. This includes the agreement on the world’s very first global compact on migration – which negotiations begin in February, the peacebuilding and sustaining peace scheme, and the concrete implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Now the huge debate is, what kind of responsibilities should the United Nations bear in response to the escalating tensions and volatile global development? While it is impossible to precisely predict what is going to happen, here are three issues to think about in 2018:

The New Dynamic of Security Council and the Reform Agenda

Six countries, namely, Côte d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Kuwait, the Netherlands, Poland and Peru have officially joined the Security Council this year, replacing Egypt, Japan, Senegal, Ukraine, Italy, and Uruguay. This may not seem like a huge shift, but against the backdrop of reforming the United Nations development system and the situation in the Korean peninsula, this change might transform the debate within the council.

The two Koreas have decided to “relieve military tension” and discussed performances and cultural cooperation of the North and South teams ahead the Olympics. Although there was no apparent talk on nuclear disarmament, the unity may function as long as stakeholders’ – such as the United States – actions do not undermine efforts to engage with Pyongyang diplomatically. The flow of lobby negotiations might also be geopolitically different with Japan out of the Council.

Additionally, 8 of the 15 members of the Council in 2018 are “Friends of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P)”, meaning that they were appointed R2P Focal Point and/or joined the Group of Friends of R2P in New York and Geneva. This could be a push for a humanitarian reform and prevention of mass atrocities, which could accelerate the whole system’s reform, especially added with other countries’ interest – like Kuwait – to include more of their regional allies into the Council. While reform is never easy, it is a necessary endeavor to make the future United Nations more resilient and responsive to world’s issues.

Paris Agreement and Climate Actions deadlines

The Paris Agreement is on its third year and yet, with rising extreme weather events, the top three warmest year on record according to the World Meteorological Organization, and US ambiguous withdrawal from the accord, the show must go on. Fortunately, amid all those, many countries and cities are determined to respect their national and international commitments under the agreement.

2018 will be the time to see how subnational and stakeholders’ commitments will be implemented into concrete actions. The growing involvement of local governments in global issues such as but not limited to climate change and migration is deemed to maintain its momentum while the Global Climate Action Summit takes place this September. It is also important to observe the Talanoa Dialogue result for setting greenhouse target in 2020.

However, we have yet to see how the United Nations will handle the oversight role in determining whether countries are keeping their climate promises, and what kind of guidelines are sufficient to adequately improve on countries’ pledges. In addition to the rulemaking target time, it will also be fruitful to analyze the role of Canada during its G7 presidency, China’s largest carbon-trading market, and Germany’s increasingly vertical emission cuts in the coming months.

Unending political, social & economic turbulences

Only time will tell if peace will ever come to Middle East and Africa. With the abrupt “end” of Oslo Accord for Israel and Palestine due to the unpredictability of United States’ highly condemned tweet, the two-state solution should be of paramount concern for the way forward. However, with the alarming rate of controversial criticisms from each actor, and the United States decision to cut funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the situation could become more dire than expected.

Moreover, the humanitarian condition in Democratic Republic of Congo further emphasizes the likelihood for instability and violence to spread across the region, especially in regards to the political dynamics in Uganda, Burundi, and Rwanda. Interventions from international agencies like the International Organization for Migration (IOM) should thus focus on responding to gender-based violence, displacement tracking and shelter, as well as camp management (water, sanitation, and hygiene included).

As the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Turns 70 this year, it will be necessary to monitor what the United Nations will be doing to put focus on conflict prevention and maintaining the impetus for Compacts on Migration and Refugees, even without the United States’ participation.

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Each of the issue above highlights the role of how international cooperation and mediation can be significantly influential in turning the tide. But beyond that, I would like to further affirm that despite the flattering progress the United Nations have delivered to international peace and sustainable development, it should expect to address bigger challenges with reduced resources and more complex international dynamics in 2018.

For another, the honorable mention on what to look forward in 2018 goes to the upcoming Russian election, women’s rights progress, and the expanded role of private sector.