Irina Bokova at LSE – A new Multilateralism for the 21st Century
On 12 October, UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova, gave a lecture at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) on “Strengthening Global Governance for the 21st Century,” where she explored the challenges of an increasingly turbulent world and the role of international organizations in crafting and sustaining a rules-based international order and strengthening effective global governance.
The event was chaired by Professor Michael Cox, Head of the Programme for Transatlantic Relations and Director of the LSE IDEAS, and held in the historic Shaw Library, surrounded by portraits of former LSE Presidents.
“These are extraordinary times of change,” declared Irina Bokova before a packed room, highlighting that “globalization, deepening exchanges and a technological revolution are opening vast new opportunities for trade and prosperity, for cooperation and dialogue.”
In parallel, she referred to the rising impact of climate change on all societies, enduring poverty and conflicts, increasing terrorist attacks and violent extremism and the most important refugee and displacement crisis of our time.
“We live in an increasingly fragmented world,” she said. “An estimated 1.5 billion people today live in regions affected by conflict.”
“‘Hard power’ is not enough for peace – we need ‘soft power’ also… education, freedom of expression, intercultural dialogue…” she declared, highlighting that “we need to look at global governance from the right angle, in light of the rising demand I see everywhere for global action, for rights and dignity, for peace.”
“From this angle, for women and men everywhere, the complexity of challenges today calls for more diplomacy, more multilateralism,” said the Director-General, underlining here the historic agreements of 2015 - the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Climate Agreement.
“These agreements show the thirst that exists for multilateral diplomacy today, for all parts of the United Nations system, which remains the only universal platform where new ideas can be transformed into norms, where new agendas for collective action can be framed,” said the Director-General.
“I see this as the new multilateralism of the 21st century – it is complex, it is multi-layered, it crosses borders, it reaches beyond governments – and this is precisely why it can succeed.”
The Director-General emphasized that to make it work requires adaptation, new thinking, new partnerships, a new openness with civil society, and with the private sector. This requires a new focus on prevention by all parts of the UN system –embodied in UNESCO’s work, for instance, on preventing violent extremism.
The Director-General called also for greater coherence in all peace support efforts, to create a single continuum of effective action, from humanitarian efforts and peace support to rebuilding and development – with education and culture, notably, integrated all along the way.
“Yes, these are tough times for global governance,” said Irina Bokova. “But we have crafted new frameworks for multilateral action. Now we must make them work – and, for this, I believe inclusion, openness and ownership must be our guiding principles.”
In this context, Irina Bokova underscored the importance of the Sustainable Development Goal 16 of the 2030 Agenda, to promote peaceful and inclusive societies, access to justice for all, effective accountable and inclusive institutions. She noted the relevance of UNESCO's action across all SDGS, to empower and leave no one behind.
A wide-ranging discussion followed on defending cultural heritage as well as action to eliminate poverty, and UNESCO's work to tackle the consequences of climate change.
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