We do not inherit the land from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.’

Apache saying

Climate change, inequality, poverty, and pandemics emerge from systemic root causes. They are structural and cultural, mostly derived from our collective and individual belief systems. Shifting today's global unsustainable societal model is an unprecedented challenge National governments, international organizations, and a wide array of civil society actors have already convened to create humanity's boldest agenda yet: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Shortly after, the Paris Agreement, signed by 196 countries, is another critical and complementary initiative that addresses climate change more specifically.

Meeting the goals set in the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement to achieve sustainable development requires a new focus and way of governing. Despite the establishment of a comprehensive results framework of 17 interconnected goals and a collective vision to advance sustainable development, in 2023, we are still far off track. In addition to addressing the basic needs that are currently unmet, governance for sustainable development must be forward-looking. How will achieving current goals impact future generations? Ultimately, the journey towards global sustainability is dynamic and infinite.

Disruptive technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, blockchain, and the Internet of Things are newly accessible tools. New technologies may be harnessed to play a significant role in the governance for sustainable development. However, their unregulated usage generates a series of concerns that deserve to be consistently assessed. Their deployment can be channeled through methods that are ethical and respect human rights. This includes environmental and social safeguards and iterative approaches sensitive to early signs to minimize the effects of unintended consequences. In globalized markets, the role of multilateralism, bilateral and regional cooperation among nations and the influence of international organizations is undeniable for responsible use to be enforced. Additionally, local communities and specific territorial dynamics are also at the heart of the transformation that current governance models are experiencing.

‘Governance for the Future’ is part of the systemic mindset shift being called for. What are the learning needs for actors to operate such a shift? What do the existing experiences teach us about what it takes to conduct successful governance for the future?

Firstly, stakeholders equipped with soft skills such as empathy, collaboration, political acumen and effective communication will be critical to future-proof policies, strategies as well as the decision-making processes themselves.  

Secondly, good governance is inherently evidence-based and effectively integrates economic, social, and environmental policies. Therefore, technical expertise in anti-corruption, human rights, migration, social protection, misinformation management, among others shall all inform more inclusive decision-making processes, with adequate levels of participation, leveraged by the benefits offered by new technologies.

And thirdly, strategic foresight, visioning and ideation techniques are already being used in territorial and national roadmap and pathways planning. Those approaches help governments anticipate and respond to emerging trends and challenges and develop long-term strategies for sustainable development. By engaging citizens and stakeholders in the process, governments are able to ensure that their policies are grounded in a shared understanding of the future and have broad support from all the relevant actors.

In a nutshell, (1) awareness-based skills together with (2) in-depth knowledge of the challenge and (3) existing tools and methods are all requisites for meaningful dialogue, to build agency, engagement and trust. As a result, good governance builds legitimacy in institutions that are critical to build a legacy for future generations.

In sum, governance for the future must make the most of multilateralism, nurture forward-looking compelling and inclusive visions, and build on the active participation of stakeholders – with the best interest of future generations in mind. The development of soft skills among actors involved in governance processes shall be critical for fostering transformative change that is conducive to bringing about a sustainable societal model. Ultimately, humanity shall be able to collectively fulfill basic human needs and thrive together with and within the ecosystems it depends upon.

The UNSSC Knowledge Centre for Sustainable Development delivers courses supporting UN staff and partners in enhancing governance and partnership skills for sustainable development. Well-equipped actors, in terms of knowledge and tools, are the ones making meaningful contributions towards achieving the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement. UNSSC's learning offerings explore different types of partnerships and governance systems. During the courses, participants analyse the benefits and challenges of different approaches. They train relevant competencies and networks to bring about sustainable change collectively.

This year's 12th edition of the UN Summer Academy revolves around the topic of Governance for Sustainable Development, and Governance for the Future is one of the programme's focus areas. To read more about the UN Summer Academy, access here.