Chapeau [paras 1-18]

The World Council of Churches (WCC), a fellowship of 352 member churches in over 120 countries representing a total constituency of some 580 million people globally – recognized as an NGO in general consultative status and with a history of partnership with the United Nations since its foundation – strongly affirms the necessity of forging a new international consensus on how to address current challenges and protect the future. This unprecedented historical moment of converging global crises, far exceeding the capacity of any single State to manage alone, demands it. 

Reflecting its own raison d’etre for the promotion of unity among Christians, WCC underlines the critical necessity of international cooperation to address common threats and challenges, and laments the erosion of trust and the deeper divisions in the international community that are gravely undermining our collective capacity to respond to common threats of such gravity and urgency as the climate and biodiversity crises. We underline the acknowledgement in the draft that “we may be the last generation to have a chance of saving the planet” [para 23]. History will rightly judge this generation of leaders very harshly if current failures of morality and responsibility are not corrected, and if we fail to deliver concrete and measurable commitments to a “rescue plan for people and planet” [para 25]. We hope and pray that this year’s Summit for the Future will provide an occasion and catalyst for the needed changes.

WCC welcomes the efforts made in the zero draft of the ‘Pact for the Future’ to bring different streams of policy and action into closer synergy, in recognition of the interconnectedness of the challenges we face in securing a just, peaceful and sustainable future for all people and the living planet. At the same time, it is evident that the majority of the text is constituted of reiterations and reaffirmations of commitments already made, and mostly inadequately fulfilled – whether in the fields of human rights, climate action, environmental protection, sustainable development, poverty eradication, economic justice, gender equality, anti-racism, disarmament, or peace and security. What is less evident are the new approaches and mechanisms to ensure that such commitments do not remain unfulfilled. We believe that in this moment of collective global crisis, repetition and incrementalism will not suffice, but radically new strategies for accelerating implementation and action are needed.

From a faith-based perspective, such strategies must be based first and foremost on core values – especially recognition of the sanctity of life, the responsibility of human beings for care for creation, and the equal God-given human dignity of every person.

Accordingly, the WCC strongly supports the prominent emphasis given in the draft to human rights as a fundamental pillar of the United Nations, undergirding the policies and actions needed to meet the challenges of the present and future. We appreciate also the strong subsidiary focuses on gender equality and anti-racism. In this regard we subscribe fully to the statement in paragraph 8 of the draft that:

Every commitment in this Pact is guided by principles of human rights and gender equality and will contribute to their fulfilment. On the occasion of its seventy-fifth anniversary, we reaffirm the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the human rights and fundamental freedoms enshrined therein. This anniversary offers a valuable opportunity to reflect on achievements, best practices and challenges with regard to the full realization of all human rights for all. We recognize the universality, indivisibility, interdependence and interrelatedness of all human rights and reaffirm our commitment to ensuring all human rights, including the right to development, and fundamental freedoms of everyone. We recognize that human rights are at the heart of peaceful, just and inclusive societies and need to be promoted and protected for the sake of current and future generations. We commit to stepping up our efforts to fight against racism, all forms of discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

Along with many other faith-based partners of the United Nations, the WCC affirms its permanent commitment to working alongside governments, the United Nations and intergovernmental organizations for our many shared purposes. We encourage recognition by the Summit of the Future of the importance of engagement with faith actors in the realization of these purposes, given the breadth and depth of the communities they represent, and the salience of their role and influence as community leaders locally, nationally and globally. As a foundation for this engagement, we also recommend recognition in the Pact of the importance of universal respect for freedom of religion or belief.

Chapter I Sustainable Development and Financing for Development [paras 19-45]

Relative to recent Climate Change Conference outcomes – the advances achieved at COP28 notwithstanding – we welcome the stronger language recognizing the need for “accelerating the transition away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just and orderly manner” [para 32] and for adaptation finance for poor and climate-vulnerable countries [para 36] who are suffering the brunt of climate change impacts. We also support the expressed commitment to “setting a deadline for eliminating fossil fuel subsidies” [para 33]. This is long overdue.

Issues of economic justice are central to the WCC’s vision of “the things that make for peace”, and we therefore affirm the many references in the draft Pact to such issues.  We underline the role of poverty, economic injustice and rampant income inequality as drivers of instability, conflict, displacement, climate change and environmental degradation, human rights violations, lack of social cohesion and many of the other crises facing the world, and in undermining all efforts for sustainable development. Addressing these challenges is of cross-cutting importance.  

In this regard we note that hunger, food security and water access receive little explicit reference in the draft, apart from commitment to following up on the outcomes of the UN Food Systems Summit (2021) and the UN Water Conference (2023) [para 26]. These issues are fundamental to human dignity and security, and undergirded by human rights obligations. Food justice, food sovereignty and the human rights to food and water are values of critical daily importance to people and communities all around the world, and high priorities for the WCC. We believe that they should be better reflected in the draft. 

Within its overall relatively marginal attention to global health issues, we appreciate the expressed re-commitments to following up on the outcomes of UN processes with regard to universal health coverage, to the fight against tuberculosis, and to pandemic prevention, preparedness and response [para 26]. However, we are deeply dismayed by the complete lack of reference to HIV and AIDS, which continues to pose a grave and in some contexts increasing threat to millions of lives in poor and marginalized communities. We also would expect to see more prominent attention to the mental health crisis faced especially by children and young people, particularly those affected by conflict, displacement and humanitarian crisis, by climate anxiety, and by the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic. The developmental and intergenerational consequences of the lack of mental health and psychosocial support and trauma healing remain a vastly under-recognized constraint on progress towards sustainably peaceful and flourishing societies.

We also note that the generation of decent work is mentioned mainly as a challenge for young people [para 104]. We would like to emphasise that the promotion of labour standards, creation of fulfilling employment, and the protection of livelihoods, especially in a time of climate change, are central to addressing poverty and deserve more attention in the draft.

Chapter II International Peace and Security [paras 46-90]

We underscore the draft’s recognition of “the interdependence of international peace and security, sustainable development and human rights” [para 50], and its emphasis on “diplomacy and dialogue as the primary means to settle disputes and to overcome divisions peacefully” [para 47]. However, this represents the polar opposite of the current reality of increased conflict and military confrontation, with dialogue and diplomacy side-lined, and with tragically inadequate investment – relative to military spending – in the foundations of true collective human security:  climate action and sustainable development, poverty eradication and economic justice, food sovereignty and security, equal human rights for all, and peacebuilding. We miss among other things – and relative to the Secretary-General’s policy brief on “A New Agenda for Peace” – a sufficiently strong focus in this draft on prevention and peacebuilding, especially at regional, national and local levels. At these levels, the salience of civil society and religious actors deserves special recognition and support. 

Indeed, in general the essential role of civil society receives very scant attention in this draft. This should be corrected.

We welcome and affirm the concern expressed in relation to the increased risk of nuclear conflict [para 13], particularly in light of the degradation of the nuclear arms control regime and a newly-emerging arms race. Resumed international dialogue on strategic stability and for the elimination of nuclear weapons, as proposed in the draft [para 80], is urgently needed. In this regard, we highlight the important contribution of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) as an instrument for meeting the unfulfilled obligations under Article VI of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) for progress towards “general and complete disarmament”. The TPNW fills a gaping lacuna in international law whereby, unlike most other categories of weapons of mass destruction, nuclear weapons – the most indiscriminate and massively destructive weapons ever invented – have not been subject to a comprehensive and universal prohibition. Moreover, the TPNW introduces obligations in relation to victim assistance and environmental remediation that have been lacking hitherto.

The WCC expresses its profound appreciation and support for the commitment articulated in paragraph 88 of the draft to “concluding without delay a legally binding instrument to prohibit lethal autonomous weapons systems that function without human control or oversight, and which cannot be used in compliance with international humanitarian law, and to regulate all other types of autonomous weapons systems.” Intergovernmental negotiations on this matter have so far been obstructed, or have proceeded at a glacial pace. However, the accelerating deployment of Artificial Intelligence in many domains raises the urgency of action to regulate military applications of this technology in light of the fundamental moral and legal challenges that such applications entail.

Chapter III Science, Technology and innovation and Digital Cooperation [paras 91-102]

Indeed, the profound consequences of the wider application of Artificial Intelligence requires special consideration by the Summit for the Future, so as to promote a common standard for regulation of this new technology. We therefore welcome the intent of annexing a ‘Global Digital Compact’ to the Pact [para 102], and we look forward to an opportunity to comment separately on the draft Compact.

However, we would like to highlight other areas of technological development that would warrant attention, including advanced biotechnology, bioengineering and nanotechnology, as well as social media and other electronic communication technologies. Equitable access to the benefits of these technologies, as well as international standards and regulation to address the public harms they cause or may cause, should be prominent in the reflections of the Summit of the Future.

Chapter IV Youth and Future Generations [paras 103-115]

The draft Pact rightly acknowledges the responsibility of the international community to young people and future generations [chapter IV] whose voices may be largely absent from the negotiations and discussions at the Summit of the Future. Indeed, “young persons will live with the consequences of our actions and our inaction” [para 103]. We welcome the intention of annexing a ‘Declaration of Future Generations’ to the Pact [para 115], and we trust that the process of developing this Declaration will fully integrate the participation and perspectives of young people and children.

Chapter V Transforming Global Governance [paras 116-148]

WCC affirms the obvious and long-overdue need for reform of the Security Council [sub-chapter 5.1]. However, after many failed attempts at such reform in the past, we do not see how the necessary reform can be achieved in light of the ossified post-WWII power dynamics of the Security Council, the vested interests of its P5 members, and the current even more difficult geopolitical situation. In view of the seemingly insurmountable obstacles to more comprehensive reform of the Security Council, we appreciate the innovation of the UN General Assembly’s Resolution 76/262, whereby every time a veto is cast in the Security Council, the General Assembly will meet within 10 days and “hold a debate on the situation as to which the veto was cast.” While this obviously falls far short of the reform needed to restore the Security Council’s utility and credibility, and while the General Assembly cannot overturn a P5 member’s veto, this measure helps make the Security Council more accountable to the General Assembly – the UN’s most inclusive and representative body – and provides a mechanism for discussion on the misuse of the veto power.

Peacebuilding has always been vastly under-supported relative to investment in the means of warfare, or even to peacekeeping operations. Likewise, it seems to us that the UN’s Peacebuilding Commission has been rather marginalized, relative to its potential and the aspirations it embodies. We agree that this Commission “is uniquely placed at the intersection of peace, security, development and human rights” and affirm “the important role that the Commission can play in identifying the root causes of conflicts and in strengthening the resilience of societies” as well as serving as a platform for sharing good practices on conflict prevention” [para 125]. We therefore support the commitment expressed in the draft to “strengthening the Peacebuilding Commission to bring a strategic approach and coherence to international peacebuilding efforts” [para 124], and the call for closer cooperation between the Economic and Social Council and the Peacebuilding Commission (as well as between the Economic and Social Council and the Security Council), in order to better address “sustainable development root causes as a source of instability and threat to peace and security”) [para 122].

We hope that in the 2025 peacebuilding architecture review [para 126], special attention can be given to the central role of trauma healing and mental health and psycho-social support for the prevention of cyclical violence and the inter-generational transmission of conflict.

Given the critical importance of the human rights pillar of the United Nations, and the broad range of human rights challenges facing the international community, we strongly affirm the draft’s recognition of the need to “strengthen the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights” and the whole UN human rights system [paras 129-130].

The draft rightly acknowledges that “the international financial architecture urgently needs to be modernized and strengthened” in order “to provide greater stability and access to finance, and to offer more complete, equitable and sustainable solutions to future challenges” [paras 136-137]. This is a matter for which the WCC has been advocating for many years. We affirm the need for reform of the sovereign debt architecture, in light of rapidly rising and increasingly unsustainable debt levels and financing costs for many lower and middle income countries [para 141]. 

We underline the importance of advancing intergovernmental discussions on a framework convention on international tax cooperation [para 143]. We believe that international standards and implementation of fair and progressive taxation measures - including wealth and pollution taxes - represent the best available means of controlling rampant inequality, eradicating extreme poverty, generating resources for essential public goods and services, for meeting the sustainable development goals, and for urgent investments in a just transition.

We strongly affirm the primary role of the United Nations in global economic governance [para 138]. While other groupings have effectively assumed responsibility for global economic decision-making, they lack the UN’s broader representation and full inclusion of all countries. We therefore join in the expression of support for the Secretary-General’s initiative to convene a biennial summit between the members of the G20, the members of the UN Economic and Social Council, and the heads of international financial institutions [para 144].