A pitch by Natalie Samarasinghe, Executive Director, UNA-UK at the Paris Peace Forum, 12 November 2018

Together First is a new movement, incubated by the Global Challenges Foundation New Shape Process. Our name is taken from a phrase used by German foreign minister Heiko Maas at the UN this September, where he spoke out powerfully against those who believe that this is a zero-sum world in which their country must come first.

Our objectives are in line with the Paris Peace Forum – we want to strengthen our global governance system so that it works for everyone, by helping the most promising solutions to become a reality.

The biggest stumbling block to reforming our global system is not a lack of ideas. This Forum proves the opposite. The challenge is how to overcome the huge political hurdles that have prevented us from moving forward – narrow national agendas, naked national ambition, rising big power tensions, insularity, exclusion, apathy and fear – of the scale and complexity of the challenges we face, of losing power, of losing out, of being left behind.

This is what we at Together First are focused on. We don’t pretend to have the perfect solutions to address all the world’s ills. We don’t want to reinvent the wheel, or to replicate or duplicate the excellent ideas showcased at the Forum or indeed the many initiatives that are not featured here. Instead, we seek to connect these ideas and take them to the next stage, by tackling the things that are holding them back, crucially, the absence of political will, of trust and collaboration between stakeholders, and of a shared vision and agenda.

Time and again, the international community has missed opportunities to tackle the big challenges we face, because the big powers don’t want to address them, because politicians don’t understand them, or because they think they are too difficult or not important enough to their citizens. By the time enough states are on board it’s often too late – we put in place solutions that reflect the past and not current, let alone future, realities.

And it’s not just states that are the problem. International officials often focus on tweaks to existing systems because they are afraid of their political masters. NGOs are prone to doing the opposite – they adopt an all or nothing approach that ignores political realities.

As a result, we rarely take a strategic approach to reform – there are many ways to address risks but how many times do we see a menu of solutions, with options and strategies for implementation that are supported by a broad range of stakeholders?

That’s where Together First comes in. We aim to be a permanent Paris Peace Forum – a platform, a vehicle and an engine room that will:

  • Identify workable ways to address the risks we face
  • Prioritise and boost the most promising ideas
  • Enable people around the world to be part of this conversation
  • And build powerful movement of stakeholders to take them forward

Next year, we will:

  • Launch the first-ever public, interactive, multi-stakeholder web portal for global governance reform. It will feature the most promising to address the big risks facing the world – from climate change to nuclear weapons, extremism pandemics – and serve as an organising platform to make them a reality.
  • These won’t just be ideas that we come up with. We will set up a number of risk commissions – consisting not just of the great and the good from politics, science, business and civil society, but also real people, young people, people whose voices are usually left out – to review and curate what’s out there, to create a new agenda for the international community
  • And we will test these ideas – looking at how feasible they are given the current political environment; the legal, institutional and other steps needed to put them into practice; and the level of existing support amongst states and other stakeholders, including the public.

By the end of next year – in time for the UN’s 75th anniversary in 2020 – Together First will have created a to-do list for the international community, with

  • immediate actions that can be taken by governments, business, cities, investors, communities and individuals
  • medium-term reforms that should feature prominently at the UN’s 75th anniversary, which we believe should be a transformative moment for the international community, with a world summit held not in New York or Geneva or Paris but in an African city – to signal that we are serious about changing how we do global governance and who is part of that conversation
  • longer-term solutions to be placed on the agenda of an international conference in 2025, at which nothing, including UN Charter review, should be off the table

Together First will turbocharge this agenda by creating implementation strategies for specific proposals, and by building coalitions of champions to take them forward. Together, these coalitions will form a powerful global movement pushing for change.

Some people will be skeptical about our ambition, and I understand their concerns. We are in a period of great uncertainty, of division and polarization. Many governments are turning inwards, too preoccupied with domestic problems and constituencies to invest in multilateralism. There is a growing gulf between people and governments, as the public loses faith in the ability of national and global institutions to keep them safe and improve their lives. And there are certainly dangers in calling for change, when there are so many leaders who would try to subvert this agenda.

But it is precisely because this is such a dangerous period that we have to act. We cannot sit around and wait for things to get better. The recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change gave us just 12 years to save humanity. We need to initiate fundamental changes to our economies, societies our global governance system in the next couple of years if we are to have any hope of doing so.

The Climate Agreement adopted in this city showed that we can make progress even in difficult times. Through our portal, our people’s panels, our priority agenda, our work with policymakers and our public campaigning, we at Together First will do our best to support the global governance transformation the world needs.