Read the headlines and there’s no doubt: the world is a nasty, violent, unequal place where man kills man and women are either victims of violence, discrimination or quite simply invisible.
Take a closer look and it’s equally clear that despite the killing, exploitation and bloodshed, there are worthy people struggling to build a better world.
Every so often, the global community has once-in-a-lifetime chance to aim high and set ambitions for a new way of living and working together. To create hope, sketch out new horizons, set new goals.
In Brussels this week, the focus has been on a number of milestones, make-or-break global events which merit stronger attention and scrutiny.
Two stand out because of their global significance. First, in September this year, the United Nations General Assembly will decide on a new, post-2015 agenda for sustainable development.
The so-called sustainable development goals (SDGs) will take the place of the Millennium Development Goals agreed by the UN at the turn of the century. Implementation of the MDGs has been patchy, uneven and not-too impressive.
But for the last fifteen years, emerging nations have been engaged in an uphill battle to make progress on reducing poverty, improving health care and access to education. And more.
The SDGs under discussion are more in number, higher in ambition and target not just developing countries, but also developed ones.
Second, in December at an international meeting in Paris, the focus will be on fighting climate change by committing to new targets for reducing CO2 emissions, both in industrialised and emerging countries.
It’s not going to be easy, given the different levels of development, different energy mixes and economic priorities — but if agreement is reached, it will be a strong sign that when push comes to shove, rich and poor nations can work together on tackling an issue of immense global importance.
Issues related to the financing of the SDGs will be discussed at a conference in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia in early July. Clearly, if the new SDGs — there are 17 in all, with 167 targets — are going to be implemented, more money will be needed.
Official Development Aid will still be important — but won’t be enough. Funding will have to come from the private sector, from non-governmental organisations, from private individuals. Creative financing will have to be the buzzword.
There is more. Women’s rights are climbing higher and higher up the global agenda. In Brussels this week, the focus will be on the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 which addresses the inordinate impact of war on women but also spotlights the pivotal role of women in conflict management, conflict resolution and sustainable peace.
At a Nato conference, discussions focused on how the UNSCR 1325 could help to boost the participation of women in the Alliance’s armed forces.
Only a day later, at an EU debate, the emphasis was on using the same resolution to ensure the participation of women in peace negotiations and the protection of women at times of conflict.
It’s been fifteen years since the UNSCR 1325 was adopted. And when the review takes place in September this year, countries will be asked to show just what they have done to shelter women from the horrible effects of war and conflict.
The 20th anniversary of the adoption of the wider Beijing Platform of Action on women’s rights later this year will also provide much food for thought.
Although some progress has been made, the struggle for women’s development and empowerment continues to face many obstacles due to government neglect, discrimination, family traditions and actions by religious authorities.
The situation is particularly serious in fragile or conflict-affected states where because of conflict, weak governance, political instability, oppressive practices and traditions, sections of society and in particular women are marginalised and under-represented.
The good news is that achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls are recognised important priorities in the post-2015 development agenda.
But how committed are governments to giving priority attention to women and girls in their national development plans?
Finally, inequality. There is consensus that we live in an unequal world. The world economy may be growing fairly rapidly but there are increasingly vast differences in income, equal opportunities, education, skills and access to health within countries and between countries.
Inequality has been identified as one of the biggest threats to the world economy and global stability and is a salient issue in the post-2015 development debates.
The focus is often mainly on inequality in emerging nations but widening inequalities and social imbalances are also evident in Europe and have worsened because of the Eurozone’s economic woes.
A study by Oxfam released earlier this year warns that global wealth is increasingly being concentrated in the hands of a small wealthy elite.
“These wealthy individuals have generated and sustained their vast riches through their interests and activities in a few important economic sectors, including finance and pharmaceuticals/healthcare,” the report warns.
So while the rich get richer — the poor struggle to make ends meet and the middle classes live in a fragile environment where any small negative movement can bring them crashing down to the bottom of the ladder.
The important international conferences coming up over the next six months will set the world on a course for conflict and discord — or, hopefully, lead to joint efforts to tackle some of the key challenges facing the world in the 21st century. The choice is ours.