A UN Consensus

“When you say everything is a priority, then you are saying you don’t really have any priorities.” Those were the words of US ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton as he attempted my challenge to establish concrete priorities for the world.

Political recognition of the importance of priorities is a crucial development. Politicians avoid creating prioritized ‘to do’ lists that could upset groups whose interests do not come first. It is simpler to declare that every challenge is a ‘top priority’.

The UN spends billions of dollars promoting human rights, protecting the environment, fighting disease and reducing poverty. The organization’s budget is vast but – like all budgets – limited. Yet, choices about battling humanity’s biggest challenges are rarely founded in a principled framework of prioritization.

Decisions are mired in a constant battle for resources between competing interest groups, countries and organizations. UN Deputy Secretary-General Mark Malloch Brown has pointed out that there is distrust between representatives of populous developing nations and those from wealthier states – a stand-off he calls “numbers versus pocketbooks”.