Solutions for tumultuous times

To tackle global threats such as climate change, conflict and disaster, we must join forces and take collective action.

Boys walk down an alley at a slum on the outskirts of Islamabad
To minimise the risk of war, unemployment and disaster the mechanisms that allow us to tackle these risks need to be strengthened and nurtured, writes Sultanoglu [Zohra Bensemra/Reuters]

These are infinitely complex times. From the refugee crisis to the multiplication of extreme weather events, and from the swift rise of populism to the intensification of violent extremism, the recent upheavals we’ve seen are unprecedented. And they’re having a huge effect on how countries develop.

The world is facing three broad types of threats. First, there is the challenge of repairing the harm caused by the global economic and financial crisis of 2008 while stemming the rise of inequalities.

According to the most recent Global Human Development Report, 1 percent of the population of the planet now holds close to half of its wealth.

In addition, violence is continuing to flare up across the globe. Nearly 34,000 people are forcibly displaced every day as a result of conflict or persecution. From Syria to Ukraine, violence not only puts development on hold, but it also creates fertile breeding grounds for organised crime and violent extremism.

Climate change will likely intensify the pressure on physical security, incomes and social cohesion. For instance, extreme weather events could drive up to 122 million more people into extreme poverty by 2030 (PDF).

Meanwhile, American scientists found that higher temperatures and heavier rainfall are often associated with greater incidence of violence.

Tackling climate change, economic shocks, conflict and disaster – all of them closely interlinked – are at the heart of the Sustainable Development Goals, the 17 internationally agreed goals to ensure prosperity for all and protect the planet by 2030.

To put it simply, investing in resilience – the ability of communities and countries to recover from setbacks, adapt to change, and keep developing in the face of adversity – is vital to achieve the Goals.

Collective action

Because many risks have implications beyond national boundaries and their effects and scope today may not be visible for many years to come, tackling risk and promoting resilience will also require a great deal of collective action. 

Take the refugee crisis. Until the summer of 2015, the European Union’s Schengen area had among the world’s most open borders. But within just a few months, more border fences were constructed than at any other time, stemming the flow of migrants from Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.

While actions such as these may have short-term benefits, their long-term consequences can be incredibly harmful.

There is also declining public trust in political establishments and institutions. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, for instance, only 15 percent of the general population in 28 countries surveyed believe economic and political systems are functioning properly, while fewer than 50 percent of respondents in these countries trust business, government, NGOs or the media.

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Still, over my many years of experience at the United Nations, I have seen the world deploy new methods for solving emerging problems at the most challenging times.

As I am sure policymakers and experts will argue at the Istanbul Development Dialogues – which will look at practical solutions for boosting resilience – tackling global risks will require new approaches.

The way forward

If we are to accomplish the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, and minimise the risk of war, unemployment and disaster in the process, then the mechanisms that allow us to tackle these risks need to be strengthened and nurtured.

Here are a just few ways in which this can be done:

We need to go from local to global. For years now, cities have been at the epicentre of investments in climate-resilient and green infrastructure.

Joining forces to face the world's complex realities isn't an option. It's a vital necessity.


From Zagreb’s post-carbon vision to the proposed climate partnership between Bratislava and Barcelona, dozens of global networks of cities have become laboratories for tackling specific issues such as protecting people from extreme weather events.

Because cities are focused on delivering quick solutions, they can test them before nations adopt them.

We need to transform the way we do business. As was made clear at a global summit in Istanbul last year, humanitarian needs are now so vast that governments are no longer able to assist on their own.

Private sector engagement is increasing rapidly, but much more will be required to ensure that businesses support communities in crisis.

By 2020, for instance, the Connecting Business Initiative, launched in Istanbul, will boost the role of business in 40 high-risk locations, mobilising 10,000 people to not only deliver immediate assistance for people affected by disaster but also to help them thrive over time.

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We need to turn connectivity into a force for civic engagement. While the internet is redefining the political landscape in many positive ways – empowering the voiceless and setting political agendas from the grassroots – it can also polarise opinions, granting disproportionate amounts of influence to the most extreme viewpoints.

The question is how to create a safe and inclusive space for debate that reduces the likelihood of conflict while promoting civic engagement and mutual respect among young people.

Joining forces to face the world’s complex realities isn’t an option. It’s a vital necessity.

At UNDP, we are working to ensure governments, businesses and civil society work together across borders to make sure countries have the resources to pull through in the face of risks, shocks and stresses.

Cihan Sultanoglu is the Director of the Regional Bureau for Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.