It’s clear: The world faces complex challenges that extend beyond borders, from disease outbreaks to terrorism to climate change and migration. What’s also clear, but not always recognized is that international cooperation and action through the United Nations is driving progress.

Without a doubt, big problems remain, and it can be tough to rally the world around common goals, but important steps are happening and international cooperation is yielding progress.

While this is not a comprehensive list, here are 13 key UN moments to know about from 2018.

1. Countries adopt a historic Global Compact for Migration: With more than 258 migrants on the move, this global issue can only be addressed through global cooperation. In December, 164 UN Member States adopted a groundbreaking (and non-binding) agreement, the first-ever Global Compact for Migration. The compact reaffirms the human rights of migrants and provides a framework for countries to work together on safe and orderly migration. Learn more.

2. UN General Assembly agrees to the Global Compact on Refugees: In December, the UN General Assembly affirmed a Global Compact on Refugees (also non-binding) to strengthen international cooperation in support of refugees. A record 68.5 million people have been forced to flee conflict and persecution, including more than 25 million refugees. According to the UN, the compact will guide the international community in helping ensure that refugees and the countries that host them get the support they need. Learn more from the UN Refugee Agency.

3. The peacekeeping mission in Liberia successfully comes to an end: As UN Peacekeeping marked its 70th anniversary this year, the mission in Liberia came to a close in March after 15 years. Working in partnership with the government and people of Liberia, peacekeepers helped bring stability to a country that was previously torn apart by conflict. Although peacekeepers have left the country, other UN agencies remain to support Liberia’s development. Listen to an in-depth report of the peacekeeping mission from UN Dispatch’s special podcast.

4. A UN scientific panel makes clear we urgently need to act on climate change: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, made up of leading scientists, released a special report in October of global warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius. The report shows that the difference between 1.5 and 2 degrees of warming could be the difference of several hundred million people exposed to climate-related risks and susceptible poverty by 2050. The Secretary-General called the report an “ear-splitting wake-up call” and will host a climate summit next year to increase ambition. The report was also discussed during the annual UN climate conference in Poland, which also included the adoption of implementing guidelines of the Paris Agreement. Read the report.

5. A ceasefire is announced at a key port in Yemen during UN-led talks: During UN-led talks in December, Yemen’s warring parties agreed to a ceasefire in and around the key port of Hudaydah. The agreement has the potential to allow more humanitarian aid to reach people in need in Yemen, considered the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. UN agencies and humanitarian partners continue to work to provide lifesaving food, medicine, shelter, and other aid to millions of vulnerable Yemenis. Learn more about the ceasefire’s potential. (To support the humanitarian effort in Yemen, donate to the UN’s response fund.)

6. The Secretary-General ushers in ambitious reforms to strengthen the UN: Since his first day in office, UN Secretary-General António Guterres has prioritized reforming and modernizing the UN so it’s more efficient, effective, and ready to take on the challenges of the 21st century. This year, he ushered three strands of reform through the UN system: peace and security, development, and management. Additionally, the Secretary-General launched an “Action for Peacekeeping” initiative to strengthen UN peacekeeping. Go deeper on reform issues here.


7. The UN reaches gender parity in senior management: Secretary-General Guterres has been a champion of gender equality, both within the UN and around the world. This year, the UN reached gender parity for the first time ever in its senior leadership as well as among its Resident Coordinators. This is part of a system-wide strategy on gender parity in the organization. Learn more here.

8. UN leaders push for respect for human rights, from Myanmar to South Sudan and beyond: UN leaders called for the protection of fundamental human rights for everyone, everywhere as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – the most translated document in the world – marked 70 years since its adoption at the UN. Protecting human rights is a key pillar of the UN’s work. Examples of its work include a report from UN-appointed investigators calling for military leaders in Myanmar to face genocide charges to condemnation of violence against women in South Sudan’s conflict.

9. The UN launches its first-ever youth strategy: At the UN General Assembly in September, the Secretary-General launched “Youth 2030,” a new strategy to “meet young people’s needs, realize their rights, and tap their possibilities as agents of change.” The strategy will guide the UN system in working for and with youth. Check it out.

10. Innovative new partnership launches to stop famine before it starts: The UN, the World Bank, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and leading tech companies launched a new partnership known as the “Famine Action Mechanism” to prevent famine, save lives, and reduce humanitarian costs. The partnership will: leverage technology and data to improve analysis and predictions; speed up financing; and improve collaboration among organizations working to stop famine. Learn more.

11. A new expert panel is created to strengthen international cooperation in the digital age: Secretary-General Guterres established an expert panel, chaired by Melinda Gates and Jack Ma, to make recommendations on how to strengthen digital cooperation while expanding the benefits of digital technologies and managing their risks. The panel will release its report in 2019. Get more information on the panel’s work.

12. UN gathers countries to assess progress on the Sustainable Development Goals: Nearly 50 countries presented reports reviewing their progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at the annual High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development – and New York City shared the first-ever Voluntary Local Review on its SDG progress. The forum served as an important moment to take stock of where we are – and aren’t – making progress on the SDGs. Next year, heads of state and government will gather at the UN to check in on the SDGs. Read more about how the world is tracking its record on the SDGs.


13. UN Central Emergency Response Fund allocates record funding to support humanitarian response: In 2018, the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) allocated approximately $500 million to support the humanitarian response for people in emergencies across 47 countries and territories. This is the most CERF has allocated in a single year. With growing humanitarian needs around the world, UN agencies continue to be on the front lines of saving lives and providing urgently needed support to humanitarian partners on the ground. Learn more about why CERF matters.