Gabriele Köhler, member of Greycells.


Socio-economic inequalities are at a high point, and the gaps and disparities among and within countries, class, ethnicity, caste, faith, age, location and other criteria, are accelerating. The effect is always exacerbated by gender, and in general women and girls are most adversely affected. Climate change-related disasters are increasing in severity and frequency, impacting all, but again having the most devastating effect on socio-economically excluded groups.

The UN at 75 years, created to promote human rights and social justice, is in a reflective mode.

Compared to the founding years, there are many fora and processes in competition with, questioning and even undermining the convening power of the UN General Assembly and its various bodies, and the Secretariat. In mainstream politics, these include G7, G20 and their sub-sets, the Davos World Economic Forum, and myriad regional processes. In civil society or social mobilisation[1], this includes most recently an autonomous, vocal and highly visible youth movement, notably the Fridays for Future (FfF) groups focussed on the impacts of climate change.

At the same time, at the level of commitment, the UN itself has the 2030 Agenda as a pressure point, since member States have committed to its norms, the SDG goals and targets, and are working with the indicators. Most member States have submitted a voluntary national review to the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF), and a report on their nationally determined contributions to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). They can be held accountable to these reports. Some observers have described the Agenda and the associated interactions at the UN’s annual High Level Political Forum as a golden nugget, instilling a new dynamic into multilateral exchanges, while others note the immense gap between government commitments made in the UN settings, and situations of extreme inequality and direct and indirect effects of climate change in each country.


The Fridays for Future groups are grassroots and many activists are children (under 18). The movement is focussed on a single issue: climate change, and relies on the IPCC findings for their assessment; most  do not make policy recommendations.[2] Within a year, representatives of Fridays for Future have been given the platform at a number of high-level UN conferences, and are to speak at the celebrations for the 75th anniversary. Their enthusiasm, determination and openness are invigorating and even inspiring.

While children and youth have the most palpable interest in slowing down climate change, other age groups too are concerned, for their own lives, and out of an interest in future generations. In some countries, the FfF movement is now supported by scientists for future, entrepreneurs for future, workers for future, as well as by parents and grandparents for future.

In all regions of the world, women’s groups too are at highly visible as climate activists. This is manifest in the many civil society organisations, notably in the global South, as well as the Women’s Major Group and the Women and Gender Constituency in the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and UNFCCC processes respectively. Other women’s vocal fora are devoted to social justice and dedicated to analysing social and economic inequalities and advocating for policies to redress these in a holistic and inclusive manner. In the UN system, the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR) and the UN Research Institute on Social Development (UNRISD) are leading the analysis of inequities. Prominent civil society groups in this field include OXFAM with its annual report on income and wealth gaps, as well as the Civil Society Reflection Group on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its annual Spotlight Report – that work closely with UNRISD, and their reports are scathing.


This year’s Greycells Intergenerational Dialogue will focus on the role and impact of social mobilisation, in developed and developing countries, regarding socio-economic inequalities, the dynamics of women’s movements and the effects of climate change (including gendered effects of climate change). The role of civil society in these topics will be discussed in three intergenerational panels representing local and international communities.

The purpose of this dialogue is crosscutting and addresses questions such as:

  • How and to what extent the street mobilisations and debates on social media in developed and developing countries have an impact on policymakers at the national and global levels?
  • How and to what extent can ideas, research and analysis generated by the UN system and intergovernmental fora have an impact on civil society mobilisations, and what is the role of multilateralism in this regard?
  • How to constructively interface across generations and with the UN for more impact?
  • To what extent the pandemic changed the public opinion vision on public health policies, production and consumption models, macroeconomic management of resources, and is this new vision having an impact on social mobilisation?


Half-day event in Geneva, in November 2020 (probably late afternoon / early evening followed by a reception (total around 3 hours))

Panellists and Moderator to be selected by the Steering Committee:

    • 3 panels (one for each topic) of maximum 40 minutes and 4 panellists each, and ample time for QAs.
    • Mixed panellists in terms of gender, age, nationality and background
    • 1 UN expert in each panel
  • Participants:
    • Representatives of local and/or international social movements or initiatives, Geneva and Swiss associations of seniors and millennials engaged in social and economic policies and climate change, local youth, UN experts, UN interns, YoungUN – Agents for Change, Geneva/ Swiss authorities involved in the 3 topics addressed by the Dialogue.
    • If possible, a representative of the Elders.
    • Keynote speaker: if possible, Prof. Richard Jolly via skype.
  •  Steering Committee led by Greycells involving all partners at all stages of the preparation of the Dialogue.


  • UNOG
  • City of Geneva
  • Fondation pour Genève
  • United Nations Research Institute on Social Development (UNRISD)
  • YoungUN, UN Interns, University of Geneva, GIMUN, students’ associations
  • Plateforme des Seniors de Genève
  • Parlement des Jeunes Genevois
  • International / Swiss / Geneva NGOs


Online anonymous survey in English, French and Spanish, to be prepared by Greycells in cooperation with the Steering Committee, then launched on world-wide social medias, with the cooperation of all partners, at the end of September. The purpose of this survey is to provide key trends, ideas, opinions and examples to the panellists of the Dialogue.


Katja Hujo and Maggie Carter. 2018. Fault Lines and Front Lines: Shifting Power in an Unequal World. UNRISD Think Piece Series.

Gabriele Koehler. 2020. Creative Coalitions in a Fractured World: An Opportunity for Transformative Change? UNRISD Occasional Paper 4.

Dimitris Stevis, Edouard Morena & Dunja Krause. 2020. Introduction: The genealogy and contemporary politics of just transitions. Just Transitions: Social Justice in the Shift Towards a Low-Carbon World. Pluto Press.

OXFAM. 2019. Public good or private wealth? OXFAM Briefing Paper – January 2019.

Spotlight on Sustainable Development 2018 – Exploring new policy pathways.  Report by the Civil Society Reflection group on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

UNDESA. 2020. World Social Report 2020. Inequality in a rapidly changing world

UNDP. 2020.  Human Development Report 2019. Beyond income, beyond averages, beyond today: Inequalities in Human Development in the 21st Century.

Nouriel Roubini, The Main Street Manifesto. Project Syndicate. 24 June 2020


[1] For the purposes of this Dialogue, the terms “civil society” and “social mobilisation” are generic and comprehensive: they encompass any organised, unorganised, non-governmental, academic, citizens’ and residents’, local, national or international movements, entity or individual, including private sector firms, that aim at influencing local, national or global policy makers in the three topics addressed by this Dialogue.

[2] An exception: the Munich Fridays for Future group has presented 22 demands to the municipal government and is cooperating with an SDG-oriented umbrella group of 60 local NGOs concerned with sustainability. The demands are mainstreamed into the discussions for the March 2020 municipal election by a coalition of 500 NGOs and business representatives.

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