Throughout its 75-year history, the United Nations has played an indispensable role in resolving major international conflicts and crises, overseeing the distribution of humanitarian aid, and, more broadly, advocating for a more just and equitable world.
But the organization is sometimes criticized for its bureaucracy and perceived elitism. At a time when the world is struggling with a range of urgent global issues, including the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, rising poverty levels, and widespread risk of famine, an international organization like the UN could prove to be especially effective at achieving a better world — but only if it holds the public’s trust.
A new global survey — conducted by international research agency Glocalities with results released Monday in cooperation with Global Citizen — indicates that the UN is more trusted than any other international or governmental organization. The results showed that 47% of the world population trusts the UN while 29% do not. In contrast, trust in the European Union (38%), NATO (35%), and government (31%) and parliament (26%) in general are substantially lower.
While the United States is often seen as a world leader, for example, trust in the UN is much higher than trust in the US, which is only at 27% globally.
“Relatively high levels of trust in the UN demonstrates the awareness citizens around the world have that global challenges — from the COVID-19 pandemic through to ending poverty — can only be solved through global solutions,” said Michael Sheldrick, chief policy and government affairs officer for Global Citizen, in a press release.
The survey collected responses from nearly 27,000 people from 25 countries between Jan. 23 and March 13 of this year.
It also investigated how trust in the UN correlates with pride in one’s own country. In this case, 76% of people who said they trust the UN also say they are well-rooted in and typically very proud of their own countries. A minority (42%) of people who believe in the international organization consider themselves to be more of a “global” citizen than a citizen of the country in which they live.
These results show that confidence in an international organization is not determined by an either-or globalist or nationalist mindset.
“The high level of trust in the United Nations mirrors the energetic and cooperative mindset of its supporters,” said Martijn Lampert, Glocalities research director, in a press release. “These people transcend the often paralyzing polarity between nationalism and globalism.”
Especially in the interconnected world we live in today, issues like extreme poverty, global health, and climate change are not solvable by the individual capacities of nation states. More significantly, these global issues do not recognize borders, so no nation can escape their potentially overwhelming effects.
The COVID-19 pandemic exemplifies the need for international cooperation. Unless countries work together to develop and distribute a vaccine, the virus will continue to ravage lives and undermine economies and livelihoods, creating various chain reactions.
“I am encouraged to see that a majority of the world believes in the UN's mission and progress through international cooperation,” said Ban Ki-moon, former UN Secretary General, in a press release. “Especially today, this belief and hope are crucial to overcoming the current global crisis of inequalities and weakened multilateralism.”
The relatively high level of trust in the UN also indicates that people believe in the organization’s ideals of equality and justice, as well as its 17 Global Goals.
The fact that young people aged 18 to 24 reported the highest confidence in the UN (50%) is a promising sign that the world’s future leaders will continue to prioritize ending extreme poverty, tackling climate change, and creating equal opportunities for women and girls in the decades to come.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, progress toward achieving these goals has not only stalled, but even backtracked. Throughout the past few months, the UN has consistently called for countries to invest in global recovery efforts to end the worst of the pandemic for people everywhere.
“For far too long, though, citizens’ high level of trust in the UN has not been reciprocated by the support of their respective governments,” Sheldrick said. “In order to Recover Better Together, governments should acknowledge the trust placed by their citizens in the UN and ensure that its global recovery efforts are fully funded.”