As the global community confronts a range of urgent crises, it can be easy to forget that 2023 also brought us countless positive moments we’re still talking about. We challenged our colleagues at the UN Foundation to reflect on stories from the year that lifted their spirits.
Here are five of our favorites.
The UN Prevented a Catastrophic Oil Spill in the Red Sea
Moored off Yemen’s Red Sea coast, the FSO Safer was a decaying supertanker that could have spilled more than a million barrels of oil into the Red Sea, resulting in an environmental, humanitarian, and economic catastrophe near a nation where 17 million people (about the population of New York) already need food aid. In August, a UN-coordinated operation transferred the oil from the 47-year-old Safer to a secure replacement vessel. The oil transfer prevented a spill that would have been four times greater than the 1989 Exxon Valdez accident.
America Rejoined UNESCO
After a decade-long absence from the world’s largest educational and cultural body, the U.S. rejoined UNESCO. The effort to get back in the fold was the fruit of years of advocacy on the part of Americans who believe in the mission of the agency, which has played a role preserving American heritage, advancing civil rights in the American South, and providing educational tools to combat anti-Semitism and foster climate awareness. And bonus! Within days of rejoining, a new UNESCO site was designated in Ohio, honoring the indigenous Hopewell tribe and bringing the total UNESCO sites in the U.S. to 25.
Marine Biodiversity Got a Lifeline with High Seas Treaty
In September, the UN General Assembly adopted a landmark, legally binding marine biodiversity agreement following nearly twenty years of negotiations. The High Seas Treaty provides for the common governance of about half of the Earth’s surface and 95% of the ocean’s volume, the largest habitat on our planet. The adoption of this agreement complements the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which provides the legal framework under which all human activities in the ocean take place.
Security Support Mission Offers Hope to Haitians
In October, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution co-penned by the U.S. and Ecuador to authorize a Multinational Security Support (MSS) mission to Haiti. The mission was requested by the Haitian Government and civil society representatives after months of worsening conditions, including thousands of homicides and at least 200,000 individuals forced to flee their homes this year alone. The U.S. also pledged up to $200 million in foreign assistance.
IAEA Helped Prevent a Nuclear Disaster in Ukraine
With nuclear power producing more than half of Ukraine’s energy, the Russian invasion of the nation put vital power plants at risk of being caught in the crosshairs of conflict and potentially precipitating a nuclear meltdown. To mitigate the threat, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) dispatched inspectors to the Zaporizhzhia plant in Russian-occupied territory. They’ve remained at the location, leading negotiations with both sides for a demilitarized protection zone to prevent shelling.
And for more reasons to hope, read a sampling of 2023 wins from our sister campaigns at the UN Foundation
The World Health Organization recommended a second malaria vaccine – R21/Matrix-M – that will go a long way towards closing the gap between malaria vaccine supply and the unprecedented demand. Already, 28 African countries are planning to introduce the vaccine into their childhood immunization programs. And to learn more about the success of Beat Malaria’s work, check out this great Public Health On Call podcast from the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
In 2023, Girl Up convened nearly 2,000 people through six bootcamps worldwide, including in the U.S., India, United Kingdom, and Nigeria. These gatherings covered topics ranging from STEAM education to sexual and reproductive justice. Another 105 youth activists from five countries also came together to hone their leadership skills during the Girl Up Women in Science Camp in Mexico.
In addition to convening our first in-person advocacy summit since the pandemic, Shot@Life continued to work with partners in the global health community to rally Congressional support for global vaccine programs. During World Immunization Week (April 24-30) and on World Polio Day (October 24), Shot@Life worked with a record number of partner organizations to encourage lawmakers from both parties to raise their voices for global immunization, gaining public support from 38 offices.