Looking back at the year 2015, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon summed it up in two words: “breakthrough and horror.”
On the positive side, as the UN turned 70 it took landmark steps toward charting a better future for people and the planet – adopting, in September, the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda and its 17 goals to end poverty and build peaceful societies.
Then, in December, countries adopted the Paris Agreement on climate change, which after years of negotiations, surpassed expectations, according to the UN chief. “World leaders recognized that we could and must do better than settling for the lowest common denominator. So they reached higher,” he said.
Another milestone for the year included, in July, the Addis Ababa Action Agenda – a blueprint for financing for development. “Investing in development early will avert crises down the road,” Mr. Ban said. Earlier, countries signed on to the Sendai Framework on Disaster Risk Reduction – a plan to make the world safer from natural disasters that have been occurring with increased frequency.
But 2015 was also marked by upheaval and human suffering at levels not seen in a generation. With conflicts raging in many parts of the world, scores of people were compelled to flee their homes in record-breaking numbers and global forced displacement topped 60 million for the first time.
At the same time, extreme storms, drought and earthquakes threatened the lives and livelihoods of people around the world. The UN and its partners launched their largest-ever humanitarian appeal to deliver life-saving aid to more than 87.6 million people in need across 37 countries, most of which are in conflict.
The year was also witness to a proliferation of bombings, mass shootings and other atrocities committed in the name of religious extremism. In a Security Council debate on conflict prevention, Mr. Ban stressed that counter-terrorism efforts must also tackle root causes such as bad governance, injustice and exclusion. He also warned against reprisals against Muslims. At a meeting of the UN General Assembly on the refugee crisis that took place in the shadow of recent terrorist attacks in Beirut and Paris, top UN officials made a plea for countries not to shut their doors to refugees in the name of security.
In the photos that follow, UN News takes a look back at some of the year’s major developments.
Countries adopt historic climate agreement
In December, following round-the-clock negotiations in Paris, 195 countries made history by pledging to curb emissions, strengthen resilience and take common action to check global warming.
General Assembly blazes a trail for sustainable development
In September, world leaders adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and a bold new set of goals to end poverty, fight inequality and tackle climate change over the next 15 years.
People uprooted from their homes in record numbers
Forced displacement in 2015 surpassed all previous records – for the first time topping 60 million – with one in every 122 people worldwide compelled to flee due to conflict, persecution and natural disasters, the UN warned. In boatload after boatload, refugees, mainly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, risked their lives in growing numbers to find a safe place to live in Europe and beyond. Nearly 4,000 perished along the way this year.
UN warns against xenophobia as refugees shut out
Amid various restrictions imposed by some countries in Europe, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, and its partners have consistently called for refraining from actions that promote intolerance and fuel xenophobia against refugees and migrants.
Countries welcoming refugees draw praise from UN
At a General Assembly meeting on the refugee crisis, Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson praised communities that host refugees – from Kenya and Ethiopia to Pakistan, from Iraq and Iran to Bangladesh, from Greece, Italy, Germany and Sweden to Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and beyond. He also stressed the vital need for financing humanitarian assistance to refugees.
Ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine inflicts toll of suffering on civilians
Fighting in eastern Ukraine that began nearly two years ago has left over 9,000 people dead and nearly 21,000 injured. The UN was stepping up aid deliveries to non-Government-controlled areas where more than 100,000 people whom authorities had cut off from assistance for months were facing added hardship as the winter set in.
Burundi: On the brink of civil war… again
An upsurge in violence in the small African nation of Burundi, following a decision by President Pierre Nkurunziza to run for a controversial third term, awakened fears of a relapse into the decades of war in the not-so-distant past, between Hutus and Tutsis, that killed tens of thousands. “A frightened, uninformed population, fed a diet of hate speech and paranoia, is one that may be recruited to the path of violence by either side of the current political impasse,” warned UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein at a meeting of the Human Rights Council on Burundi.
Yemen: Civilians bear the brunt of crisis
Ongoing conflict in Yemen wreaked havoc on the country, inflicting damage on civilian infrastructure, straining depleted resources and exacerbating an already precarious humanitarian situation. By year’s end, 2.5 million people had been internally displaced and 3 million were added to the ranks of the hungry. Despite some progress in identifying a framework for negotiations and defining a set of confidence-building measures, UN-facilitated peace talks in December had to be adjourned until a ceasefire could take hold.
Syria: International community’s focus shifts to politics of ending five-year war
Although UN officials have been pressing for a political solution to end the crisis in Syria since the war began five years ago, it was only in December 2015 that the Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution to focus on the politics of ending Syria’s brutal war which has left the country in ruins, scattered its people across the world and fuelled radicalism and sectarianism.
Security Council calls on countries to eradicate safe havens and cut off funding for terrorist groups
At the end of a year marked by terrorist bombings and mass shootings in cities around the world, the UN Security Council intensified efforts to thwart terrorists. In November, it called on countries to destroy terrorist safe havens in Syria and Iraq. In December, the Council stepped up efforts to cut off all sources of funding for groups such as ISIL and Al-Qaida, calling for increased international cooperation in sharing information and closer collaboration with the private sector to identify suspect transactions.
Progress being made towards a united Cyprus in ongoing negotiations
On a more optimistic note, talks between Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot leaders in July were being conducted in a positive and results-oriented manner, offering the hope that decades of division might soon come to an end, said the UN Special Adviser on Cyprus, Espen Barth Eide. The UN Security Council urged the parties to implement confidence-building measures that would contribute to creating an environment that could lead to a united, federal Cyprus.
Central African Republic: People turn out in unprecedented numbers to vote for change
As the Central African Republic attempts to regain stability following more than two years of fighting between Muslim and Christian factions, a constitutional referendum in mid-December was successfully carried out in the majority of the country, despite violent disruptions in some areas. Nearly two million voters registered for the poll, representing 95 per cent of the estimated electorate. UN-supported presidential and legislative elections are slated for the end of the year.
South Sudan: Protecting civilians as conflict drags on
In strife-torn South Sudan, the UN peacekeeping operation – UNMISS – continues to provide shelter to more than 185,000 civilians at risk due to ongoing violence and repeated ceasefire violations by both Government and opposition forces. Thousands of people have been killed, more than 2.4 million displaced, while 4.6 million face food insecurity due to the conflict that broke out two years ago. In December, the Security Council warned that there were “reasonable grounds to believe that war crimes and crimes against humanity…have been committed by both Government and opposition forces.”
Children at risk in earthquake-ravaged Nepal as winter sets in
As Nepalis continue to struggle in the aftermath of the earthquakes that struck the country in April and May, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warned that more than 3 million children under the age of five are at risk of death or disease during the harsh winter months due to severe shortages of fuel, food, medicines and vaccines. More than 200,000 families affected by the temblors are still living in temporary shelters.
Central America: Refugee crisis in the making as women flee gang violence in increasing numbers
A surge in deadly, unchecked gang violence, is forcing women in Central America and Mexico to flee their countries in rising numbers, fuelling a looming refugee crisis in the Americas that demands urgent action by the States of the region, UN refugee chief António Guterres warned in October. In a report issued by UNHCR, women from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, and parts of Mexico describe how criminal armed groups terrorise populations to establish control over large areas of those countries. Women, especially, are subjected to extreme forms of gender-based violence.
Small island nations under threat
In March, Cyclone Pam ravaged the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu, leaving devastation in its wake. Extreme weather is just one of the threats to small island countries, where sea levels are rising, coral reefs are dying and the increasing frequency and severity of natural disasters exacerbate conditions leading to community displacement and migration and threaten to increase tensions over resources.
‘Human beings take precedence over partisan interests,’ Pope Francis tells world leaders
Ahead of the General Assembly’s summit to adopt the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, Pope Francis urged world leaders to take action to protect the environment and to end the suffering of “vast ranks of the excluded.” He added, “Not only in cases of religious or cultural persecution, but in every situation of conflict… real human beings take precedence over partisan interests, however legitimate the latter may be.”