Image:UN Photo/Cia Pak
New York: With people from all points of the globe crying out for relief and hope, international action on major challenges – from climate to conflict and securing sustainable development – is paralyzed by dysfunction and held hostage to geopolitical tensions, UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned on Tuesday.
Delivering a powerful address to world leaders gathered for the opening day of the General Assembly’s high-level debate, the Secretary-General said: “Our world is in big trouble. Divides are growing deeper; inequalities are growing wider; challenges are spreading father... we need hope... we need action across the board.”
With evocative images of the Brave Commander, one of the vessels that has been carrying tonnes of Ukrainian wheat bound for points in Ethiopia, Yemen and beyond, showing behind him on the walls of the iconic General Assembly Hall, Mr. Guterres said the ship, and the UN-brokered Black Sea Grain Initiative that had launched it were not symbols of conflict and hunger but of hope born of cooperation.
“It sailed the Black Sea with the UN flag flying high and proud. At its essence, this ship is a symbol of what the world can accomplish when we act together. Ukraine and the Russian Federation – with the support of Türkiye – came together to make it happen – despite the enormous complexities, the naysayers, and even the hell of war. This is multilateral diplomacy in action. Each ship is also carrying one of today’s rarest commodities: Hope,” he stated.
A winter of our global discontent
Presenting his Annual Report on the Work of the Organization, the Secretary-General said soberingly: “Let’s have no illusions. We are in rough seas. A winter of global discontent is on the horizon. A cost-of-living crisis is raging. Trust is crumbling. Our planet is burning. People are hurting – with the most vulnerable suffering the most. The United Nations Charter and the ideals it represents are in jeopardy.”
And the while the international community had a duty to act, “we are gridlocked in colossal global dysfunction. The international community is not ready or willing to tackle the big dramatic challenges of our age. These crises threaten the very future of humanity and the fate of our planet.”
Along with the climate emergency and biodiversity loss, and the war in Ukraine, the UN chief said of crises like the dire financial situation of developing countries and the fate of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), “a forest of red flags across a host of new technologies”, rising hate speech and “out of control” digital surveillance, “we don’t have the beginning of a global architecture to deal with any of this.”
Indeed, he said, progress on all these issues and more is being held hostage to geopolitical tensions.
‘We cannot go on like this’
The Secretary-General lamented that our world is in peril and paralyzed by political divides that were undermining the work of the UN Security Council, international law, trust and people’s faith in democratic institutions, and all forms of international cooperation.
Geopolitical gridlock led to no cooperation; no dialogue and no collective problem solving. “But the reality is that we live in a world where the logic of cooperation and dialogue is the only path forward,” said Mr. Guterres, explaining that no power or group alone can call the shots. No major global challenge can be solved by a coalition of the willing. We need a coalition of the world.”
Such a coalition must overcome divisions and act together, starting with strengthening the core mission of the United Nations – achieving and sustaining peace.
With the world squarely focused on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, “which has unleashed widespread destruction with massive violations of human rights and international humanitarian law... We are seeing the threat of dangerous divisions between West and South. The risks to global peace and security are immense,” said the Secretary-General.
While calling for the world to keep working for peace in line with the UN Charter and international law, the UN chief warned that away from the glare of international media, other conflicts and humanitarian crises were spreading and the gap for funding the UN Global Humanitarian Appeal was the widest ever at some $32 billion.
Indeed, with unprecedented drought threatening the lives and livelihoods of 22 million people in the Horn of Africa, Afghanistan’s economy in ruins, cycles of violence in Israel and Palestine, appalling human rights violations in Myanmar, Mr. Guterres said “...and the list goes on... We need much more concerted action everywhere anchored in respect for international law and the protection of human rights.”
With all this in mind, he recalled that he had outlined elements of a new Agenda for Peace in his landmark report on Our Common Agenda. The United Nations would remain committed to make the most of every diplomatic tool for the pacific settlement of disputes; ensure the centrality of women’s leadership; prioritize prevention and peacebuilding and recognize human rights as pivotal for prevention.
‘Polluters must pay’
The Secretary-General went on to stress that another battle that must end is “our suicidal war against nature.” Calling the climate crisis the defining issue of our time, he said confronting it must be the first priority of every government and multilateral organization.
“And yet climate action is being put on the back burner – despite overwhelming public support around the world. Global greenhouse gas emissions need to be slashed by 45 per cent by 2030 to have any hope of reaching net zero by 2050,” he said, adding that emissions are going up at record levels – on course to a 14 per cent increase this decade.
“We have a rendezvous with climate disaster, he said, recalling his recent solidarity visit to flood-ravaged Pakistan, “where I saw with my own eyes...that one-third of the country is submerged by a monsoon on steroids.”
Planet Earth, Mr. Guterres said, is “a victim of scorched earth policies … and we ain’t seen nothing yet” because the hottest summers of today could be the coolest summers of tomorrow. Moreover, The G20 emits 80 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions.
“But the poorest and most vulnerable – those who contributed least to this crisis – are bearing its most brutal impacts. Meanwhile, the fossil fuel industry is feasting on hundreds of billions of dollars in subsidies and windfall profits while household budgets shrink and our planet burns.,” he stated.
The world is addicted to fossil fuels and it’s time for an intervention, declared the UN chief, stressing that: “We need to hold fossil fuel companies and their enablers to account,” from banks to private equity, and asset managers that continue to invest and underwrite carbon pollution.
“Fossil fuel interests need to spend less time averting a PR disaster – and more time averting a planetary one. Of course, fossil fuels cannot be shut down overnight. A just transition means leaving no person or country behind. But it is high time to put fossil fuel producers, investors and enablers on notice: Polluters must pay,” he said.
As such, he called on all developed economies to tax the windfall profits of fossil fuel companies. Those funds should be re-directed in two ways: to countries suffering loss and damage caused by the climate crisis; and to people struggling with rising food and energy prices.
SOS for the SDGs
With cascading crises are feeding on each other, compounding inequalities, creating devastating hardship, delaying the energy transition, and threatening global financial meltdown, the Secretary-General said: Social unrest is inevitable – with conflict not far behind.
“It doesn’t have to be this way. A world without extreme poverty, want or hunger is not an impossible dream. It is within reach. That is the world envisaged by the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals. But it is not the world we have chosen. Because of our decisions, sustainable development everywhere is at risk, he said.
With that in mind, he said the “SDGs are issuing an SOS” and called for the launch of an SDG Stimulus – led by the G-20 – to massively boost sustainable development for developing countries.
The upcoming G20 Summit in Bali is the place to start, he continued, and noted that his proposed SDG stimulus would have four components: increased funding from multilateral banks; debt relief; expansion of liquidity by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other major banks; and the empowerment by governments of specialized funds like Gavi, the Global Fund and the Green Climate Fund.
‘Fragile shoots of hope’
The Secretary-General said that while the divergence between developed and developing countries – between the privileged and the rest – was becoming more dangerous by the day and was the root of geopolitical tensions that were poisoning every area of global cooperation, “by acting as one, we can nurture fragile shoots of hope.”
He cited the hope found in climate and peace activists demanding better of their leaders, in women and girls leading the fight for basic human rights, in humanitarian heroes rushing to deliver lifesaving aid and said the UN stands with them all.
“So, let’s develop common solutions to common problems — grounded in goodwill, trust, and the rights shared by every human being. Let’s work as one, as a coalition of the world, as united nations,” he concluded.
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