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 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.