United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres issued a dire warning that the world is moving in the wrong direction and faces “a pivotal moment” where continuing business as usual could lead to a breakdown of global order and a future of perpetual crisis. Changing course could signal a breakthrough to a greener and safer future, he said.
The U.N. chief said the world’s nations and people must reverse today’s dangerous trends and choose “the breakthrough scenario.”
The world is under “enormous stress” on almost every front, he said, and the COVID-19 pandemic was a wake-up call demonstrating the failure of nations to come together and take joint decisions to help all people in the face of a global life-threatening emergency.
Guterres said this “paralysis” extends far beyond COVID-19 to the failures to tackle the climate crisis and “our suicidal war on nature and the collapse of biodiversity,” the “unchecked inequality” undermining the cohesion of societies, and technology’s advances “without guard rails to protect us from its unforeseen consequences.”
In other signs of a more chaotic and insecure world, he pointed to rising poverty, hunger and gender inequality after decades of decline, the extreme risk to human life and the planet from nuclear war and a climate breakdown, and the inequality, discrimination and injustice bringing people into the streets to protest “while conspiracy theories and lies fuel deep divisions within societies.”
In a horizon-scanning report presented to the General Assembly and at a press conference Friday, Guterres said his vision for the “breakthrough scenario” to a greener and safer world is driven by “the principle of working together, recognizing that we are bound to each other and that no community or country, however powerful, can solve its challenges alone.”
The report — “Our Common Agenda” — is a response to last year’s declaration by world leaders on the 75th anniversary of the United Nations and the request from the assembly’s 193 member nations for the U.N. chief to make recommendations to address the challenges for global governance.
In today’s world, Guterres said, “Global decision-making is fixed on immediate gain, ignoring the long-term consequences of decisions — or indecision.”
He said multilateral institutions have proven to be “too weak and fragmented for today’s global challenges and risks.”
What’s needed, Guterres said, is not new multilateral bureaucracies but more effective multilateral institutions including a United Nations “2.0” more relevant to the 21st century.
“And we need multilateralism with teeth,” he said.
In the report outlining his vision “to fix” the world, Guterres said immediate action is needed to protect the planet’s “most precious” assets from oceans to outer space, to ensure it is livable, and to deliver on the aspirations of people everywhere for peace and good health.
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He called for an immediate global vaccination plan implemented by an emergency task force, saying “investing $50 billion in vaccinations now could add an estimated $9 trillion to the global economy in the next four years.”
The report proposes that a global Summit of the Future take place in 2023 that would not only look at all these issues but go beyond traditional security threats “to strengthen global governance of digital technology and outer space, and to manage future risks and crises,” he said.
It would also consider a New Agenda for Peace including measures to reduce strategic risks from nuclear weapons, cyber warfare and lethal autonomous weapons, which Guterres called one of humanity’s most destabilizing inventions.
The secretary-general said a new United Nations Futures Lab will publish regular reports “on megatrends and risks.”
He said the COVID-19 pandemic also exposed deficiencies in the global financial system.
To tackle these weaknesses and integrate the global financial system with other global priorities, Guterres proposed holding summits every two years of the 20 leading economies in the G20, the U.N.’s Economic and Social Council, the heads of international financial institutions including the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, and the U.N. secretary-general.
He also called for the correction of “a major blind spot in how we measure progress and prosperity,” saying Gross Domestic Product or GDP fails to account for “the incalculable social and environmental damage that may be caused by the pursuit of profit.”
“My report calls for new metrics that value the life and well-being of the many over short-term profit for the few,” Guterres said.
It also calls for a new Emergency Platform that would be triggered automatically in large-scale crises comprising governments, the U.N. system, international financial institutions, civil society, the private sector and others, he said.
Guterres also proposed “repurposing” the U.N. Trusteeship Council, whose work is largely completed, “to create an intergovernmental body for intergenerational issues” that would be a platform to consider the interests of the entire human family, present and future.
As part of a new focus on the world’s young people and future generations, Guterres said he intends to appoint a special envoy for future generations to ensure the interests of those born in the 21st century and establish a new United Nations Youth Office.
Saying much of the world’s unease is rooted in poverty and growing inequality, Guterres noted that the 10 richest men saw their combined wealth increase by half a trillion dollars since the COVID-19 pandemic began while 55 per cent of the world’s population, or 4 billion people, “are one step away from destitution, with no social protection whatsoever.”
To address the threats to social stability, the U.N. chief recommended a series of measures “to provide universal health coverage, education, housing, decent work and income protection for everyone, everywhere.”
Guterres proposed holding a World Social Summit in 2025 on global efforts to address these issues and repair the social fabric.
The secretary-general also proposed global action to tackle disinformation and conspiracy theories and promote facts, science and “integrity” in public discourse.
“We must make lying wrong again,” Guterres said.