The annual diplomatic gathering at the United Nations this week shines a spotlight on its supreme chief, Antonio Guterres, the Secretary-General, responsible for convincing a fractured and increasingly skeptical world that the United Nations – and, by extension, its position – still exists. Vital to the international system and pluralism.
In his opening remarks on Tuesday, Mr. Guterres said that the world was in danger, geopolitical divisions undermining international law, confidence in democratic institutions and all forms of international cooperation.
“We can’t go on like this,” Mr. Guterres said. “It is our duty to act. And yet we are caught up in a massive global dysfunction.”
In statements that revolved between fear and hope, the Secretary-General called for collective action. He warned of a world on fire due to climate change and said ideals Charter of the United Nations — which vows to end “the scourge of war” and restore “faith in basic human rights” — is in jeopardy, referring to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the inequality that has exploded as food and energy prices soar.
“Let us have no illusions. We are in rough seas,” Mr. Guterres said in one of his most blunt speeches to world leaders.
Mr. Guterres identified three areas where he said world leaders must come together: peace and security, the climate crisis, and tackling inequality in developing countries.
Mr. Guterres said the war in Ukraine “has caused widespread devastation with massive violations of human rights and international humanitarian law”.
The conflict unexpectedly elevated Mr. Guterres’ role as a humanitarian mediator. He strongly condemned Russia for violating the UN Charter and called for investigations into possible crimes against humanity in Ukraine. Early on, he opened investigations into the ripple effects of the war on rising food and energy and an economic downturn.
But Mr. Guterres also reminded the public of other crises that continue to pose a threat to global stability, such as Afghanistan, Myanmar, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Israel and Palestine.
On the climate, Mr. Guterres accused the fossil fuel industry of “enjoying hundreds of billions of dollars in subsidies and windfall profits” and called on leaders of rich countries to introduce additional taxes to help weak countries cope with the irreparable damage of climate change. .
“Today, I call on all advanced economies to tax windfall profits for fossil fuel companies,” he told heads of state and other government officials assembled in the UN General Assembly hall. “This money should be redirected in two ways: to countries experiencing losses and damages from the climate crisis, and to people suffering from rising food and energy prices.”
The call to action represents his most powerful comments yet on the issue of the lightning rod of loss and damage, a polite diplomatic take on reparations for poor countries that suffer the biggest impacts of the climate crisis but have little responsibility for.
The issue of loss and damage financing is emerging as an important fault line in Egypt’s upcoming climate negotiations. The Secretary-General’s statements pose a potential confrontation with the United States and European countries, which have long resisted the idea of a separate financing mechanism for losses and damages.
In the third part of his speech, Mr. Guterres emphasized the many challenges that developing countries face, including food insecurity, debt and poverty, which have taken them “a blow from all sides”.
“These successive crises are feeding on one another, compounding inequality, creating devastating hardships, delaying the energy transition, and threatening a global financial meltdown,” Mr. Guterres said.
He called on banks to facilitate financial assistance to developing countries by raising borrowing terms and increasing their appetite for risk, while asking creditors to consider debt relief, especially for climate funds. Mr. Guterres said the IMF and major central banks should significantly expand their liquidity facilities and currency lines.
Somini Sengupta Contribute to the preparation of reports.