More Coordinated Efforts Needed to Implement Common Goals, President Stresses, as COVID-19, Climate Crisis, Violent Conflict Top List of Concerns
At the start of a year in which the world continues to be destabilized by an ever-raging pandemic and multiplying conflicts and crises, Secretary-General António Guterres briefed the General Assembly today on his urgent priorities for 2022, calling upon countries to mobilize against a “five-alarm global fire”, referring to COVID-19, the climate crisis, an unprincipled global financial system, lawlessness in cyberspace, and a rise in violent conflict.
“Now is not the time to simply list and lament challenges; now is the time to act,” he said, presenting his annual report on the work of the Organization (document A/76/1) to the 193-member Assembly. While Omicron constitutes a warning, he cautioned that the next variant may be worse, stressing: “Instead of the virus spreading like wildfire, we need vaccines to spread like wildfire.”
Highlighting the need to urgently redress vaccine inequity, he castigated the “scandalously unequal” distribution of vaccines, of which manufacturers put out 1.5 billion doses a month, pointing out that vaccination rates in high-income countries are seven times higher than in the countries of Africa. Against that backdrop, he underlined the need for all countries and manufacturers to prioritize vaccine supply to the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access (COVAX) facility, and for vaccine misinformation to be effectively combated.
Meanwhile, steps must be taken to reform the “morally bankrupt” global financial system whose imbalances are “inbuilt and structural”, and leading to a lopsided recovery, he said. Noting that the near-systemic gap between developed and developing countries is a recipe for instability, crisis and forced migration, he outlined a range of measures to redress its failings, including ensuring fairer credit ratings, an operational debt relief framework, reforming the global tax system and tackling illicit financial flows.
On the climate crisis, he warned that global emissions are set to increase by almost 14 per cent over the current decade, which “spells catastrophe”, pointing out that in 2020, climate shocks forced 30 million people to flee their homes — three times more than those displaced by war and violence. He called for “an avalanche of action” this year “to change the math and reduce the suffering”, including by making sure there are no new coal plants or expansion in oil and gas exploration, and tripling investment in renewable energy infrastructure to $5 trillion annually by 2030.
On technology, an area “where global governance barely exists at all”, he called for steps to be taken to widen access to the 2.9 billion people who remain off-line, mainly in developing countries, and to ensure women do not lag behind. Expressing concern about data misuse, misinformation and cybercrime, he called for stronger regulatory frameworks to address them, and pointed to his Global Digital Compact, put forth as part of the Summit of the Future in 2023, in this regard.
In an increasingly fractious globe, which faces the highest number of violent conflicts since 1945, and an uptick in military coups and human rights under assault, he said conflict prevention is at the heart of the New Agenda for Peace. He outlined priorities in the push for peace, including providing a lifeline of help to the Afghan people, sustaining the implementation of peace in Colombia, and reviving the Israel-Palestine peace process, among many others. “This world is too small for so many hotspots,” he stressed, underscoring the need for a united Security Council to address them.
Abdulla Shahid (Maldives), President of the General Assembly, pointed out at the outset of the meeting that much had been accomplished despite the formidable challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, including the reform of structures to maintain peace and security. Noting that progress has been made possible through political will and the leadership of the bridge-builder, the Secretary-General, who maintains a constant focus on keeping human dignity and the common good at the core of the Organization’s work, he stressed the importance of coordinated efforts to implementing Our Common Agenda, adding: “We are committed now more than ever to deliver for people, the planet, and to further strengthen the United Nation as the pinnacle of multilateralism.” He then suspended the meeting and invited Member States to engage in an informal question-and-answer session with the Secretary-General before the resumption of plenary proceedings.
Delegates went on to congratulate the Secretary-General on his second term, and emphatically endorsed the priorities he outlined for 2022. Many echoed his trenchant words on the urgent need to ensure the equitable access and distribution of vaccines, with some pointing out the link between emerging variants and new outbreaks and a failure to close the “vaccine divide”. Others expressed grave concern about the existential threat of climate change, which exacerbated instability and poverty, and a fraying multilateralism that is unable to tackle international threats and challenges.
Cyprus’ representative echoed the Secretary-General’s concern over the deepening East-West divide and risk of a fragmented — or even parallel — set of global systems, stressing that multilateralism is the only framework for an effective international system of collective security that ensures equality in security and the non-tolerance of threats, with consequences for aggressors and justice for victims. The United Nations ability to uphold the ban on the use of force is the only barometer for measuring the Organization’s effectiveness. Yet, the threat or use of force has not been eliminated. “We must do better,” he said.
The representative of Bolivia called for the strengthening of the developing countries’ capabilities to produce vaccines and medicines and warned against external dependency and protectionism. It is imperative to liberate patents and other restrictions to achieve equitable access to medicines and vaccines, he said, declaring: “Health and life cannot continue to be an instrument for profit.”
In a similar vein, the representative of Liechtenstein expressed regret that the COVID-19 pandemic continues to demonstrate “not only how far we have to go, but also that we are moving in the wrong direction” in some areas, pointing out that the spread of new variants and new waves of infection is directly linked to the inability to ensure an equitable global vaccine distribution. Calling for a more preventive approach to security, he voiced regret that the Security Council was unable to adopt a thematic resolution on climate and security, which he described as “ominous not only for climate ambition but also for the Council itself”.
Meanwhile, the delegate of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic spotlighted an evident imbalance in the world’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Comparing the billions being pledged to help developing nations recover to the trillions being poured into the recovery of developed countries, he described the discrepancy as an example of the “morally bankrupt global financial system” mentioned by the Secretary-General.
For his part, the representative of Ethiopia, noting the standalone section for Africa in the Secretary-General’s report, said challenges faced by the continent — ranging from forcible overthrows of Governments, intervention in sovereign countries, the scramble for natural resources and mercenaryism — require a change to the world’s status-quo approach, which is rife with double standards and a “saviour mentality” that disenfranchises Africans in their own affairs. Moreover, he said unilateral coercive measures hamper countries’ ability to combat the pandemic.
Also speaking were representatives of Cambodia (on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations), Malaysia, South Africa, Japan, Albania, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Egypt, Argentina, Ecuador, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Armenia, Indonesia, Mexico, Syria, Pakistan, Belarus and Côte d’Ivoire.
The representative of India spoke in exercise of the write of reply.
The Assembly will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Monday, 24 January, to conclude the session.