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UN chief appeals for global solidarity

Antonio Guterres:un sec general

IN a world turned upside down, this General Assembly Hall is among the strangest sights of all. The Covid-19 pandemic has changed our annual meeting beyond recognition. But it has made it more important than ever.

In January, I addressed the General Assembly and identified “four horsemen” in our midst — four threats that endanger our common future.

First, the highest global geo-strategic tensions in years. Second, an existential climate crisis. Third, deep and growing global mistrust. And fourth, the dark side of the digital world. But a fifth horseman was lurking in the shadows.

Since January, the Covid-19 pandemic has galloped across the globe – joining the four other horsemen and adding to the fury of each. And every day, the grim toll grows, families grieve, societies stagger, and the pillars of our world wobble on already shaky footings.

We face simultaneously an epochal health crisis, the biggest economic calamity and job losses since the Great Depression, and dangerous new threats to human rights. Covid-19 has laid bare the world’s fragilities.

Rising inequalities. Climate catastrophe. Widening societal divisions. Rampant corruption. The pandemic has exploited these injustices, preyed on the most vulnerable and wiped away the progress of decades. For the first time in 30 years, poverty is rising.

Human development indicators are declining. We are careening off track in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

Meanwhile nuclear non-proliferation efforts are slipping away — and we are failing to act in areas of emerging danger, particularly cyberspace.

People are hurting. Our planet is burning. Our world is struggling, stressed and seeking real leadership and action. We face a foundational moment. Those who built the United Nations 75 years ago had lived through a pandemic, a global depression, genocide and world war. They knew the cost of discord and the value of unity. They fashioned a visionary response, embodied in our founding Charter, with people at the centre.

Today, we face our own 1945 moment. The pandemic is a crisis unlike any we have ever seen. But it is also the kind of crisis that we will see in different forms again and again. Covid-19 is not only a wake-up call, it is a dress rehearsal for the world of challenges to come. We must move forward with humility — recognising that a microscopic virus has brought the world to its knees. We must be united. We have seen, when countries go in their own direction, the virus goes in every direction.

We must act in solidarity. Far too little assistance has been extended to countries with the fewest capacities to face the challenge. And we must be guided by science and tethered to reality.

Populism and nationalism have failed. Those approaches to contain the virus have often made things manifestly worse. Too often, there has also been a disconnect between leadership and power. We see remarkable examples of leadership; but they are not usually associated with power. And power is not always associated with the necessary leadership. In an interconnected world, it is time to recognise a simple truth: solidarity is self-interest. If we fail to grasp that fact, everyone loses.

As the pandemic took hold, I called for a global ceasefire. Today, I appeal for a new push by the international community to make this a reality by the end of this year. We have exactly 100 days.

There is only one winner of conflict during a pandemic: the virus itself. My original appeal was endorsed by 180 member states along with religious leaders, regional partners, civil society networks and others.

A number of armed movements also responded —from Cameroon to Colombia to the Philippines and beyond — even if several of the ceasefires they announced were not sustained.

Enormous obstacles stand in the way: deep mistrust, spoilers and the weight of fighting that has festered for years. But we have reasons to be hopeful. Now, even where conflict is raging, we will not give up the search for peace.

In areas where terrorist groups are particularly active, the obstacles to peace will be much more difficult to overcome. In the Sahel and the Lake Chad region, we see the pandemic’s over-lapping health, socio-economic, political and humanitarian impacts at play. I am particularly concerned that terrorist and violent extremist groups will exploit the pandemic. And we must not forget the dramatic humanitarian cost of war.

In many places, the pandemic coupled with conflict and disruption is dealing crippling blows to food security. Millions of people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, northeast Nigeria, South Sudan as well as Yemen face the risk of famine.

Now is the time for a collective new push for peace and reconciliation. And so I appeal for a stepped-up international effort — led by the Security Council — to achieve a global ceasefire by the end of this year.

We have 100 days. As I said, the clock is ticking. The world needs a global ceasefire to stop all “hot” conflicts. At the same time, we must do everything to avoid a new Cold War. We are moving in a very dangerous direction. Our world cannot afford a future where the two largest economies split the globe in a Great Fracture — each with its own trade and financial rules and internet and artificial intelligence capacities.

A technological and economic divide risks inevitably turning into a geo-strategic and military divide. We must avoid this at all costs. In the face of the all-encompassing challenge of the pandemic, the United Nations has mounted a comprehensive response.

The UN system, led by the World Health Organisation, has supported governments — particularly in the developing world — to save lives and contain the spread of the virus. Our global supply chains have helped to provide personal protective equipment and other medical supplies to more than 130 countries. We have extended life-saving assistance to the most vulnerable countries and people – including refugees and those internally displaced – through a Global Humanitarian Response Plan.

We have mobilised the full UN system in development emergency mode, activated our UN country teams and rapidly issued policy guidance to support governments.

The “verified” campaign is fighting misinformation online — a toxic virus shaking the democratic underpinnings in many countries.

We are working to advance treatments and therapies as a global public good – and backing efforts for a people’s vaccine available and affordable everywhere. Yet some countries are reportedly making side deals exclusively for their own populations. Such “vaccinationalism” is not only unfair, it is self-defeating.

None of us is safe, until all of us are safe. Everybody knows that. Likewise, economies cannot run with a runaway pandemic.

Since the beginning, we have pushed for a massive rescue package worth at least 10% of the global economy.

Developed countries have provided enormous relief for their own societies. They can afford it. But we need to ensure that the developing world does not fall into financial ruin, escalating poverty and debt crises.

We need a collective commitment to avoid a downward spiral. One week from today, we will bring together world leaders together to find solutions at a meeting on financing for development in the Era of Covid-19 and Beyond. And in all we do, we are putting a special focus on women and girls.

Half of humanity is bearing the brunt of the social and economic consequences of Covid-19. Women are disproportionately represented in the sectors hit hardest by job losses.

Women do most of the unpaid care work generated by the pandemic. And women have fewer economic resources to fall back on, because their wages are lower, and they have less access to benefits.

At the same time, millions of young girls are losing their chance of an education and a future, as schools close and child marriage is on the rise. Unless we act now, gender equality could be set back by decades.

We must also stamp out the horrifying increase in violence against women and girls during the pandemic, from domestic violence to sexual abuse, online harassment and femicide. This is a hidden war on women. Preventing and ending it requires the same commitment and resources that we devote to other forms of warfare. Beyond the immediate response, recovery efforts must lead to a better future starting now. Recovery is our chance to re-imagine economies and societies.

We have the blueprints: the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the 2030 Agenda and Paris Agreement. Recovery needs to build resilience. That requires a new social contract at the national level and a new global deal at the international level.

A new social contract is about building inclusive and sustainable societies. Inclusivity means investing in social cohesion and ending all forms of exclusion, discrimination and racism.

It means establishing a new generation of social protection – including Universal Health Coverage and the possibility of a Universal Basic Income.

It means providing access to education for all and harnessing digital technology —the two great enablers and equalizers of our time. It means tax systems in which everyone – individuals and corporations – pays their fair share. It means ensuring the centrality of human rights in all we do — in line with my Call to Action on Human Rights launched earlier this year in Geneva.

It means equal rights and opportunities for women and girls. The pandemic has demonstrated more clearly than ever the effectiveness of women’s leadership. Twenty-five years since Beijing, today’s generation of girls must be able to realize their unlimited ambitions and potential.

A sustainable New Social Contract means transitioning towards renewable energy to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. I am asking all countries to consider six climate positive actions as they rescue, rebuild and reset their economies.

First, we need to make our societies more resilient and ensure a just transition. Second, we need green jobs and sustainable growth. Third, bailouts of industry, aviation and shipping should be conditional on aligning with the goals of the Paris Agreement. Fourth, end fossil fuel subsidies. Fifth, take climate risks into account in all financial and policy decision-making. Sixth, work together, leaving no one behind.

But to truly reduce fragilities and risks, and to more effectively solve shared problems, we need a corresponding New Global Deal at the international level. A New Global Deal is about ensuring that the global political and economic systems deliver on critical global public goods.

Today, that is simply not happening. We have huge gaps in governance structures and ethical frameworks. To close these gaps, we need to ensure that power, wealth and opportunities are broadly and fairly shared. A New Global Deal must be rooted in a fair globalisation, based on the rights and dignity of every human being, on living in balance with nature, and on our responsibilities to future generations.

We need to integrate the principles of sustainable development into all decision-making, to shift the flow of resources towards the green, the sustainable and the equitable. Global financial systems must move in that direction.

Trade needs to be free and fair, without perverse subsidies and barriers that tilt the playing field against developing economies. And a New Global Deal must address historical injustices in global power structures.

More than seven decades on, multilateral institutions need an upgrade to more equitably represent all the people of the world, rather than giving disproportionate power to some and limiting the voice of others, especially in the developing world.

We do not need new bureaucracies. We need a multilateral system that constantly innovates, delivers for people, and protects our planet.

We cannot respond to this crisis by going back to what was or withdrawing into national shells.

To overcome today’s fragilities and challenges we need more international cooperation — not less; strengthened multilateral institutions — not a retreat from them; better global governance — not a chaotic free-for-all.

l An extract from Guterres’ address to the UN General assembly on Tuesday.

Guterres is United Nations secretary-general

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