‘Our world is in peril,’ the UN secretary general warns the general assembly

In an alarming assessment, the head of the United Nations warned world leaders Tuesday that nations are “gridlocked in colossal global dysfunction” and aren’t ready or willing to tackle the challenges that threaten humanity’s future — and the planet’s. “Our world is in peril — and paralyzed,” he said.

Speaking at the opening of the General Assembly’s annual high-level meeting, Secretary General Antonio Guterres made sure to emphasize that hope remained. But his remarks reflected a tense and worried world. He cited the war in Ukraine and multiplying conflicts around the world, the climate emergency, the dire financial situation of developing countries and setbacks in UN goals for 2030 including an end to extreme poverty and quality education for all children.

He also warned of what he called “a forest of red flags” around new technologies despite promising advances to heal diseases and connect people. Guterres said social media platforms are based on a model “that monetizes outrage, anger and negativity.” Artificial intelligence, he said, “is compromising the integrity of information systems, the media, and indeed democracy itself.”

The world lacks even the beginning of “a global architecture” to deal with the ripples caused by these new technologies because of “geopolitical tensions,” Guterres said.

1st full NY meeting since 2019

His opening remarks came as leaders from around the planet reconvened at UN headquarters in New York after three years of pandemic interruptions, including an entirely virtual meeting in 2020 and a hybrid one last year. This week, the halls of the United Nations are filled once more with delegates reflecting the world’s cultures. Many faces were visible, although all delegates are required to wear masks except when speaking, to ward off the coronavirus.

Guterres made sure to start out by sounding a note of hope. He showed a video of the first UN-chartered ship carrying grain from Ukraine — part of the deal between Ukraine and Russia that the United Nations and Turkey helped broker — to the Horn of Africa, where millions of people are on the edge of famine. It is, he said, an example of promise and hope “in a world teeming with turmoil.”

He stressed that co-operation and dialogue are the only path forward — two fundamental UN principles since its founding after the Second World War. And he warned that “no power or group alone can call the shots.”

“Let’s work as one, as a coalition of the world, as united nations,” he urged the leaders gathered in the vast General Assembly hall.

Geopolitical divisions are undermining the work of the UN Security Council, international law, people’s trust in democratic institutions and most forms of international cooperation, Guterres said.

“The divergence between developed and developing countries, between North and South, between the privileged and the rest, is becoming more dangerous by the day,” the secretary general said. “It is at the root of the geopolitical tensions and lack of trust that poison every area of ​​global cooperation, from vaccines to sanctions to trade.

Almost 150 leaders to speak

Nearly 150 heads of state and government are on the latest speakers’ list, a high number reflecting that the United Nations remains the only place not just to deliver their views but to meet privately to discuss the challenges on the global agenda — and hopefully make some progress.

At a meeting Monday to promote UN goals for 2030 — including ending extreme poverty, ensuring quality education for all children and achieving gender equality — Guterres said the world’s many pressing perils make it “tempting to put our long-term development priorities to one side. “

But the UN chief said some things can’t wait — among them education, dignified jobs, full equality for women and girls, comprehensive health care and action to tackle the climate crisis. He called for public and private finance and investment, and above all for peace.

After two years of holding the session virtually or in a hybrid format, 157 heads of state and government representatives are expected to attend the UN General Assembly in person. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

The death of Queen Elizabeth and her funeral in London on Monday, which many world leaders attended, have created last-minute headaches for the high-level meeting. Diplomats and UN staff have scrambled to deal with changes in travel plans, the timing of events and the logistically intricate speaking schedule for world leaders.

The global gathering, known as the General Debate, was entirely virtual in 2020 because of the pandemic, and hybrid in 2021. This year, the 193-member General Assembly returns to only in-person speeches, with a single exception — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Over objections from Russia and a few allies, the assembly voted last Friday to allow the Ukrainian leader to prerecord his speech because of reasons beyond his control — the “ongoing foreign invasion” and military hostilities that require him to carry out his “national defense and security duties.”

The US president, representing the host country for the United Nations, is traditionally the second speaker. But Joe Biden attended the Queen’s funeral, so his speech has been pushed to Wednesday morning.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.