Tue, 19 Oct 2021

UNITED NATIONS, Sept. 21 (Xinhua) -- UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Tuesday warned that the world is on the edge of an abyss and moving in the wrong direction.

"I am here to sound the alarm: The world must wake up. We are on the edge of an abyss, and moving in the wrong direction," he told the General Assembly before the opening of the General Debate.

"Our world has never been more threatened, or more divided. We face the greatest cascade of crises in our lifetimes," he said in his report to the assembly on the work of the world body.

The COVID-19 pandemic has supersized glaring inequalities. The climate crisis is pummeling the planet. Upheaval from Afghanistan to Ethiopia to Yemen and beyond has thwarted peace. A surge of mistrust and misinformation is polarizing people and paralyzing societies. Human rights are under fire. Science is under assault. And economic lifelines for the most vulnerable are coming too little and too late -- if they come at all. Solidarity is missing in action -- just when the world needs it most, he said.

On the one hand, the COVID-19 vaccines were developed in record time, a victory of science and human ingenuity. On the other hand, triumph is being undone by the tragedy of a lack of political will, selfishness and mistrust: a majority of the wealthier world vaccinated, over 90 percent of Africans still waiting for their first dose.

"This is a moral indictment of the state of our world. It is an obscenity. We passed the science test. But we are getting an F in ethics," said Guterres.

The climate alarm bells are also ringing at a fever pitch, he said.

"Climate scientists tell us it's not too late to keep alive the 1.5-degree goal of the Paris Climate Agreement. But the window is rapidly closing. We need a 45 percent cut in emissions by 2030. Yet a recent UN report made clear that with present national climate commitments, emissions will go up by 16 percent by 2030," he said.

"That would condemn us to a hellscape of temperature rises of at least 2.7 degrees above pre-industrial levels. A catastrophe."

COVID-19 and the climate crisis have exposed profound fragilities as societies and as a planet, he said. "Yet instead of humility in the face of these epic challenges, we see hubris. Instead of the path of solidarity, we are on a dead end to destruction."

At the same time, another disease is spreading in the world today: a malady of mistrust, he said.

"The people we serve and represent may lose faith not only in their governments and institutions, but in the values that have animated the work of the United Nations for over 75 years: peace, human rights, dignity for all, equality, justice, solidarity. Like never before, core values are in the crosshairs."

A breakdown in trust is leading to a breakdown in values. Promises, after all, are worthless if people do not see results in their daily lives, he warned. "Failure to deliver creates space for some of the darkest impulses of humanity. It provides oxygen for easy fixes, pseudo-solutions and conspiracy theories. It is kindling to stoke ancient grievances, cultural supremacy, ideological dominance, violent misogyny, the targeting of the most vulnerable including refugees and migrants."

It is a moment of truth. Now is the time to deliver. Now is the time to restore trust. Now is the time to inspire hope, said Guterres. "And I do have hope. The problems we have created are problems we can solve. Humanity has shown that we are capable of great things when we work together. That is the raison d'etre of our United Nations."

But he cautioned that today's multilateral system is too limited in its instruments and capacities, in relation to what is needed for effective governance of managing global public goods. It is too fixed on the short term.

"We need to strengthen global governance. We need to focus on the future. We need to renew the social contract. We need to ensure a United Nations fit for a new era," he said.

Guterres stressed the need to bridge six "Great Divides:" the peace divide; the climate divide; the gap between rich and poor, within and among countries; the gender divide; the digital divide; and the divide among generations.

Geopolitical divisions are undermining international cooperation and limiting the capacity of the Security Council to take the necessary decisions. A sense of impunity is taking hold, he said.

At the same time, it will be impossible to address dramatic economic and development challenges while the world's two largest economies are at odds with each other, he said. "Yet I fear our world is creeping towards two different sets of economic, trade, financial, and technology rules, two divergent approaches in the development of artificial intelligence, and ultimately the risk of two different military and geopolitical strategies."

This is a recipe for trouble. It would be far less predictable than the Cold War, he warned.

"To restore trust and inspire hope, we need cooperation. We need dialogue. We need understanding. We need to invest in prevention, peacekeeping and peacebuilding. We need progress on nuclear disarmament and in our shared efforts to counter terrorism. We need actions anchored in respect for human rights. And we need a new comprehensive Agenda for Peace."

On climate change, he called for more ambition from all countries in three key areas: mitigation, finance and adaptation.

Guterres asked the world to address inequalities among people and countries by ending the pandemic for everyone, everywhere.

"We urgently need a global vaccination plan to at least double vaccine production and ensure that vaccines reach 70 percent of the world's population in the first half of 2022," he said.

Bridging the gender divide is not only a matter of justice for women and girls. It's a game-changer for humanity. Societies with more equal representation are more stable and peaceful. They have better health systems and more vibrant economies, said Guterres.

He urged governments, corporations and other institutions to take bold steps, including benchmarks and quotas, to create gender parity from the leadership down.

While about half of the world population has no access to the Internet, one of the greatest perils the world faces is the growing reach of digital platforms and the use and abuse of data, said Guterres. "A vast library of information is being assembled about each of us. Yet we don't even have the keys to that library."

Governments and others can exploit data to control or manipulate people's behavior, violating human rights of individuals or groups, and undermining democracy, he warned.

Autonomous weapons can today choose targets and kill people without human interference. They should be banned. But there is no consensus on how to regulate those technologies, he noted.

"To restore trust and inspire hope, we need to place human rights at the center of our efforts to ensure a safe, equitable and open digital future for all," he said.

Young people need a vision of hope for the future. Yet recent research showed the majority of young people across 10 countries are suffering from high levels of anxiety and distress over the state of the planet. Some 60 percent of future voters feel betrayed by their governments, he said. "We must prove to children and young people that despite the seriousness of the situation, the world has a plan, and governments are committed to implementing it."

Interdependence is the logic of the 21st century. And it is the lodestar of the United Nations, he said. "This is our time. A moment for transformation. An era to re-ignite multilateralism. An age of possibilities. Let us restore trust. Let us inspire hope. And let us start right now."

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