NEW YORK: The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called on “spoilers” in conflict zones around the world to stop their activities at a virtual event to commemorate the first ever UN General Assembly meeting.
This came after Guterres was asked by a youth representative whether his call for a global ceasefire to allow countries to fight the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic could still be a reality.
Guterres pointed to the ceasefire in Syria and the reduction in hostilities in both South Sudan and Libya as signs of hope for the future.
But he lamented the situation in Yemen, where a humanitarian disaster as a result of conflict has been made worse by the pandemic and climate change.
The greatest impediment to agreement is lack of trust, said Guterres, with “spoilers” making it difficult to move forward, such as the countries intervening in Libya and “undermining the possibility of the (various parties) to come together.”
Guterres called on UN Security Council members to unite in fighting impunity, and ensuring accountability “so spoilers understand they need to stop.”
The UN chief was on a virtual visit to London to commemorate the first General Assembly meeting 75 years ago in the British capital.
In August 1941, as the horrors of the Second World War unfurled, with Jews being exterminated across Europe, suffering around the globe, and London being bombed during the Blitz, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and US President Franklin D. Roosevelt came together to draft a vision for post-war generations.
Known as the Atlantic Charter, the commitments enshrined the rule of law, cooperation among nations, and universal human rights, including people’s right to self-determination. Those values became the foundation for the UN charter.
Guterres took a moment to emphasize that the founders’ vision has been vindicated. “There has not been a Third World War,” Guterres said. “That in itself is a great achievement, of which the UN and its member states can be rightly proud.”
For 75 years, he said, the General Assembly has upheld laws on human rights, environmental protection, arms control and war crimes. Its 1960 self-determination declaration has led over 80 former colonies to gain their independence.
And in the past year, continued Guterres, the UN has been on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the World Health Organization leading the global health response and the General Assembly passing resolutions calling for global solidarity to fight the virus.
But despite these successes, Guterres called the world’s response to climate change inadequate.
“Apocalyptic fires and floods, cyclones and hurricanes are becoming the new normal,” he warned. “Biodiversity is collapsing. One million species are at risk of extinction and whole ecosystems are disappearing before our eyes.
“This is a war on nature — and a war with no winners,” he added.
Highlighting the gaps in global cooperation over the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to a disproportionate impact on the world’s poor, the elderly and the most vulnerable, Guterres said 88 million people are being pushed into poverty and more than 270 million are at risk of acute food insecurity.
The UN chief called for a “new global deal” with the Earth’s resources shared more equitably, and “a new social contract between people, governments, the private sector and civil society (to) tackle the roots of inequality with fair taxation on income and wealth, universal benefits, and opportunities for all.”
He said the blueprint exists that can turn the pandemic into opportunity for growth: The Paris Agreement and 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Asked by another youth representative how the UN intends to finance climate-related changes, Guterres said that the trillions of dollars spent in stimulus COVID-19 packages can be used at the same time to address the climate change issue.
The same money could go to support industries that pollute, he said, or create new jobs in renewable energy.
Fabrizio Hochschild, Guterres’s adviser on the preparations for the commemoration of the UN’s 75th anniversary, had, prior to the London event, briefed the press in New York on an international survey conducted “as a global reality check to capture what kind of world people want to see 25 years from now.”
Hochschild said that against the backdrop of a “paralyzed” UN Security Council, disunity and conflict between member states, the survey of 1.5 million participants from all geographical regions showed a remarkable unity across generations and people from different political directions.
Around 97 percent of respondents want to see more international cooperation to address the chief concerns of today’s world, he said, including the destruction of the environment, upholding human rights, resolving conflicts, ending violence against women, poverty and inequality, and corruption.
Hochschild said those trends were already present before the pandemic, and the latter only increased “the awareness of global interconnectivity.”
Most remarkable in the findings was the strong optimism displayed by the poorest, most devastated countries that things will look brighter in 25 years from now, which was in stark contrast to the pessimism prevalent in rich and developed countries.