ANTÓNIO GUTERRES, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said the world is suffering from a bad case of “trust deficit disorder”, with people losing faith in political establishments amid rising polarization and populism. Cooperation among States is more difficult, divisions within the Security Council stark, and trust in global governance fragile as twenty-first century challenges outpace twentieth century institutions and mindsets. While living standards for millions have improved, and a third world war avoided, that cannot be taken for granted. “Multilateralism is under fire precisely when we need it most,” he said. While a multipolar world will not in itself guarantee peace or solve global problems, shifts in the balance of power may increase the risk of confrontation, he cautioned. Leaders have the duty to advance the well-being of their people, but as guardians of the common good, they also have a duty to promote and support a reformed, reinvigorated and strengthened multilateral system.
Leaders must renew their commitment to a rules-based order, with the United Nations at its centre and with the different institutions and treaties that bring the United Nations Charter to life, he stated. They must also demonstrate the added value of international cooperation by delivering peace, defending human rights and driving economic and social progress for women and men everywhere. “In the face of massive existential threats to people and planet — but, equally, at a time of compelling opportunities for shared prosperity — there is no way forward but collective, common-sense action for the common good,” he underscored. “This is how we rebuild trust.”
Recalling the seven challenges he set out in his address to the General Debate at the opening of the seventy-second session a year ago, he noted that, sadly, they remain unresolved. He cited, among other things, wars in Syria and Yemen, the situation of the Rohingya people, the Israel-Palestinian conflict, nuclear peril, the use of chemical weapons, trade tensions, discrimination against refugees and migrants, and growing authoritarianism as the human rights agenda loses ground. It is the common duty of all to reverse those trends and move ahead on the basis of facts, not fear, with prevention at the heart of all efforts.
Focusing on climate change, which represents a direct existential threat, he stressed: “we have reached a pivotal moment. If we do not change course in the next two years, we risk runaway climate change.” World leaders must listen to scientists, see what is happening before their very eyes and guarantee implementation of the Paris Agreement. Voicing concern about insufficient progress at the Bangkok negotiations on implementation guidelines, he said the upcoming Conference of the Parties must be a success. The good news is that technology is on the side of progress, with the potential to create jobs and contribute to the global economy. The real danger is the risk of failing to act. Governments must end fossil fuel subsidies and establish fair prices for carbon. “Our future is at stake. Climate change affects everything,” he said, announcing that he will convene a summit on climate change in September 2019 to mobilize action and financing one year before States are to revive their Paris pledges. Only a higher level of ambition will do, he said, adding: “The world needs you to be climate champions.”
While new technologies hold great promise, they also pose risks and serious dangers, including criminal activity and disruption to labour markets, he continued. Malicious acts in cyberspace, such as disinformation campaigns, are polarizing communities and diminishing trust among States. Social media and the digital revolution are reinforcing tribalism and reinforcing a male-dominated culture. The technology sector must become more diverse, not least for its own benefit. With technology outpacing institutions, cooperation between States and stakeholders is crucial, he said, stressing the urgency to find and implement mutually beneficial solutions to digital challenges. Further, the dangers of new technologies on warfare also need to be urgently addressed, particularly now that the prospect of weapons which can select and attack targets on their own could trigger a new arms race. “Let’s call it as it is: the prospect of machines with the discretion and power to take human life is morally repugnant,” he said, warning that any new war could include a massive cyberattack against civilian infrastructure as well as military capacities. He urged the international community to use the United Nations as a platform to nurture a digital future that is safe and beneficial for all.
Despite chaos and confusion in the world, there are winds of hope, he said, citing peace initiatives between Eritrea and neighbouring States, the signing of a peace agreement between the rival leaders of South Sudan, and summit meetings between the leaders of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the United States and Republic of Korea. He also cited a strong commitment to peace in Colombia, steps taken by Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to resolve their differences, and peaceful political transitions in Armenia, Liberia and Uzbekistan. Approval of compacts on refugees and migrations is another sign of hope, while the drive for gender equality is gaining ground. “Our future rests on solidarity,” he said. “We must repair broken trust. We must reinvigorate our multilateral project and we must uphold dignity for one and all.”