World faces “five-alarm global fire”, UN Chief António Guterres says


UN Secretary-General António Guterres said the world is facing “a five-alarm global fire that requires the full mobilization of all countries”, speaking before the UN General Assembly on Friday.

The UN chief was referring to the raging Covid-19 pandemic, a morally bankrupt global financial system, the climate crisis, lawlessness in cyberspace, and diminished peace and security.

He stressed that countries “must go into emergency mode”, and now is the time to act as the response will determine global outcomes for decades ahead.

Alarm 1: The Covid-19 battle

Stopping coronavirus spread must be at the top of the agenda everywhere, said Mr. Guterres, calling for countries to “go into emergency mode in the Covid-19 battle.”

At the same time, the virus cannot be used as “cover” to undermine human rights, curtail civil space and freedoms, or impose disproportionate restrictions.

“Our actions must be grounded in science and common sense,” he said. “The science is clear: Vaccines work.  Vaccines save lives.”

Yet, vaccine inequity persists despite a global strategy to inoculate 40 per cent of all people by the end of last year, and 70% by the middle of this year.

Alarm 2: Reform global finance

The pandemic has also highlighted the failure of the global financial system, on which Mr. Guterres was particularly blunt. “Let’s tell it like it is: the global financial system is morally bankrupt. It favours the rich and punishes the poor.”

The system is supposed to ensure stability by supporting economies through financial shocks, such as the pandemic, but he said lopsided investment is leading to lopsided recovery from the crisis.

As a result, poorer countries are experiencing their slowest growth in a generation, while middle-income nations are denied debt relief despite surging poverty levels. Most of the world’s poor are women and girls, who are paying a high price in lost healthcare, education and jobs, the UN chief added.

Alarm 3: The climate emergency

For the Secretary-General, countries have no choice than to to go into “emergency mode” against the climate crisis.

The world is far off-track on limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels, as outlined in the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Global emissions must be reduced by 45% by the end of the decade to reach carbon neutrality by mid-century, which requires “an avalanche of action” in 2022.

Mr. Guterres was clear: “No new coal plants. No expansion in oil and gas exploration. Now is the time for an unprecedented investment surge in renewable energy infrastructure, tripling to US$5 trillion dollars annually by 2030.”

Alarm four: Technology and cyberspace

While technology offers extraordinary possibilities for humanity, Mr. Guterres warned that “growing digital chaos is benefiting the most destructive forces and denying opportunities to ordinary people.”

He spoke of the need to both expand internet access to the nearly three billion people still offline, and to address risks such as data misuse, misinformation and cyber-crime.

“Our personal information is being exploited to control or manipulate us, change our behaviours, violate our human rights, and undermine democratic institutions. Our choices are taken away from us without us even knowing it,” he said.

The UN chief called for strong regulatory frameworks to change the business models of social media companies which “profit from algorithms that prioritize addiction, outrage and anxiety at the cost of public safety”.

Alarm 5: Peace and security

With the world now facing the highest number of violent conflicts since 1945, peace is badly needed.

Here again, countries must act in the face of challenges such as the assault on human rights and rule of law; rising populism, racism and extremism; and escalating humanitarian crises, fuelled by climate change.

Mr. Guterres underlined the UN’s commitment to peace, pledging to spare no effort in mobilizing international action in numerous areas across the globe.

Stressing that “this world is too small for so many hotspots”, Mr. Guterres called for a united UN Security Council to address these challenges.

“Geo-political divides must be managed to avoid chaos around the globe.  We need to maximize areas for cooperation while establishing robust mechanisms to avoid escalation,” he said. (Source: UN News)