Climate Crisis Past Point of No Return, Secretary-General Says, Listing Global Threats at General Assembly Consultation on ‘Our Common Agenda’ Report
Following is UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks to the General Assembly’s fifth consultation on Our Common Agenda, in New York today:
My thanks to the President and Vice‑Presidents of the General Assembly for convening these consultations; to you, the Member States, for your constructive and active engagement; and to the external stakeholders whose diverse perspectives enriched these discussions.
We face a fraught and complex world; a five-alarm fire in which geopolitical, technological, environmental and other pressures are driving us apart when we most urgently need to come together. I am acutely aware that we are discussing these major challenges against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine. Peace is the most important global public good the United Nations was created to deliver. War brings death, human suffering and unimaginable destruction, at a time when we cannot afford to add to the major global challenges we face.
This conflict also calls on us to come together in cooperation and solidarity to support everyone affected, and to overcome this clear violation of international law. If we are to bequeath to future generations a world free from want and fear, and full of opportunities to fulfil their potential, we must focus urgently on building and strengthening the foundations of the multilateral system. We must rise to this enormous historical responsibility.
Your UN75 Declaration made a series of commitments to work together on some of these challenges. My report on Our Common Agenda was a contribution to finding solutions, in response to your request. The proposals in the report are a first step. Member States now have a crucial role in taking them forward through further consultation, compromise and decisions.
But, make no mistake: solutions are essential and urgent. We must take the difficult decisions that will enable us to move forward. These consultations have allowed us to build a shared understanding of the challenges we face, to reflect on the proposals, and to suggest new ideas. I am deeply grateful for your very substantial engagement over the past four rounds of consultations.
Through these discussions, I believe we have renewed our resolve to accelerate implementation of the SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals] and other frameworks that are lagging dangerously behind. We are closer to identifying the tools and instruments for action. I hope these discussions have brought us closer to the breakthrough scenario I set out in the report — and away from a breakdown.
Above all, I hope they have forged greater ownership by all, so that the report is indeed our common agenda. These consultations have given us a sense of the proposals in my report that enjoy broad support; those where this may not necessarily be the case; and those where more dialogue is needed.
Allow me to recap. Our first consultation was on Accelerating and Scaling Up the SDGs, leaving no-one behind. My report on Our Common Agenda was described as a “booster shot” for the SDGs that could help get them back on track. We agreed that education is an urgent priority, particularly in the wake of COVID-19. I welcome your strong support for the Transforming Education Summit that I will convene in September. There was support for an intergovernmental World Social Summit, which requires further elaboration.
The entire United Nations system is at the disposal of Member States to take forward my proposals on the social contract, social protection and transformative measures to advance gender equality, should you choose to do so at the national level. These are areas of action at country level, in accordance with the specific characteristics of each country. We also heard strong support for greater engagement with young people, including through a proposed Youth Office. Other proposals, including the Youth in Politics index, require further discussion.
The second consultation focused on issues related to sustainable and inclusive financing, and to rebuilding trust. There was a rich discussion on finding metrics to complement gross domestic product. Small island developing States reminded us of the life-or-death consequences of how we choose to measure progress. It is clearly beyond time to make complementary measures a standard tool for use across the board.
I would like to reassure those who fear that my proposed Biennial Summit between G20 [Group of 20] Governments, international financial institutions, and ECOSOC [Economic and Social Council] of such a summit is to be more inclusive, by combining the economic authority of financial institutions with the universality and legitimacy of the United Nations.
One goal of these biennial summits would be to reform our morally bankrupt global financial system and reduce systemic inequality between North and South. Many developing countries have suffered devastating economic losses during the pandemic. But, under current rules, the Governments that need finance most cannot access it.
We need a New Global Deal to rebalance power and financial resources, enabling developing countries to invest in the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs. This should include changes to credit rating, the way special drawing rights are issued, and the creation of an operational debt relief and restructuring framework. Biennial summits between G20 Governments, international financial institutions and ECOSOC would break down barriers that prevent these institutions from working together to finance implementation of the SDGs.
These summits should also consider improvements to international tax cooperation, and address corruption and illicit financial flows. We heard your strong calls during this consultation to avoid duplication with the Addis Ababa Action Agenda and other bodies. We also heard suggestions that go beyond the Common Agenda report concerning the needs of older people and the risks of terrorism.
The third consultation focused on frameworks for a more peaceful world. These included the peace and security architecture, digital cooperation, outer space, human rights, and international law. There was strong support for the proposed global digital compact, with special emphasis on connecting the 2.9 billion people who are not yet online, and on working towards recognition of Internet access as a human right.
Many Member States agreed that we need to articulate a new Agenda for Peace that takes account of the many ways in which our concept of security has changed since the United Nations was founded. Since that consultation, the war in Ukraine has reinforced the need for a renewed, much stronger focus on peace in all its forms. I will speak at greater length on this in a moment.
There was strong emphasis in this consultation on the fundamental importance of international law, including the United Nations Charter, international humanitarian and human rights law, and the need to work towards consistent implementation.
The fourth consultation looked towards the future, while accelerating action to address some of today’s existential challenges. We considered the threat from a changing climate and discussed how better to protect our planet. The climate emergency and unchecked environmental degradation represent an existential threat to the world as we know it.
Just last week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued an alarming report that showed climate impacts are already devastating every region of the world, but particularly developing countries and small island States. The session considered the irreversible impacts of the climate crisis, which could render some parts of the earth uninhabitable. We cannot allow the territories of some Member States of the United Nations to be diminished or even disappear because of rising sea levels.
We need urgent, transformative efforts to reduce and eliminate emissions, keep warming to 1.5°C, and build resilience against the impacts that are already happening through effective adaptation. G20 countries account for 80 per cent of global emissions and have a special responsibility to lead. We need a massive boost in technical and financial support to accelerate the phase-out of coal and create a just transition to renewable energy and green jobs. Wealthier countries must make good on their $100 billion climate finance commitment; adaptation finance must be doubled; and we must reform the eligibility system so the most vulnerable communities can access it.
We also considered the lessons of the COVID-19 pandemic for our global health architecture, and for the response to future large-scale crises. It is well past time to embed long-term thinking into our systems, to improve global risk anticipation and foresight, and to take the interests of future generations seriously.
We heard strong support for the proposals in the Our Common Agenda report to think and act more robustly on behalf of future generations, and we look forward to working with you on developing these ideas along with the concept of the Emergency Platform that needs to be clarified among us.
This brings us to today’s debate, on international cooperation. Over the past two weeks, the state of multilateral cooperation has assumed even greater importance. We have been brought back to the foundational promise of the United Nations Charter — to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war. Many people around the world are asking how this could happen in the twenty-first century. How are we still staring into the nuclear abyss, as millions of people flee across borders and the most fundamental tenets of international law are trampled?
In the face of such developments, there is renewed pressure to consider whether global governance systems are fit for purpose, and how they could be improved. Even as we reconsider traditional threats to peace and security, we need to update these concepts for our more complex world, in which local threats may quickly become global, existential, and intergenerational.
The conflict in Ukraine could have serious global implications on several fronts. First, it will stretch humanitarian funding even thinner, increasing the suffering of many of the most vulnerable around the world. Second, it could indirectly increase global hunger. Ukraine is one of the world’s biggest sources of grain; the Russian Federation is the second, and the conflict could cause prices to spike. Third, this conflict is deeply linked with the climate crisis, demonstrating how our continued reliance on fossil fuels puts the global economy and energy security at the mercy of geopolitical shocks.
The economic impact of the war, particularly increased energy and food prices, will hit developing countries hardest. Many of these countries are already struggling to recover from the pandemic and deal with rising inflation and high interest rates. Around the world, weak institutions and a lack of accountability go hand-in-hand with both climate and security risks. And record military spending will not protect anyone from climate catastrophe.
Improving international cooperation must look at all non-traditional threats, together with cyber warfare, disinformation campaigns, the threats from weapons of mass destruction, and more. The Our Common Agenda report is a wake-up call about the risks we face and the dangerous fiction that the status quo is a viable option. But, you don’t need to read my report to wake up. You just need to look around.
The climate crisis has passed the point of no return — even though we had plenty of warning and could have acted earlier. Much of the impact of the COVID‑19 pandemic could have been prevented or mitigated. Instead, millions of people have died, hunger and poverty are rising, and the economic impact of the pandemic is still playing out.
A multifaceted war is raging in the heart of Europe, in violation of the United Nations Charter. We need a serious effort to improve global governance, manage risks and safeguard the global commons and global public goods. This is not only about the United Nations, or any other institution. It is about working together to solve our biggest problems, through existing structures if they are fit for purpose, and new or reinvigorated frameworks where needed.
Failure to do so increases the likelihood that our children, or their children, are forced to rebuild the international order in the aftermath of catastrophe. I have therefore asked my High-Level Advisory Board on Global Public Goods to provide us with concrete recommendations for improved global governance. I am delighted that former President of Liberia Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and former Prime Minister of Sweden Stefan Löfven have accepted my invitation to co-lead this Advisory Board.
I have asked the Board to build on the ideas in the report on Our Common Agenda, as well as on the consultations undertaken during the UN75 process and the preparation of the report, and these recent discussions led by the President of the General Assembly. I have also asked the Board to make their recommendations in light of existing institutional and legal arrangements, bearing in mind the strong calls we have heard not to duplicate or supplant arrangements that are working well.
The Board will consider governance gaps, emerging priorities and levels of urgency, as well as relevant deliberations under the other tracks leading to the proposed intergovernmental Summit of the Future in September 2023. I have asked them specifically to seek equity and fairness in global decision-making, as well as approaches that are more networked, more inclusive, and above all, more effective. Board members will be independent and will bring their own considerable experience to bear on these essential questions. I hope that their recommendations will enrich discussions at the proposed Summit of the Future.
The Summit of the Future would be an opportunity for leaders to commit to move away from the dangerous course we are on through multilateral cooperation, based on the values enshrined in the United Nations Charter. The outcome of the Summit could be a Pact for the Future, turbo-charging the 2030 Agenda, the Paris Agreement [on climate change] and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda.
While it will be for Member States to decide what is included in such a pact, my Our Common Agenda report proposes several elements: first, a new Agenda for Peace, that would unite us around a common vision of peace and security in the face of new threats and vulnerabilities; second, a Global Digital Compact aimed at ensuring digital technology is a force for human well‑being, solidarity and progress; third, key principles for the peaceful and sustainable use of outer space; fourth, the protocols around an Emergency Platform, which would enable us to more effectively manage global risks; and fifth, a declaration outlining our promise to take account of the interests and needs of future generations in the decisions we take today, and mechanisms to do so.
Other areas that might be considered for such a pact are the proposed code of conduct for integrity in public information, a global plan to eradicate violence against women and girls, and agreement on moving beyond gross domestic product (GDP) as a measure of progress. These will be decisions for you, the Member States, as you follow up these consultations.
For such a Summit of the Future to succeed, it will require energetic ownership and participation of all Member States, with the engagement also of civil society, the private sector and others, not putting into question the intergovernmental character of the Summit of the Future. It will also require a collective shift in mindset and a willingness to work together towards innovative solutions to the most acute challenges we face.
Today we will also consider how the Secretariat can more systematically include the views of other stakeholders, to create a more networked and inclusive multilateralism. Our Common Agenda proposes annual meetings with heads of regional organizations; active dialogue with international financial institutions; the re-establishment of the Scientific Advisory Board; and upgrading the ability of the United Nations to offer solutions through UN 2.0, including through support to multilingualism.
Building on these reforms, and on past reforms, we will continue to make the Organization more effective, accountable and results-oriented. I have asked the system to make better use of available resources, harmonize our budgeting and funding requests and improve transparency in our reporting on results. And I stand ready to support your discussions with respect to the intergovernmental organs or bodies of the United Nations, including the Security Council, ECOSOC, the Peacebuilding Commission and the Trusteeship Council.
The proposals in my report on Our Common Agenda are not about creating new bureaucracies. They are about Member States coming together to define the issues of concern that require governance improvements. The starting point needs to be respect for and compliance with international law; its progressive development; the strengthening of existing institutions and frameworks; and the engagement of all.
Ultimately, our efforts are aimed not only at averting catastrophe, but improving the lives and prospects of billions of people who are left behind: children who have missed years of schooling; women whose precarious livelihoods have disappeared; refugees and migrants forced on dangerous journeys. The next steps depend on decisions by you, as Member States. We stand ready to support, by providing more details on my proposals, and through further discussions.
The authors of the United Nations Charter identified multilateral cooperation as the antidote to the populist nationalism, narrow interests and unilateral actions that caused immense suffering in the three decades that preceded the creation of the United Nations. Today, we need to build on their vision, based on the universal and timeless values they set out. I look forward to continuing our journey together to deliver on Our Common Agenda.