Press Conference by Secretary-General António Guterres at United Nations Headquarters
Following is the transcript of UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ press conference with UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed and Rebeca Grynspan, Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), to launch the report on “Global Impact of War in Ukraine on Food, Energy and Finance Systems”, in New York today:
Ladies and gentlemen of the press. Thank you very much for coming.
Now, since the Russian Federation’s invasion of Ukraine, the world’s attention has been focused on the war’s terrifying levels of death, destruction and suffering.
From the start, the United Nations has been actively engaged in delivering humanitarian support to the people in Ukraine, the people who are paying the highest price, and to the host countries of the fastest-growing refugee crisis in Europe since the Second World War.
But less attention has been paid to the global impact of the war in all its dimensions in a world that was already witnessing increased poverty, hunger and social unrest.
The war is supercharging a three-dimensional crisis — food, energy and finance — that is pummelling some of the world’s most vulnerable people, countries and economies.
And all this comes at a time when developing countries are already struggling with a slate of challenges not of their making — the COVID‑19 pandemic, climate change and a lack of access to adequate resources to finance the recovery in the context of persistent and growing inequalities.
We are now facing a perfect storm that threatens to devastate the economies of many developing countries.
That is why, in the earliest days of this war, I established the Global Crisis Response Group on Food, Energy and Finance, facilitated by a Task Team in the UN Secretariat, reporting to a Steering Committee involving all UN agencies and international financial institutions.
Today, we are launching the Task Team’s first report.
I am joined by the Secretary-General of UNCTAD, Rebeca Grynspan, who coordinates the Task Team, and by the Deputy Secretary-General, who presides over the Steering Committee.
Ms. Grynspan will go through the recommendations. But I want to highlight two overarching points made crystal clear in this report.
First, the impact of the war is global and systemic. As many as 1.7 billion people — one third of whom are already living in poverty — are now highly exposed to disruptions in food, energy and finance systems that are triggering increases in poverty and hunger.
Thirty-six countries count on Russia and Ukraine for more than half of their wheat imports — including some of the poorest and most vulnerable countries of the world.
Prices were already on the rise — but the war has made a bad situation far worse. Wheat and maize prices have been very volatile since the war began but are still 30 per cent higher just since the start of the year.
At the same time, Russia is a top energy supplier. Oil prices are up more than 60 per cent over the past year, accelerating the prevailing trends. The same goes for natural gas prices, which have risen by 50 per cent in recent months. And fertilizer prices have more than doubled.
As prices climb, so does hunger and malnutrition — especially for young children.
Inflation is rising, purchasing power is eroding, growth prospects are shrinking, and development is being stalled and, in some cases, gains are receding. Many developing economies are drowning in debt, with bond yields already on the rise since last September, leading now to increased risk premiums and exchange rate pressures.
This is setting in motion a potential vicious circle of inflation and stagnation — the so-called stagflation.
The report also shows that there is a direct correlation between rising food prices and social and political instability.
Our world cannot afford this. We need to act now.
And that leads to the second point clearly demonstrated by this report: We can do something about this three-dimensional crisis. We have the capacity to cushion the blow.
The report offers more than a dozen recommendations, but I would boil down the messages to three fundamental points.
First — we must not make things worse.
That means ensuring a steady flow of food and energy through open markets. It means lifting all unnecessary export restrictions, and this is not the time for protectionism. It means directing surpluses and reserves to those in need. And keeping a lid on food prices and calming the volatility in food markets.
Second — we can maximize this moment to push for the transformational change our world needs. Look no further than the energy crisis.
In the immediate-term, countries must resist hoarding and release strategic stockpiles and additional reserves. But now is also the time to turn this crisis into an opportunity. We must work towards progressively phasing out coal and other fossil fuels and accelerating the deployment of renewable energy and a just transition.
And third — we need to pull developing countries back from the financial brink.
The international financial system has deep pockets. I have been strongly advocating for its reform. But developing countries need help now, and the funds are there.
So, we need to make them available to economies that need them most so that Governments can avoid default, provide social safety nets for the poorest and most vulnerable, and continue to make critical investments in sustainable development.
This is not a crisis that can be solved piecemeal, country by country. This global and systemic emergency requires global and systemic solutions.
The report includes concrete recommendations for international financial institutions to increase liquidity and fiscal space.
As we approach the Spring Meetings of the World Bank and the IMF (International Monetary Fund), we need political will and leadership. Resources are available.
We must speak with one voice: Action today will prevent suffering tomorrow.
Dear friends, above all, this war must end. The people of Ukraine cannot bear the violence being inflicted on them. And the most vulnerable people around the globe cannot become collateral damage in yet another disaster for which they bear no responsibility.
We need to silence the guns and accelerate negotiations towards peace, now.
For the people of Ukraine. For the people of the region. And for the people of the world. Thank you.
[Ms. Grynspan’s remarks.]
Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General: Thank you very much, Rebeca. We’ll go to Edie Lederer, Associated Press.
Question: Mr. Secretary‑General, Mr… Ms… Madame… Deputy Secretary‑General and Ms. Grynspan, thank you very much for doing this briefing, on behalf of the United Nations Correspondents Association. Welcome. Mr. Secretary‑General, you’ve talked about the need for political will and leadership. What actions are the United Nations taking to generate this political will and leadership to address these issues quickly? And how optimistic are you that this is going to happen? And you’ve also stated, quite clearly, that the war must end, yet yesterday, we heard the President of Russia saying it isn’t going to end until their goals are met and basically ruling out negotiations. So, what’s happening with your effort to get a humanitarian ceasefire?
Secretary-General: Well, there are several questions, and I will try to answer all of them. First of all, we are approaching a crucial moment for many of the decisions we are talking about, the spring meetings of the IMF and World Bank. And both the IMF and World Bank are part of the Steering Committee. We are in close contact with them. And today, four members of our Steering Committee have made an appeal in relation to food security, including the IMF and World Bank. And so, this is a crucial moment to make sure that Member States that are represented in the spring meetings understand the need to use the instruments that the IMF and World Bank and other international financial institutions have. The instruments are there. As I said, the pockets are deep, and the money is there, but it needs to be used. This is a crucial moment.
Now, to make sure that we are able to develop political leadership, I invited six Heads of State and Governments to be champions of this process, and I can announce to you that they have accepted. It will be co‑chairing with me the President of Senegal that is President of the African Union, the President of Indonesia, the Prime Minister of Germany, the Prime Minister of Barbados, the Prime Minister of Denmark, and the Prime Minister of Bangladesh. And we’ll be working together in making sure that we do global advocacy in relation to all these questions, that we mobilize political will, because the amount of suffering we are witnessing in Ukraine, of course — and let’s not forget it — but around the world by people that have already suffered the impact of many dramatic consequences of climate change, of COVID, of the lack of vaccination, of the lack of financial resources for recovery, now this blow is really too much, and we need, really, to have a sense of urgency.
The resources are there. Measures can be taken quickly. Several countries have important stocks of food and of energy. They can put them in the market. On the other hand, restrictions need to be abolished, namely export restrictions. There should be no hoarding of any of these products. But most important than everything else, we need to use immediately the financial instruments that are available. I’ve been saying many times that our global financial system is morally bankrupt. I’ve been saying many times that we need deep reform in the global financial system, but now it’s a matter of emergency; it is to use the instruments that are there and need to be mobilized. And I count on political will, and we have established, as I said, mechanisms to mobilize, as much as we can, the political leaders in relation to these objectives.
Now, the second question was related to the war. And so, Martin Griffiths went to Moscow and Kyiv. I don’t think we had a chance to have a humanitarian ceasefire as we wanted globally, but there is a number of proposals that were made, and we are waiting for an answer from the Russian Federation in relation to those proposals, including different mechanisms for local ceasefires, for corridors, for humanitarian assistance, evacuations, and different other aspects that can minimize the dramatic impact on civilians that we are witnessing. And I believe that you mentioned a statement in which it was said that the peace negotiations were dead. I would remind you that we are in an Easter period, and the Easter period is about resurrection. [laughter]
Spokesman: Ibtisam Azem.
Question: Thank you. My name is Ibtisam Azem from Al‑Araby al‑Jadeed newspaper. I have two questions, first to the Secretary‑General. You have been sounding the alarm a lot of times about different issues, the ones you talked today about, but… and there is a lot of promises that world leaders are saying, but they are not delivering. So, my question to you, what’s your plan B to put more pressure on these foreign leaders? And my question to Ms. Grynspan is about trade and women empowerment and if you… to which… to what extent are influential countries committed to empowering women in trade, given the fact that trade is extremely important also to the issues you talked about? Thank you.
Secretary-General: Plan B is to never give up on the plan A, because nothing can replace the political will that is needed for these decisions to be taken. We can say what is needed. The resources are available. We need political decisions. So, the plan B is to insist on the plan A for these political decisions to be taken by those that have the capacity to do it.
Spokesman: Thank you. Michelle Nichols.
Secretary-General: No, no, there is a question.
Spokesman: I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Rebecca.
Ms. Grynspan: Yeah, women trade, very important. Yes, we are working very hard with women traders and the empowerment of women, especially in e‑trade. Yes? And for them, it’s very important not to have restrictions because the restrictions hurt women the most. They cannot really find any other ways and means of… for the earnings of their families. So, you are right. Even in the crisis, we have to insist in trade and women empowerment in trade.
Spokesman: Thank you. Michelle?
Question: Thank you. Thank you for the briefing. First of all, a question on the report. Were sanctions that have been imposed in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine… were they taken into consideration when pulling together this report? And Secretary‑General, could you just clarify what you told us about the UN push for a humanitarian ceasefire? You’re saying that you don’t see a possibility at the moment for a humanitarian ceasefire in Ukraine? And what are the suggestions you have made to Russia? And if you could get President [Vladimir] Putin on the phone, what would you say to him?
Secretary-General: You have the question first. [laughter]
Ms. Grynspan: Well, we have taken into account all the facts. It’s very difficult to be able to say what is what. What we have put together is objectively what are the impacts and the exposures from all what is happening because of the war in Ukraine. So, everything is being taken into account because the figures reflect the objective impacts that they are having everywhere.
Secretary-General: Well, a global ceasefire, at the present moment, doesn’t seem to be possible. But there are lots of things that can be done in order to guarantee evacuation of civilians from areas of fighting, in order of guaranteeing humanitarian access in a reliable situation. And we also propose the creation of a mechanism involving the Russian Federation, Ukraine, and the UN and eventually others, humanitarian entities, in order to have a cell to permanently together manage and avoid incidents in these kinds of situations. We have had a number of moments in which it was said that there was a local ceasefire and that things would happen, and then things did not happen, and then everybody accuses everybody of everything. Instead of this, what we need is to bring the parties together and to manage together situations like this to make sure that we have adequate evacuations, to make sure that we have adequate humanitarian access to the populations in need.
Question: I’m sorry…
Secretary-General: The Putin. I mean, the most important message is that we need to silence the guns, and we need to have a serious negotiation to achieve peace.
Question: You said a global ceasefire.
Question: You referenced a global ceasefire. Do you mean a ceasefire in Ukraine is not possible?
Secretary-General: At the present moment, a global ceasefire…
Correspondent: …in Ukraine.
Secretary-General: In Ukraine doesn’t seem possible.
Correspondent: Thank you.
Secretary-General: That was our appeal for humanitarian reasons, but it doesn’t seem possible.
Spokesman: Betul, Anadolu.
Question: Thank you, Mr. Secretary‑General. Betul Yuruk. With Western nations supporting Ukraine and China taking side with Russia, do you think the world is going into another cold war? And how do you think this war will reshape the future of the international order? Thank you.
Secretary-General: Well, I’m not sure that things are exactly as you described, but I would say that, at the present moment, I want everybody united in relation to support the people in need. We will talk about the international order afterwards. Now, we have people in desperate need in many parts of the world. They are not interested in knowing what is the future of multilateralism. They are interested in having the financial support and the support in relation to the food and energy crisis that they require. Afterwards, there will be a very interesting and important discussion, and I think Our Common Agenda is about it, how we can strengthen multilateralism and avoid the kind of divisions that you mentioned.
Spokesman: Sherwin Bryce‑Pease, South African Broadcasting.
Question: Thank you, SG, Miss Grynspan. My question is going to be for the Deputy Secretary‑General, who hasn’t said a word during this briefing. [laughter] DSG, let’s talk about particularly about Sub‑Saharan Africa region you are very familiar with. What are the implications of this report if they are not implemented in terms of these recommendations? What are the implications for a region where the SG has talked about coups being back? You’ve got staggeringly high youth unemployment, political instability, where it’s very easy to break the camel’s back. What are the risks here for Africa, Sub‑Saharan Africa in particular?
Deputy Secretary-General: Thank you, Sherwin, for reminding me I kept quiet for once. [laughter] Now, this is very serious for Sub‑Saharan Africa, and given the context that we see there, it’s more than just the conflicts. It’s also the climate crisis. So, this multitude of crises that are happening in the region, this report gives us, again, the solutions to acting now with the instruments that we have. Otherwise, there will be even more instability. There will be even more crisis as we see it, and that crisis will go beyond borders. So, for us, when you hear Rebeca talking about the 69 that are severe, all three, you know, this is what Sub‑Saharan Africa will be prone to. But right now, we have the countries that are just one crisis. We need to prevent that one from becoming the three, on food and energy and on the financing. So, solutions here, there are immediate meetings where actions can be taken. The SG’s champions group are voices of leaders who can convince their colleagues to take these actions where they can. And for us, it’s about making sure those recommendations are practical, they’re doable, and they are taken with a sense of urgency, lest the fallout of this becomes one of several billion people. There’s over a billion in Africa, but it will go beyond the borders.
Spokesman: Thank you. Grig… sorry. [crosstalk]
Secretary-General: If I may, with severe or significant exposure to this crisis… I’m talking about the most dramatically acted countries. We have 25 countries in Africa. Now, the risks for the African continent and for peace and stability in the African continent beyond the risks for hunger and poverty of the African people are now extraordinarily expanded. And we have, of course, a particular concern about Africa in which the Deputy Secretary‑General has been leading. We have a process of developing a comprehensive strategy for the African continent more in general, but in relation to this crisis, Africa is particularly targeted.
Spokesman: Grigory, TASS News Agency.
Question: Thank you very much. Secretary‑General, are you wondering, given the fact that the World Food Programme has warned about hunger on 2020 and the last year, why is group is created only right now? And some experts talked… consider this current food and energy crisis as a result of lack of investment in traditional source of energy. And so, given these facts, what do you think how the pace and methods of… how this current crisis can affect on the pace and methods on the climate change response? Thank you. [crosstalk]
Secretary-General: In relation to your first question, since… if you look at the report, you see that the prices of food and the prices of energy have been climbing. What we have now is an acceleration. If you look at page 1 of the report, you see that, for an index 100 of the FAO food price index in 2019, we came to the end of 2021 with an index of 130. So, food prices were already climbing, and we came now to an index of 160. There is a clear acceleration. So, obviously, the food and energy prices were already on the rise. We had inflation already on the rise. What we have now is a dramatic impact of acceleration. Now, I think there was a lack of investment but in renewable energy. If we had invested much more seriously in the last 10, 20 years in renewable energy, we would not be dependent on the permanent fluctuations in the markets in relation to fossil fuels. The fact that countries have not enough renewable energy, which is based on self‑reliance, makes them much more dependent on markets, and markets have always been extremely volatile. And so, my answer is there has been indeed a lack of investment in the recent decades but mostly, I believe, lack of investment in renewable energies. And there were many interests that, of course, were opposing that investment, and that is probably the reason why it has been so slow, and that is reason why now we see countries rushing to understand that we need a world much less dependent on resources that cannot be replaced — I mean, that one day will be exhausted.
Spokesman: Pam Falk, CBS News.
Question: Thank you so much. So, a follow‑up for DSG Mohammed from Sherwin’s question. You mentioned world leaders. Who’s on board with this, I mean, in terms of the grand assistance? We’ve seen numbers, but how much is that coming… how much are people actually paying their pledges? And then to the two SGs — and maybe you can answer this, too — how much… are the IFIs (international financial institutions) on board? You… I’ve gotten through most of the report, and you say the IMF, the World Bank. Are they signed on? And has there been any consideration of alternate currencies, crypto-currencies, things like that? Just curious. Thank you.
Deputy Secretary-General: Thank you. Well, I mean, you can see from the voices that we have of those in support from the six world leaders that the SG’s talked about and having the presidency of the G20 (Group of 20) is not a small leadership involved in that. Right now, what we’re seeing is that the resources are not going towards stemming the tide of this crisis, and that’s what we needed to see that it does… we don’t see ODA (official development assistance) go into military expenditure but that we see that it’s additional if it’s to protect lives and that we need to keep the ODA, to keep the foreign direct investment, to keep all the tools that we have existing that Rebeca has talked about in play. It’s a… let’s see what happens in the spring meetings because the spring meetings are an important signal as to whether this crisis is going to be taken seriously or not. It’s doable; it is immediate, and it will send the signals of the engagement and the traction for wanting to avoid a global crisis, and that’s what we’re wanting to do right now.
Secretary-General: We are obviously in consultation with the IMF and World Bank. But the IMF and World Bank, people, like the UN Secretariat, they depend… the UN Secretariat depends on the Security Council and the General Assembly, and the IMF leaders depend on their boards. And what we need now is the boards of the institutions and, in general, those that have power to act, allowing for instruments if they are available… we are not suggesting anything new. We are only suggesting that instruments that are available to be effectively put in action.
Deputy Secretary-General: Can I also just add that it’s not just the IMF and the World Bank. We also have the heads of all the regional development banks, so this important because this is going to happen in every region and country in the world. And so, having them on board, as well, has been very helpful, and they have been working with Rebeca and the Task Team.
Spokesman: Mario Villar, EFE.
Question: Oh, crypto?
Ms. Grynspan: [inaudible, laughter]
Spokesman: Yeah. Yeah. Mario Villar, EFE.
Question: Mario Villar, EFE. A question on energy, perhaps for Ms. Grynspan. In the recommendations of the report, you support targeted relief for people that can’t afford fuel right now given the high prices, but you ask that this support isn’t allocated universally, which is what some countries are doing right now, for example in Western Europe, reducing the price of gasoline for consumers. Can you elaborate on why this is a bad idea?
Ms. Grynspan: Yeah. We understand that people need support right now, but we would like the support to be targeted and not universal subsidies to fossil fuels, because they are very difficult to then take away, and they will preclude to really accelerate the transition towards renewable energy and new and clean forms of energy. So, we already have many experiences on this. Yes? We know what universal subsidies do, and we know also how effective can be when you have a good system that is designed to help the people that need to have access to energy. That is a much better way to do it right now.
Secretary-General: And if I may, this impact, this… the report is targeted at developing countries. And some countries… some developed countries have fiscal space to do whatever they want, but there are many developing countries that simply have no fiscal space to use universal instruments and that need to be able to use the very narrow fiscal space to support the most vulnerable people. So, I think it’s important to see that there are completely different perspectives. I was Prime Minister of a country, and I know what it is to act when there is fiscal space and what it is to act when there is no fiscal space. It’s completely different. [laughter]
Spokesman: Linda Fasulo, NPR.
Question: This question is for Mr. Secretary‑General. You discussed the severe food crisis around the world, particularly in the poor countries. I was wondering if the UN has a policy in terms of buying… purchasing food and energy from Russia to provide humanitarian aid to the poor countries. And also, since the UN is a great proponent of targeted sanctions, I mean at least when, of course, they’re UN sanctions. Do you have a view or — I don’t know what the status is — in terms of Russian people, in terms of Russia being able to buy humanitarian supplies, whether it’s medical supplies or anything else?
Secretary-General: Of course, we are concerned with the needs of vulnerable people everywhere. And in relation to the procurement policy of the World Food Programme, the procurement policy of the World Food Programme is based on its rules, and it is done, we all recognize that it is done in the best possible way. Unfortunately, the World Food Programme was buying 50 per cent of its food from the Ukraine, and there is no way you can take those 50 per cent out of Ukraine at the present moment.
Spokesman: Linda Fasulo… sorry. Célhia de Lavaréne. Yeah.
Question: Mr. Secretary‑General, what do you say to… you talked about Africa earlier. What do you say to African countries that are saying the war in Ukraine is not our war, but we’re going to pay a high price?
Secretary-General: We say to them that the war in Ukraine affects everybody, so it’s also their war. But I have to say that I understand the grievances of those that, in many moments, felt there was no international solidarity between them. So, the best way is simultaneously to make the developed world understand that it’s important to support developing world in times in need, for developing world also to be able to assume that a situation like the war in Ukraine is also their situation.
Spokesman: Last question, Philippe Rater, AFP.
Secretary-General: Which is we need global solidarity in all directions.
Question: Thank you. Question for Mr. Guterres. Do you see genocide ongoing in Ukraine?
Secretary-General: Well, genocide is strictly defined in international law. And for the UN, we rely on final legal determination by appropriate judicial bodies. So, we are deeply concerned with violations of human rights. I’ve been saying it time and time again. We are deeply concerned with the dramatic impact of the conflict in this regard, but we leave the definition of whether there is or not a situation of genocide to the judicial bodies that are relevant in this regard. And by the way, there is an investigation at International Criminal Court taking place in Ukraine at the present moment.
Spokesman: Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you.