Press Conference by Secretary-General António Guterres at United Nations Headquarters
Following is the transcript of UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ press conference with Rebeca Grynspan, Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), on the launch of the second brief by the Global Crisis Response Group, in New York today:
Secretary-General: Ladies and gentlemen of the press, thank you very much for your presence.
Let me begin by also thanking Rebeca Grynspan and the Global Crisis Response Group for this latest brief on how the war in Ukraine, in all its dimensions, is affecting people around the world.
Today’s report makes clear that the war’s impact on food security, energy and finance is systemic, severe, and speeding up.
It is amplifying the consequences of the many other crises the world faces: climate, Covid-19, and the severe global inequalities in the resources available for the recovery from the pandemic.
Three months into the Russian invasion of Ukraine, we face a new reality.
For those on the ground, every day brings new bloodshed and suffering.
And for people around the world, the war, together with the other crises, is threatening to unleash an unprecedented wave of hunger and destitution, leaving social and economic chaos in its wake.
Vulnerable people and vulnerable countries are already being hit hard but make no mistake: no country or community will be left untouched by this cost-of-living crisis.
Food prices are at near-record highs. Fertilizer prices have more than doubled, sounding an alarm everywhere.
Without fertilizers, shortages will spread from corn and wheat to all staple crops, including rice, with a devastating impact on billions of people in Asia and South America, too.
This year’s food crisis is about lack of access. Next year’s could be about lack of food.
Record high energy prices are also triggering blackouts and fuel shortages in all parts of the world, especially in Africa.
And the financial squeeze continues on many developing countries – on top of the risk of debt default and economic collapse because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the inequality of the recovery, and the climate crisis.
Worldwide, three out of five workers are earning less than before the pandemic.
Now, both countries and individuals have no hope of balancing their budgets.
Instead, families everywhere are being forced into impossible decisions: whether to shut down their businesses; sell their livestock; or take their children out of school.
Women and girls are often the last to eat, and the first to miss meals as food shortages spread.
The number of severely food-insecure people has doubled in the past two years.
The World Food Programme estimates the ripple effects of the war could increase the number of people facing severe food insecurity by 47 million in 2022.
Ladies and gentlemen,
In reality, there is only one way to stop this gathering storm in its tracks: the Russian invasion of Ukraine must end.
The death and destruction must stop.
A political solution must be found in line with international law and the United Nations Charter.
But until that happens, we need immediate action on two fronts.
First, we need to bring stability to global food and energy markets to break the vicious cycle of rising prices and bring relief to developing countries.
Ukraine’s food production, and the food and fertilizer produced by Russia, must be brought back into world markets – despite the war.
I have asked Rebeca Grynspan and my humanitarian chief, Martin Griffiths, to coordinate two task forces to help find a package deal that allows for the safe and secure export of Ukrainian-produced food through the Black Sea, and unimpeded access to global markets for Russian food and fertilizers.
This deal is essential for hundreds of millions of people in developing countries, including in sub-Saharan Africa.
Rebeca and Martin have been working closely with all parties to move this forward. In the past ten days, they have held direct contacts with Moscow, Kyiv, Ankara, Brussels and Washington.
At this point, saying anything more in public would jeopardize the chances of success, and I ask for your understanding.
This is one of those moments when silent diplomacy is necessary – and the welfare of millions of people around the world could depend on it.
Second, we need to make resources available immediately to help the poorest countries and communities.
Governments must be able to borrow the money they need to keep their economies afloat and their people thriving.
There is no solution to this global crisis without a solution to the economic crisis in the developing world.
The global financial system must rise above its shortcomings and use all the instruments at its disposal, with flexibility and understanding, to provide support to vulnerable countries and people.
The message of today’s report is clear and insistent: we must act now to save lives and livelihoods over the next months and years.
It will take global action to fix this global crisis.
We need to start today.
I now leave you in the competent hands of Rebeca Grynspan to present you the report and to be naturally at your disposal for any questions. Thank you very much.
Rebeca Grynspan: Thank you, Stephane Good morning, everybody.
Thank you very much for joining us for the launch of the second brief of the Global Crisis Response Group. This is the document that we have made available to all of you, that is the second brief that we bring to your attention.
The Secretary-General has pointed to the main messages of the report and highlighted the suffering and destruction the war in Ukraine in all its dimensions is causing which now extends far beyond its borders.
Our main message in this second brief is this: We are on the brink of the most severe global cost-of-living crisis in a generation.
The report demonstrates the interconnected nature of the three dimensions of the crisis: food, energy, and finance. And that tackling just one aspect, will not solve the global crisis we are in. This is creating a cost-of-living vicious cycle increasing the impact on families and countries. Incomes are being squeezed, and families are being forced to decide how to allocate shrinking household finances. Perhaps choosing whether to skip a meal, keep children in school, buy less nutritious food, keep a family business open or closed or pay medical bills.
And so, with this in mind, another cycle, another vicious cycle starts; the cycle of social unrest leading to political instability as a result of the weakened ability of countries and families to cope with yet another global crisis, on top of covid 19 and the climate crisis.
Our second message is this: the current food crisis may rapidly turn into a food catastrophe of global proportions in 2023.
Higher energy costs and trade restrictions on the fertilizer supply from the Black Sea region have resulted in fertilizer prices rising even faster than food prices.
If the war continues and grain and fertilizer high prices persist into the next planting season, the present crisis could extend – as the Secretary-General just mentioned - to other basic foods such as rice, that will affect, as we all know, billions more people.
And finally let me underline that this is a global crisis which nobody can escape. But let me also emphasize that the vulnerable are already suffering the most.
Just an example to understand how this impacts households. In the report we show data that a 10 per cent increase in food prices will represent a 5 per cent decrease in the incomes of the poorest families. But what does it mean, a 5 per cent decrease in a family’s income? 5 per cent is all that the poorest families spend on health, so let’s take that into account. It’s not a minor thing; 5 per cent decrease in income is all the expenditure they have for health for their families.
According to ILO data, 60 per cent of workers worldwide have already lower real incomes than before the pandemic. That is what we say. This comes on top of the covid 19 pandemic and on top of the climate change crisis. So, the pandemic already left 60 percent of workers worldwide with lower real income.
Now, a second part of the report analyses the effects of the crises at the regional levels, a view all have seen.
With the United Nations Regional Economic Commissions, we have assessed the capacity of countries to cope, not only the exposure of countries but their capacity to cope with the crisis, and we analysed in Sub Saharan Africa, Middle East and North Africa, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, South and East Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean.
We confirm a widespread picture of vulnerability in all regions. Again, as we did in the first brief, around 1.6 billion people are severely exposed and unable to cope with the crisis.
Let’s remember that 60 per cent of the poorest countries are in debt distress or at high risk of it.
So, allow me now turn to the recommendations of the brief.
Firstly, on food.
We must stabilize global markets, reduce volatility, and tackle the uncertainty of commodity prices.
We remain convinced – like the Secretary-General of the UN said - that there can be no effective solution to the global food crisis without reintegrating Ukraine’s food production, as well as the food and fertilizer produced by Russia into world markets – despite the war.
Restoring fertilizer availability, ensuring small farmers access, and monitoring supplies everywhere for the next 18 months will be critical.
It is important to support FAO’s proposal of a Food Import Financing Facility. A Food Import Financing Facility.
While a humanitarian approach remains important, it is not enough.
We must not forget hundreds of millions of vulnerable people around the poverty line and wider groups crushed by the crisis: informal workers, women, small holder farmers, families on the poverty line. So we need to have a preventive approach.
Government must put in place social protection safety nets to offer targeted support to these groups and strengthen their ability to cope. But again, there is no solution to the cost-of-living crisis without a solution to the finance crisis
Developing countries urgently need financial support from international financial institutions so they can help their poor and vulnerable population through social protection and safety nets schemes.
Unless there is a strong effort from international financial institutions to increase countries financial resources and fiscal space, countries will continue to struggle to pay their food and energy import bills, service their debt and increase spending in social protection. All at the same time.
International financial institutions must reactivate all their rapid disbursement mechanisms.
Multilateral development banks must be capitalized and apply more flexible lending ratios.
And we need a new emission of Special Drawing Rights from the International Monetary Fund, as well as more pledges to recycle the already issued Special Drawing Rights from countries with strong foreign reserve positions towards the resilient and sustainability trust in the IMF.
The funds exist and they must be made available.
With respect to the debt architecture. You know that the of a major debt crisis, with a possible domino effect is greater today than during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The G20’s must reinstate the Debt Service Suspension Initiative and debt maturities should be pushed back by two to five years.
The Common Framework for Debt Treatment created by the G20 must be improved to really deliver solutions for debt distressed countries. For the moment, no country has been able to receive support so far all continue to have to service their debt with no relief in sight.
Thirdly, on energy.
The use of strategic stockpiles and additional reserves could help to ease the energy crisis in the short term. But we must continue to push for transformational change, accelerating the deployment of renewable energy.
Today, the world faces a crisis of access.
There is enough of everything but at the wrong price, in the wrong place, and at the wrong time.
Tomorrow, the world may face a crisis of availability where there may be not enough essential supplies, no matter where, when and at what price.
That is why we continue to insist that the problems of access, price and timing must be tackled at the same time.
We are in a race against time.
This is why we are calling for action, action, and action.
Dealing with the consequences of inaction – let me assure you -will be much more costly for all than acting now.
Thank you very much.
Spokesman: Thank you very much, Rebeca. And just to note that we do have interpreters from Spanish into English and French into English, if needed. Edie Lederer, Associated Press.
Question: Thank you very much, Ms. Grynspan, for doing this briefing, on behalf of the United Nations Correspondence Association. My name is Edith Lederer from the Associated Press. I’m sure you know that there was a meeting in Ankara today between the foreign ministers of Russia and Türkiye and that they voiced support for the creation of a safe maritime corridor in the Black Sea so Ukraine can export its grain to global markets, to address just what you have been talking about, the global food crisis. Russia is also demanding that the Black Sea be demined, and Türkiye has said that allowing the Ukraine exports should be accompanied by the easing of western sanctions against Russia. You’ve been involved in this. What is your reaction to this important meeting?
Ms. Grynspan: As the Secretary General has said, Ukraine’s food production and the food and fertilizer produced by Russia must be brought back into world markets despite the war. This deal is essential for hundreds of millions of people in developing countries. At this point, I cannot say anything more than that.
Question: Can I then ask something about the report? What kind of response are you getting from international financial institutions and from Member States to this demand for action?
Ms. Grynspan: Yeah, very important. You know, Kristalina Georgieva and David Malpass from the IMF and the World Bank have also pushed for action to give more flexibility to the common debt framework so it can better serve countries, avoid the domino effect of developing countries defaulting on their debt. And I agree with them. The G20 needs to step in and make the debt mechanisms more fit for purpose. But we will need the boards of the IMF and the World Bank, in fact, to introduce the flexibility needed in the instruments that they already have. The money is in the institutions, is in the global financial system. They need to make it available, and for that, any possibility of dialogue with the member states at the board of the IMF and the World Bank is essential, because they are the ones that have to take the decisions.
Question: Just a quick follow up. When are those boards going to be meeting? And is it soon enough to actually do anything quickly?
Ms. Grynspan: The meeting is at the end of this month. So a signal there will be very important, yes. And the boards of the IMF and the World Bank meets regularly, so…
Spokesman: Betul, Anadolu News.
Question: Thank you very much. Betul for the Turkish News Agency, Anadolu. And I will follow up on Edie’s question. Following this meeting in Türkiye, between the Turkish and the Russian foreign minister, and given the efforts, what was said and what was discussed in Türkiye, are you expecting any deal to be reached anytime soon? How close do you think the sides are to having an agreement on the grain export? And, also, the Russian foreign minister said that his country was not responsible for the global food crisis. What is your reaction to that? Who is to blame for the global food crisis? Thank you.
Ms. Grynspan: Yes, see, I have to say that the only thing I can say is that discussions have been constructive. But there is nothing further I can comment at this time. I am sure you can all understand.
Question: Just a brief follow-up on my second question. Who is to blame for the global food crisis? Russia is not taking any responsibility for that.
Ms. Grynspan: You know, the most important thing is to stop the war. But, having said that, it is also true that they are 109, if I remember correctly from the report, restrictions on exports that have been enacted by 63 countries, making the situation worse. So a call for those restrictions to be dealt with, for no more restrictions to come to the market, is an important call that you all can help us give, a message that we can all give, yes? So I don’t have to comment on the more political part; but, from a technical point of view, the important thing will be, as the Secretary-General has said, to stop the war.
Spokesman: Edward, China Central Television.
Question: Hi, Ms. Grynspan. This is Xu Deshi with China Central Television. I only have one question. Since you mentioned there is triple crisis, food, fuel, and finance, my question is on fuel. You just mentioned, in short term, you urged countries to release their strategic stockpile, but the problem is last year, as we can remember, the major powers has already done that. Do you expect this, do you have this strategic stockpile to release? And, secondly, since we are talking about energy price, and you also mentioned restrictions on the food by 63 countries, do you have the same urge for those countries to also leave the restrictions also on energy, because we know that Russia is a big exporter nation on energy? Thank you.
Ms. Grynspan: Yes, there are still stockpiles that could be released. And the OPEC decided to increase their production, yes, that will also relieve some of the pressures on the market in the short term. But I emphasise the short term, yes? Because in the long term what we need to do is really to go for a more transformative agenda for renewable energies as has been agreed in the different conferences, held in the framework of the UN. One problem that has been affecting this is that the global value chains for renewables have been also disrupted. And there have been problems of access to imports for the renewable energy projects. That is something that we are looking into to see how we can release the pressures that also on that front are being felt today because of the disruption of the global value chains.
Question: I will take advantage of the interpretation. Mario Villar, con la Agencia EFE. En el informe analizan la situación por regiones. Quería preguntarle por la situación en Latinoamérica, donde dicen que los principales, los mayores países no están demasiados expuestos a esta triple crises, pero hay 19 naciones que están muy expuestas. ¿Qué regiones son las que están más en peligro y cuáles son los riesgos principales?
[In Spanish: Mario Villar, from the agency EFE. In the reports, you analysed the situation per region. I want to ask about a situation in Latin America. You say that the main or great, the biggest countries are not very prepared for this triple crisis. There are 19 nations, though, which are very much exposed and vulnerable to it. Which regions are in the greatest danger and what are the real risks they are facing?]
Ms. Grynspan: Si, muchísimas gracias. Si, en Latinoamérica y el Caribe los países más afectados son los países centroamericanos, y las Small Island Developing States. Y es muy interesante ver como estos países no están afectados sólo por la parte de los alimentos, ¿no? Están muy afectados por la parte de energía y también por la parte financiera. O sea, que en estos países tenemos “the perfect storm” de alguna manera, ¿no? Porque son países que tienen poca capacidad dentro del mercado global para tener medidas de resiliencia con respecto a los precios, ¿no? Entonces, así como lo ven ustedes en el reporte, después de Sub-Saharan Africa, Latinoamérica y el Caribe tiene el mayor numero de países que tienen la exposición triple a food, energy and finance. Y puede usted ver en el reporte también, la difícil situación que pueden enfrentar en términos de la deuda.
[In Spanish: Yes, thank you very much. In Latin America and the Caribbean, the most effective countries are the Central American ones and the small island developing states. It’s interesting to see how these countries are affected, not only with regard to food but also energy and finance. So in these countries, they are facing the perfect storm, in a sense. Because they have a low level of capacity within the global market to have resiliency measures in place with regard to these aspects. So, as you see in the report, after sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean has the greatest number of countries with this triple exposure, triple vulnerability to food and finance, food, energy and finance. And you can also see in the report that there is a difficult situation in terms of debt that they may be facing, too.]
Question: Thank you, Steph. And thank you for the briefing. I’d like to return to the discussion about the package that the Secretary-General mentioned in terms of what you said. You were in Moscow. You had conversations about the possibility of opening the corridor. And you just mentioned the restrictions that could be lifted to help Russia if these… if they allow this corridor to be opened in one of many ways. The restrictions referred to, the United States and the European Union say that there is no restrictions on fertilizer or grain, but Russia insists that it has all the other incidental sanctions. Is your sense that Moscow is looking for those incidental sanctions lifted or all of the sanctions lifted in order to make this package work? And then I have one follow-up on that report itself. Thank you.
Ms. Grynspan: Yes, first, I did not refer to any specifics with respect to Russia in my former response. And, well, as I said before, there is a lot of things that the international community can do. The dialogue with international community and our visits, together with the visits of Martin Griffiths in Moscow and Kyiv and Ankara and Brussels and Washington have been constructive. That’s the most I can say, but it’s true that there are no sanctions on food and fertilizers. But that is it.
Spokesman: Let’s wait for the follow up, yes.
Question: Yes, no, but on the report, the 95 million, a lot of the report’s conclusions, the 95 million people into extreme poverty, may go into poverty or they are estimates and they are projections. Does that mean that if the grain gets through, that those estimates are not the case? Thank you.
Ms. Grynspan: Absolutely.
Spokesman: Kristin Saloomey, Al Jazeera, and then we will go…
Question: Just more on the sanctions. Can you say what impact they are having on food prices? There are no direct sanctions on Russian fertilizer or food, but are there still issues with deliveries, assurances and so on that had been raised earlier? The United States says they are happy to give those assurances. So are you seeing the sanctions have an impact or is it Russia is holding back that has an impact?
Ms. Grynspan: The situations in the markets are very complex. And, as you know, we did have already effects on the market because of the pandemic. So to be able to separate all the effects that are producing this situation that we have is very difficult. What we are sure is that the war in Ukraine is making it worse. That is what we are sure.
Question: Thank you, Ms. Grynspan. My name is Abdelhamid Siyam from the Arabic daily Al Quds al Arabi. My question is about energy. Have you engaged with the GCC countries to convince them to increase their production? Did you talk to them individually or collectively, or you haven’t even opened any channels with these countries? Thank you.
Ms. Grynspan: Not to my knowledge.
Question: And why is that, if I may ask? I mean, the Russian Foreign Minister had just visited the region and the President of the US is going there. It’s all about energy, and you know how crucial the energy crisis in the world, so…
Ms. Grynspan: I don’t have a mandate to do that.
Spokesman: Gregory, TASS? Okay, AFP, and then we will go Paula.
Question: Thank you. En fait, vous avez un peu répondu à la question de mon collègue. [In French: I think you’ve answered my question, my colleague’s question because it was not very clear for me.] I want you to answer a little bit of the question because it was not clear for me, when you say discussion of constructivity, if it was your discussion in Kyiv, Moscow, and elsewhere or is the discussion between Türkiye and Russia today? By the way, is the UN… was present at the discussion today between Türkiye and Russia?
Ms. Grynspan: I cannot comment on the last because I was not there, and the UN was not there.
Question: So there was nobody from UN at this discussion?
Ms. Grynspan: Not to my knowledge, no.
Question: Okay, thank you.
Spokesman: Yes. If you could take off your mask while asking the question, thank you. [Cross talk]
Question: Paolo Mastrolilli from Italy. Yes. On the issue of grain, again, if you tell us what your plans are now? Are you planning to go back to Moscow, to Kyiv to have a conversation? And do you see the possibility of meeting between Türkiye, the UN, Russia and Ukraine?
Ms. Grynspan: Again, I cannot comment on that.
Question: On your schedule, just on your plan?
Ms. Grynspan: Do you have access to my schedule? [Laughter]
Question: No, I’m asking you.
Spokesman: We are announcing things as they come. Linda, NPR, please.
Question: Thank you. I have a question. You said that no one, no part of the world can escape?
Spokesman: Your microphone.
Question: I’m sorry. You said that no one in the world can escape the food insecurities, financial problems, et cetera. Of course, developing countries are suffering in the worst way. That being said, we are also…it’s also the developed countries that are being asked to contribute financing, et cetera, through international organizations for the poorer countries. So my question is how significant do you think is the suffering of developed countries? We know, for example, in the US, inflation is the highest it’s been in 40 years; prices are very high; people are having, you know, real problems here. So how do you think all of that, the developed countries’ problems will impact what they give and impact developing countries?
Ms. Grynspan: Yes, it’s a very good question really, because say the vulnerable and poor families are affected everywhere, not only in the developing countries. But that’s why we introduce also the variable of the ability to cope. The developed countries have much more instruments and financial possibilities to help their poor families and their vulnerable families to go through this. But the developing countries have exhausted, really, all the displays, all the fiscal space they already had with the climate change, with the COVID-19 pandemic. So that is why we are calling on the international community. We call for the solidarity part of the world, not to get… not to shrink, not to decrease, you know. ODA is a worry that we have, especially in terms of the humanitarian support, yes, because the humanitarian needs are going up. But, also, what we are saying is that to prevent a larger crisis, affecting more millions of people, the money’s already in the institutions. It’s already in the IMF. It’s already in the World Bank. For that purpose, you don’t need more fiscal space, more fiscal effort from the developed countries. You need those instruments and those institutions to really respond to the crisis. So for humanitarian, for ODA, we need a fiscal effort. But for prevention, we have the instruments and we have the institutions that can make the difference with the money that they already have. And that is the call for action that we are really emphasising in our report.
Spokesman: Thank you. We will just take one last question, Stefano?
Question: Thank you. My name is Stefano Vaccara, Il Voce de New York. As a follow up of the question at the beginning you were asked, is it our responsibility, who is responsible for this crisis. You are talking about one billion seven, if I understand, one billion seven hundred million people in danger of starving. Do you think that, and you did not answer to this question, and you say it looks like you are looking at a practical aspect and say, you know, we had to act. But the General Assembly, we have a resolution from the General Assembly giving responsibility for the crisis to Russia. So my question is you don’t want to give this answer and saying that there is a country that is responsible for all what is happening, because you think it’s not going to help to resolve the immediate crisis, and you think this is going to help? Or… and so the UN should stop to give responsibility or looking for responsibility, this is what you’re telling us? That the crisis is so imminent that we have to forget who is responsible at the moment?
Ms. Grynspan: I am not saying anything in that sense. What I’m saying is that the mandate of the crisis, the Global Crisis Response Group is to look at the impact of what is happening on the developing countries. That is the emphasis that we are giving in this brief. And I think that is important to look at that. Because there…this 1.67 billion people can really be in a very difficult situation. That’s why the Secretary-General has made these efforts, not only to put together the Global Crisis Response Group, raise awareness, and to propose policy recommendations for this not to happen, but he has been very clear and have asked Martin Griffiths and myself to coordinate these two task forces, to help find a package deal that allows for the safe and secure export of Ukrainian products, food through the Black Sea and unimpeded access to global markets for Russian food and fertilizers. That is the mandate we are responding to. So I hope my answer is clear to all of you.
Spokesman: Thank you very much, Rebeca. Thank you.
Ms. Grynspan: Thank you.