As world leaders arrive in New York City for the annual United Nations General Assembly, the organization’s Secretary-General Antonio Guterres issued a stern warning in an opening speech on Tuesday: “Our world is in deep trouble.”
“The divisions are getting deeper. The inequalities are getting wider,” he said. “And the challenges are spreading farther.”
The annual gathering of high-ranking diplomats at the General Assembly is the first to take place entirely in person since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the first to be held since the Russian invasion of Ukraine – an international gathering of conflict that has left deep divisions among the organization’s most powerful members, sparking calls for reform of nations. The United States raised questions about whether it could still serve its stated purpose of “maintaining international peace and security”.
Guterres alluded to these divisions in his speech on Tuesday, arguing that they undermine the organization’s work.
“We are caught up in a massive global dysfunction,” he said. “The international community is neither ready nor willing to confront the great, dramatic challenges of our time. These crises threaten the future of humanity and the fate of our planet. Our world is in danger – and paralyzed.”
Overcoming those major challenges depended on cooperation, he said.
“Let us act as one, as an alliance of the world, as a United Nations,” he urged.
While much of Guterres’ speech was devoted to identifying the problems facing the planet, he sought to remind the public that the United Nations can still find solutions.
Large projectors in the room displayed an image of a ship called the Brave Commander that Guterres called “the Image of Promise and Hope.” Loaded with grain and flying a blue and white UN flag, the ship was the first to leave Ukrainian ports since the outbreak of the Russian invasion, sailing the Black Sea trade routes to bring her much-needed cargo to the Horn of Africa thanks to an agreement Guterres played a pivotal role in brokering.
“Some might call it a miracle at sea. In fact, it’s multilateral diplomacy,” he said, describing the dozens of ships that followed the brave leader’s path as a testament to what can be achieved through cooperation.
But while this safe passage agreement allows grain exports to alleviate the global food crisis, Guterres warned that there was something else looming over fertilizer shortages – saying that while the current problems could be traced back to distribution problems, world hunger could Be the result of not having enough to walk around at all.
“Without action now, a global fertilizer shortage will quickly turn into a global food shortage,” he said.
Then the Secretary-General alluded to the next major initiative of the United Nations: a proposal to export components of Russian fertilizers through Ukraine.
“It is necessary to continue to remove all remaining obstacles to the export of Russian fertilizers and their components, including ammonia. These products are not subject to sanctions, and we are making progress in eliminating spillovers,” Guterres said.
The United Nations separately says it is “making every effort” to maximize fertilizer production, but the clock is ticking. The agency’s trade negotiator advises that the shortages should be addressed in October and November before the northern hemisphere planting season window closes.
Terrible problems, drastic plans
On Tuesday, the Secretary-General also spoke about the day’s broader challenges, and called for more ambitious – or, for some, radical – plans to address them. “We need comprehensive action,” he said. “Let’s not be delusional.” “Our planet is burning,”
Guterres called not only for initiatives to address the root causes of damage to the environment but also to compensate developing countries that bear the brunt of those problems.
“The polluters have to pay the price,” he said. “Today, I call on all advanced economies to tax the “snap” profits of fossil fuel companies. This money must be redirected in two ways: to countries experiencing losses and damages from the climate crisis, and to people suffering from rising food and energy prices.”
Guterres argued that the climate crisis was fueling “a once-in-a-generation global cost of living crisis” that could only be addressed through radical change.
“Today’s global financial system was created by rich countries to serve their interests. It widens and entrenches inequality. It requires deep structural reform,” he said. “The difference between developed and developing countries – between North and South, between the privileged and the rest – is becoming more and more serious by the day. It is the root of geopolitical tensions.”
While President Joe Biden is not scheduled to attend the summit until Wednesday, Guterres’ speech mentioned a number of other items that coincide with the White House’s priority list.
And on non-proliferation, the Secretary-General noted that “the nuclear deal with Iran is still a long way off.”
The Biden administration, with help from the European Union, has been engaged in months of indirect negotiations with Tehran over a return to the Obama-era nuclear deal that President Donald Trump scrapped in 2018. But the talks appear to have stalled again. Although a high-level delegation from Iran will participate in the General Assembly, there are no meetings planned with any US official.
While addressing women’s rights, Guterres also touched on a domestic issue: the heart of Roe v. Wade.
The United Nations Committee on the Rights of Women has previously denounced the landmark ruling that reflected national access to abortion in the United States, calling that “access to reproductive rights is at the heart of women’s and girls’ autonomy and ability to make their own choices about their bodies and lives. Free from discrimination, violence, and coercion.” .
More broadly, Guterres said gender inequality is “declining” and that “women’s lives are getting worse, from poverty to choices about sexual and reproductive health, to their personal security.”