“Our world is in big trouble”.
With those explosive words, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres opened the high-level meeting of the General Assembly on Tuesday listing the crisis upon crisis piled upon the world.
He listed them: war, conflicts, climate change, hunger, financial crises, challenges of runaway technology developments, hate speech, global divisions and inequalities, and massive human rights violations.
“The United Nations Charter and the ideals it represents are in jeopardy,” he said. “And yet we are gridlocked in colossal global dysfunction”.
In the midst of the gloomy prognosis, Guterres projected on the giant screens at the General Assembly chamber the image of a ship navigating the troubled waters of the Black Sea.
It was the ship, Brave Commander, carrying food grains from Ukraine to Africa and he called it “an image of promise and hope” in “the hell of war”.
“At its essence, this ship is a symbol of what the world can accomplish when we act together,” he said, mentioning the diplomatic efforts of the UN, Russia, Ukraine and Turkey for ships with foodgrains to break through the stalemate at the UN in dealing with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“In truth, it is multilateral diplomacy in action”, he said.
Assembly President Csaba Korisi echoed Guterres’s alarm at the global situation and also the hope.
Korosi said: “A landmark agreement on commercial grain exports from the world’s breadbasket offers hope. Diplomacy is at work to release fertilisers so that the shortages we see today do not become the famines of next year.”
“It has been 203 days since the General Assembly adopted a resolution condemning the military aggression against Ukraine. Unfortunately, the bloodshed and the suffering have not stopped yet,” he said.
Decrying the paralysing polarisation of the geopolitical divides, Guterres warned that the world was descending into chaos with not even two groups.
He said, “At one stage, international relations seemed to be moving toward a G-2 world; now we risk ending up with G-nothing. No cooperation. No dialogue. No collective problem-solving.”
“We need a coalition of the world,” he said.
On global warming, he said, “We have a rendezvous with climate disaster.”
He called for ending use of fossil fuels and imposing punitive taxes on energy companies that market fossil fuels.
Calling for adoption of non-fossil fuels, he said: “Developing countries need help to make this shift, including through international coalitions to support just energy transitions in key emerging economies.”
Korosi also spoke about the imminent dangers from climate change.
Calling the floods in Pakistan a “window on the future”, he said: “Once this high-level week is over, I plan to launch a series of consultations with the scientific community, asking them to help us.”
On the dangers of technology, Guterres said: “Our data is being bought and sold to influence our behaviour – while spyware and surveillance are out of control – all, with no regard for privacy.”
He warned, “Artificial intelligence is compromising the integrity of information systems, the media, and indeed democracy itself. Quantum computing could destroy cybersecurity and increase the risk of malfunctions to complex systems.”
And yet, he said, there are not even the beginnings of a framework to deal with these issues.
(Arul Louis can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed at @arulouis)