The head of the United Nations said Tuesday that countries are “gridlocked” in colossal global dysfunction and that they aren’t prepared or willing to face the challenges that could threaten the future of humanity and the planet. He said, “Our world is in danger — and paralyzed.”
At the opening ceremony of the General Assembly’s annual high-level meeting, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stressed that there was still hope. His remarks were a reflection of a worried and anxious world. He mentioned the conflict in Ukraine, multiple conflicts all around the globe, the climate emergency, and the dire financial condition of developing countries. He also referred to the U.N.’s failures to achieve its 2030 goals, including ending extreme poverty and providing quality education for all children.
Guterres also warned about “a forest of red Flags” surrounding new technologies, despite the promise of medical breakthroughs and connectivity. Guterres stated that social media platforms were built on a model that “monetizes outrage anger and negativity.” Artificial Intelligence, he added, “is compromising the integrity of information systems and the media and even democracy itself.”
Guterres stated that the world does not have a “global architecture” in place to manage the “geopolitical tensions” caused by new technologies.
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After three years of interruptions due to pandemics, leaders from all over the globe gathered at U.N. headquarters in New York. He made his opening remarks as they reassembled after three years of meetings that were entirely virtual in 2020 and hybrid in 2017. The halls of United Nations headquarters are once again crowded with representatives from all cultures. Although many faces were visible, all delegates must wear masks when speaking to prevent the coronavirus.
Guterres began his speech by expressing hope. He showed a clip of the U.N.-chartered first ship to transport grain from Ukraine, part of the deal between Russia and Ukraine that the United Nations and Turkey helped broker. It was headed to the Horn of Africa where millions are on the brink of starvation.
He stressed the importance of dialogue and cooperation as the only way forward, two U.N. principles that have been fundamental since its foundation after World War II. He also warned that no one power or group can decide the fate of the world.
He urged the leaders assembled in the large General Assembly hall to work together as one, as a global coalition, and as united nations.
It is rarely easy. Guterres stated that geopolitical divisions are threatening the U.N. Security Council’s work, international law, and people’s trust in democratic institutions, as well as most forms of international cooperation.
The secretary-general stated that “the divergence among developed and developing nations, between North and South and between the privileged or the rest is becoming more dangerous every day.” It is the root cause of geopolitical tensions, and lack of trust, that poison all areas of global cooperation from trade to sanctions to vaccines.
Leaders and ministers wore masks to avoid COVID-19 super-spreader events. They walked around the assembly hall chatting in small groups and individually before the global meeting was opened. This was a clear sign that, despite the fractured state of the planet’s economy, the United Nations is still the main gathering place for presidents and prime ministers, monarchs, ministers, and other key figures.
Nearly 150 heads of state and government have been added to the list of speakers. This high number reflects the fact that the United Nations is still the only place where they can not only express their views but also meet privately to discuss global challenges and make progress.
The 77th General Assembly of world leaders is held under the shadows of Europe’s most recent major war since World War II. This conflict between Russia, Ukraine has caused a global food crisis that has opened up new fissures among the major powers like never before since the Cold War.
Many are concerned about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, which not only threatens Ukraine’s sovereignty but also raises fears of nuclear catastrophe at Europe’s largest nuclear facility in the country’s Russia-occupied southeast.
Many leaders are working to stop a wider conflict and restore peace in Europe. Diplomats are not expecting any breakthroughs this week, however.
Inflation and rising living costs have been triggered by the loss of important fertilizer and grain exports from Russia and Ukraine. These issues are at the top of the agenda.
Guterres stated Monday that the U.N. Goals for 2030 — which include ending extreme poverty and ensuring education for all children, as well as gender equality — were discussed at a meeting.
The U.N. chief stated that some things cannot wait, including education, dignified work, full equality for girls and women, comprehensive health care, and action to address the climate crisis. He called for both public and private investment and finance, but most importantly for peace.
Last-minute problems for the high-level meeting have been caused by Queen Elizabeth II’s death and her funeral in London on Monday. Diplomats and U.N. staff had to scramble to manage changes in travel plans, events timings, and the complex speaking schedules for world leaders.
Due to the pandemic in 2020, the Global Debate (or the General Debate) was completely virtual. It became a hybrid in 2021. The 193-member General Assembly, which includes Volodymyr Zelenskyy, will be resuming in-person speeches this year.
The assembly rejected objections from Russia, and some allies, and voted to allow the Ukrainian leader prerecord his speech last Friday due to reasons beyond his control — “ongoing foreign invasion” and military hostilities that force him to fulfill his “national defense-and security duties.”
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