The top official at the United Nations is warning that global tensions — spurred on by the war in Ukraine and the pressures of climate change — are soaring and resulting in a moment of “colossal global dysfunction” amid multiplying crises facing humanity.
U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres offered the stark assessment in remarks opening the marathon of speeches by world leaders that kicked off Tuesday at the annual U.N. General Assembly gathering in New York. President Biden is to address the assembly on Wednesday.
“The international community is not ready or willing to tackle the big dramatic challenges of our age,” Mr. Guterres said. “These crises threaten the future of humanity and the fate of our planet — crises like the war in Ukraine and the multiplication of conflicts around the globe, crises like the climate emergency and biodiversity loss … [and] crises like the dire financial situation of developing countries.”
Geopolitical division is “undermining the work” of the U.N. Security Council, he added, “… undermining international law, undermining trust and people’s faith in democratic institutions [and] undermining all forms of international cooperation.”
“We cannot go on like this,” he added.
While leaders and top diplomats from more than two dozen nations were slated to speak Tuesday, the biggest fireworks are predicted for Wednesday, when Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are both expected to deliver remarks.
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Mr. Biden and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi are also slated to appear Wednesday, trading speeches amid heightened uncertainty over the status of the troubled talks to revive the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran.
Mr. Guterres steered clear of specifics on the Iran situation in his opening speech Tuesday, although he lamented atrocities that have occurred in Ukraine, as well as “widespread destruction” that Russia’s invasion of its neighbor has unleashed.
The secretary general focused more broadly on what he called “a once-in-a-generation global cost-of-living crisis” that’s been “turbocharged by the war in Ukraine.”
He called on the world to “come together” and overcome divisions. He cited recent negotiations that resulted in a deal to allow Ukrainian grain shipments out of the Black Sea as a hopeful sign.
However, the secretary general’s overall message was stark. “Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, our world is in big trouble,” Mr. Guterres said. “Divides are growing deeper. Inequalities are growing wider, and challenges are spreading farther.”
“Let’s have no illusions, we are in rough seas. A winter of global discontent is on the horizon,” he said. “A cost-of-living crisis is raging, trust is crumbling, inequalities are exploding and our planet is burning. People are hurting, with the most vulnerable suffering the most. The United Nations charter and the ideals it represents are in jeopardy. We have a duty to act and yet we are gridlocked in colossal global dysfunction.”
Mr. Guterres also lamented that lack of action on climate change and called for more aggressive efforts to limit fossil fuels.
“Let’s tell it like it is: Our world is addicted to fossil fuels and it’s time for an intervention,” the secretary general said, while saying there must be a “just transition” to alternative fuels to ease the burden for developing countries.
“Polluters must pay, and today I’m calling on all developed economies to tax the windfall profits of fossil fuel companies,” he said. “Those funds should be redirected in two ways: to countries suffering loss and damage caused by the climate crisis and to people suffering with rising food and energy prices.”