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UN Chief Tells World to ‘Wake Up’ to Crises

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres addresses the 76th Session of the U.N. General Assembly in New York City, Sept. 21, 2021.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres addresses the 76th Session of the U.N. General Assembly in New York City, Sept. 21, 2021.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the world Tuesday to “wake up” to the greatest “cascade of crises” in our lifetimes.

“Our world has never been more threatened or more divided,” he told the annual gathering of world leaders, which returned to New York in a slimmed-down version this year due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

He pointed to the climate crisis and COVID-19, as well as an “upheaval” in numerous countries, including Afghanistan, Ethiopia and Yemen.

The United Nations has been at the forefront of the global response to the pandemic, and Guterres took aim at rich nations for what he called their lack of political will and selfishness in hoarding, and in some cases, wasting precious vaccine doses.

“A majority of the wealthier world vaccinated. Over 90% of Africans still waiting for their first dose,” he said. “This is a moral indictment of the state of our world. It is an obscenity.”

Guterres called for bridging the divide between rich and poor countries with a global plan to at least double vaccine production in order to vaccinate 70% of the world’s population by mid-2022.

He also chastised the world’s billionaires, who he said went “joyriding to space while millions go hungry on Earth.” The world’s wealthiest saw their fortunes soar exponentially during the height of the pandemic. Meanwhile, U.N. appeals for billions of dollars to keep famine at bay in several countries have been insufficiently funded, Guterres said.

Meanwhile, he said, the world is not on track to meet pledges made in the 2015 Paris Agreement to slow global warming to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels.

“We need to act now to save humanity and the planet,” Guterres urged.

Geopolitical divisions

On the geopolitical front, Guterres warned that “military coups are back.”

Since January, the military has seized power in several countries, including Myanmar, Mali and Guinea. Overnight, there was reportedly an attempted coup in Sudan, which that country’s military said it thwarted.

The secretary-general pointed to divisions among powers that undermine international cooperation and the ability to get real action in the U.N. Security Council.

Without naming them, he said U.S.-China tensions are an obstacle to multilateral action.

“It will be impossible to address dramatic economic and development challenges while the world’s two largest economies are at odds with each other,” the U.N. chief said.

Guterres said he fears the world is sliding toward two different sets of economic, trade, financial and technology rules, as well as diverging approaches in the development of artificial technology.

“This is a recipe for trouble,” he warned. “It would be far less predictable than the Cold War.”

Absent from his address was a strong message to Afghanistan, although he did call for boosting humanitarian aid to the country and defending human rights, especially for women and girls.

U.N. officials said Guterres would have other opportunities during the week for more in-depth discussions on Afghanistan and other crises.

The secretary-general did make a global call for more action on human rights, women’s rights and bridging the digital divide.

Although he gave a grim report, Guterres said he has hope, because these problems are solvable.

“This is our time. A moment for transformation,” he said.