Humanity Must Act Urgently to Avert Total Global Catastrophe, Secretary-General Warns General Assembly, Outlining 2023 Priorities for United Nations

Transformative Change Key to Tackling Multilevel Crises, Delegates

Say as Climate Crisis, Developing Countries’ Struggles Top List of Concerns


With the so-called “Doomsday Clock” at 90 seconds from midnight — or total global catastrophe — amid a host of multilevel global crises, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres laid out his critical priorities for 2023 to the General Assembly today, urging Member States to seize the moment and act before it is too late.


After expressing his condolences to the people of Türkiye and Syria, noting the United Nations is mobilizing a humanitarian response to the earthquakes there, the Secretary-General presented his annual report on the work of the Organization (document A/77/1), stressing that the clock now affirms humanity is near its darkest hour, closer than even during the height of the cold war.“We need to wake up — and get to work,” he urged, with the Assembly acting in systemic, transformational ways.


Spotlighting strife-torn areas around the world, he said the Russian Federation invasion of Ukraine is inflicting untold suffering on the Ukrainian people, with profound global implications. The world needs peace — in Palestine and Israel, Afghanistan, the Sahel, Myanmar, Haiti and elsewhere — for the 2 billion people in countries affected by conflict and humanitarian crises. With many of its peacekeeping missions under-resourced and under attack, the United Nations will increase its commitment to reform through the Action for Peacekeeping+ initiative. Imploring nuclear-armed countries to renounce any use of these unconscionable weapons, he also said the New Agenda for Peace must include international bans on cyberattacks on civilian infrastructure and internationally agreed limits on lethal autonomous weapons systems.


Turning to poverty, he noted that developing countries are forced to pay five times more in borrowing costs than advanced economies, and the richest 1 per cent have captured almost half of all new wealth over the past decade. The global financial architecture needs radical transformation, he stressed, with a new commitment to place developing countries’ dramatic needs at the centre of the global financial system and a new debt architecture that encompasses debt relief and restructuring to vulnerable nations.


On climate, he warned the world is at immediate risk of hurtling past the 1.5ºC temperature increase limit and is moving towards a deadly 2.8ºC. With “humanity taking a sledgehammer to our world’s rich biodiversity” and “vampiric overconsumption draining the lifeblood of our planet — water”, he called for game-changing action: halving global emissions this decade. Developed countries must make good on the $100 billion promised to developing countries, deliver on the loss and damage fund agreed in Sharm El-Sheikh and double adaptation funding. Citing a Climate Ambition Summit on the pathway to the upcoming Twenty-Eighth Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in December, he stressed that if Governments, business or civil society cannot show accelerated action in this decade, “please don’t show up”.


Shedding light on the state of human rights worldwide, he noted that antisemitism, anti-Muslim bigotry, the persecution of Christians, racism and white supremacist ideology are on the march — while many other vulnerable minority communities are increasingly targeted for hate, online and off.“Stop the hate,” he urged. On gender equality, he said that half of humanity is held back by widespread human rights abuse. Women and girls in Afghanistan have every aspect of their lives controlled by men. At the current rate, it could take 286 years for women to achieve the same legal status as men. He noted he commissioned an independent review of the United Nations capacity around gender equality across all pillars of its work.


Further, human rights activists are targeted for harassment, and the number of journalists and media workers killed last year skyrocketed by 50 per cent. He pointed to next year’s Summit of the Future, as “there is no greater constituency to champion that future than young people”.Stressing the ultimate priority — a safer, more peaceful, more sustainable world — he called for decisive action before it is too late, as “the clock is ticking”.


Likewise, Assembly President Csaba Kőrösi (Hungary) said the international community must act in a crisis management mood and assume full responsibility for all consequences of its actions or inactions. This is a watershed moment in history, and a business-as-usual approach will not produce the necessary solutions. The Secretary-General’s annual report aligns with Assembly priorities, particularly preparations for the Sustainable Development Goals Summit in September, the Summit of the Future in 2024, and the United Nations Water Conference in 2023. Urging all United Nations bodies to bring about the transformational change that is expected by its 8 billion stakeholders, he spotlighted the veto initiative as a master class on the importance of the Assembly’s work.


In the ensuing debate, delegates universally expressed condolences to the people of Türkiye and Syria, going on to echo the Secretary-General’s warnings on the multilevel and interlocking crises threatening peace and security, food security and any prospects for development. Others voiced serious concern over enduring financing gaps between developed and developing countries, as well as the triple threat of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution.


The representative of Malawi, speaking for the Group of Least Developed Countries, stressed that those States are facing the cascading impacts of multiple and mutually exacerbating crises driven by issues including climate change and rising geopolitical tensions. She called upon development partners to come forward by showing solidarity and not austerity. The Sustainable Development Goal Summit and the Summit of the Future should bring about transformative changes in the lives and livelihoods of the 1.1 billion people in the least developed countries, she insisted.


South Africa’s delegate recalled that, while the COVID-19 pandemic seems to have largely abated for many, its disproportionate impact on developing countries remains and the distribution of vaccines continues to be unequal and inadequate. He warned about an increase in military spending to a staggering $2.1 trillion — the highest level since the cold war — and called for Council reform. On climate action, he urged efforts to prioritize the Global Goal on Adaptation, respond to loss and damage and set new goals for financial support to developing countries.


The speaker for Sri Lanka — spotlighting the lack of debt restructuring, development and climate finance for these countries — noted they remain in a state of development and are waiting for the day when they can rear their heads, breathe free and tell themselves that they can now live in peace and dignity. The failure of the United Nations system to deliver is not an intrinsic weakness, he said, but attributable to Member States which pay lip service to its ideals and yet conduct their activity with impunity and crass disregard for the United Nations Charter.


In another register, the Russian Federation’s representative spotlighted the attempts by a number of States to impose the “right of the might” and replace universal norms of international law with a rules-based world order tailored to geopolitical interests. The United Nations is unable to fulfil its task, she said, citing the deep split in the Assembly and the Council. The politicization of aid by donor countries in Afghanistan, Cuba, Syria and Myanmar was unacceptable and immoral, and the current food crisis — whose roots preceded the events of 2022 — is being worsened by the unilateral actions of Western countries.


Syria’s representative, thanking delegations for their expressions of condolence, requested the lifting of all restrictions imposed as part of unilateral coercive measures, which constitute major obstacles to emergency aid. He joined others in supporting the right to development and citing an “immense gap” between developed and developing countries, underlined the importance of the principles of national sovereignty — noting that exclusionary policies, including sanctions by the United States and other countries, undermine peace and security.


In other business, the Assembly adopted a text, introduced by Edmund Bartlett, Jamaica’s Minister of Tourism, proclaiming 17 February as Global Tourism Resilience Day, as well as a draft decision accrediting the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, and invited it to participate as an observer in the work of the Fifth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries Conference.


The Assembly took note of two letters addressed to its President informing that, since the issuance of his 17 January letter, Dominica and Equatorial Guinea have respectively made the payment necessary to reduce arrears below the amount specified in Article 19 of United Nations Charter.


Also speaking were the representatives of Malaysia, Liechtenstein, Pakistan, Japan, Belarus, Côte d’Ivoire, Qatar, El Salvador, Bangladesh, Azerbaijan, Papua New Guinea, Kazakhstan, India and Kiribati.


Source: UN General Assembly