Global Crisis Response ‘Too Little, Too Late’, Secretary-General Tells General Assembly ‘Our Common Agenda’ Event, Warning of Instability, Climate Chaos
Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks to the General Assembly, presenting “Our Common Agenda”, in New York today:
On almost every front, our world is under enormous stress. We are not at ease with each other, or our planet.
COVID-19 is a wake-up call — and we are oversleeping. The pandemic has demonstrated our collective failure to come together and make joint decisions for the common good, even in the face of an immediate, life-threatening global emergency.
This paralysis extends far beyond COVID-19. From the climate crisis to our suicidal war on nature and the collapse of biodiversity, our global response is too little, too late. Unchecked inequality is undermining social cohesion, creating fragilities that affect us all. Technology is moving ahead without guard rails to protect us from its unforeseen consequences.
Global decision-making is fixed on immediate gain, ignoring the long-term consequences of decisions — or indecision. Multilateral institutions have proven too weak and fragmented for today’s global challenges and risks. As a result, we risk a future of serious instability and climate chaos.
Last year, in the Leaders’ Declaration marking the seventy-fifth anniversary of the United Nations, you charged me with providing recommendations to advance “Our Common Agenda”, to address these challenges for global governance. Today, after an in-depth process of consultation and reflection, I present my response.
In preparing this report, we built on a year-long global listening exercise. We engaged Member States, thought leaders, young people, civil society, the United Nations system and its many partners. One message rang throughout our consultations: our world needs more, and better, multilateralism, based on deeper solidarity, to deal with the crises we face and reverse today’s dangerous trends.
There was broad recognition that we are at a pivotal moment. Business as usual could result in breakdown of the global order, into a world of perpetual crisis and winner-takes-all. Or we could decide to change course, heralding a breakthrough to a greener, better, safer future for all. This report represents my vision, informed by your contributions, for a path towards the breakthrough scenario.
Our Common Agenda is above all an agenda of action, designed to strengthen and accelerate multilateral cooperation — particularly around the 2030 Agenda — and make a tangible difference to people’s lives. And it is an agenda driven by solidarity — the principle of working together, recognizing that we are bound to each other and that no community or country, however powerful, can solve its challenges alone. I will set out my vision for Our Common Agenda under four broad headings: strengthening global governance; focusing on the future; renewing the social contract; and ensuring a United Nations fit for a new era. First, the international community is manifestly failing to protect our most precious global commons — the oceans, the atmosphere, outer space and the pristine wilderness of Antarctica. Nor is it delivering policies to support peace, global health, the viability of our planet and other pressing needs. In other words, multilateralism is failing its most basic test. The lack of a global response and vaccination programme to end the COVID-19 pandemic is a clear and tragic example. The longer the virus circulates among billions of unvaccinated people, the higher the risk that it will develop into more dangerous variants that could rip through vaccinated and unvaccinated populations alike, with a far higher fatality rate. Investing $50 billion in vaccination now could add an estimated $9 trillion to the global economy in the next four years.
We need an immediate global vaccination plan, implemented by an emergency task force made up of present and potential vaccine producers, the World Health Organization (WHO), ACT-Accelerator partners and international financial institutions, to work with pharmaceutical companies to at least double vaccine production and ensure that vaccines reach 70 per cent of the world’s population in the first half of 2022.
Likewise, the recommendations of the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response must be a starting point for urgent reforms to strengthen the global health architecture. The World Health Organization must be empowered and funded adequately, so that it can play a leading role in coordinating emergency response. Global health security and preparedness must be strengthened through sustained political commitment and leadership at the highest level. Low- and middle-income countries must be able to develop and access health technologies.
More broadly, we cannot afford to ignore the alarm sounded by the pandemic and by galloping climate change. We must launch a new era of bold, transformative policies across the board. We must take our heads out of the sand and face up to future health crises, financial shocks and the triple planetary emergency of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution. We need a quantum leap to strengthen multilateralism and make it fit for purpose. One of the central recommendations of my report on Our Common Agenda is that the world should come together to consider all these issues and more at a high-level summit of the future. This summit will aim to forge a new global consensus on what our future should look like, and how we can secure it. The summit should include a new agenda for peace, that takes a more comprehensive, holistic view of global security.
The new agenda for peace could include measures to reduce strategic risks from nuclear arms, cyberwarfare and lethal autonomous weapons; strengthen foresight of future risk and reshape responses to all forms of violence, including by criminal groups and in the home; invest in prevention and peacebuilding by addressing the root causes of conflict; increase support for regional initiatives that can fill critical gaps in the global peace and security architecture; and put women and girls at the centre of security policy.
The summit could also include tracks on sustainable development and climate action beyond 2030; a global digital compact to guarantee that new technologies are a force for good; the peaceful and sustainable use of outer space; the management of future shocks and crises; and more. It should take account of today’s more complex context for global governance, in which a range of State and non-State actors are participating in open, transparent systems that draw on the capacities of all relevant stakeholders.
Our goal should be a more inclusive and networked multilateralism to navigate this complex landscape and deliver effective solutions. To support our collective efforts, I will ask an advisory board led by eminent former Heads of State and Government to identify global public goods and potentially other areas of common interest where governance improvements are most needed, and to propose options for how this could be achieved. The work starts now, and I hope for your active engagement.
The uneven recovery from the pandemic has exposed the deficiencies in our global financial system. In the next five years, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), cumulative economic growth per capita in sub-Saharan Africa is projected to be around one quarter of the rate in the rest of the world. Meanwhile, both public and private finance for climate action have been insufficient for years, if not decades.
To tackle historic weaknesses and gaps, and integrate the global financial system with other global priorities, I propose biennial summits at the level of Heads of State and Government, between the G20, ECOSOC [Economic and Social Council], the heads of international financial institutions and the Secretary-General of the United Nations. The overriding aim of these summits would be to create a more sustainable, inclusive and resilient global economy, including fairer multilateral systems to manage global trade and technological development.
Issues for immediate consideration could include innovative financing to address inequality and support sustainable development; an investment boost to finance a green and just transition from fossil fuels; and a “last mile alliance” to reach those farthest behind, as part of efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
These biennial summits would coordinate efforts to incentivize inclusive and sustainable policies that enable countries to offer basic services and social protection to their citizens. They would tackle unfair and exploitative financial practices and resolve long-standing weaknesses in the international debt architecture. Governments should never again face a choice between serving their people or servicing their debt.
These biennial summits would also harness global financial frameworks to move forward quickly and unequivocally on climate action and biodiversity loss. The Paris target is still within reach, but we need faster, nimbler, more effective climate and environmental governance to limit global heating and support countries most affected.
COP26 will be a vital forum to accelerate climate action. I intend to convene all stakeholders ahead of the first Global Stocktake of the Paris Agreement in 2023 to consider further urgent steps. Member States are already preparing a strong post-2020 biodiversity framework, the 2021 Food Systems Summit, and the Stockholm+50 Summit on the environment next year. I will do everything in my power to ensure these are platforms for a fundamental reset in our relationship with nature.
All these efforts and initiatives require economic analysis based on today’s realities, rather than outdated ideas of economic success. We must correct a major blind spot in how we measure progress and prosperity. Gross domestic product, GDP, fails to account for the incalculable social and environmental damage that may be caused by the pursuit of profit. My report calls for new metrics that value the life and well-being of the many over short-term profit for the few. Likewise, access to concessional finance should be based on vulnerability to risks and shocks, not the outdated metric of GDP.
The second element of my report is a new focus on the world’s young people, and future generations. These two groups will inherit the consequences of our decisions — but are barely represented at the global table. I therefore intend to appoint a special envoy for future generations, to give weight to the interests of those who will be born over the coming century. A new United Nations youth office will upgrade engagement with young people across all our work, so that today’s young women and men can be designers of their own future.
My report proposes measures on education, skills training and life-long learning, including a transforming education summit next year, to address the learning crisis and expand opportunities and hope for the world’s 1.8 billion young people. But we must go further, to make full use of our unprecedented capacity to predict and model the impact of policy decisions over time. I therefore intend to create a futures lab that will work with Governments, academia, civil society, the private sector and others, bringing together all our work around forecasting, megatrends and risks. The futures lab will collect and analyse data, building on existing mechanisms, including the annual IMF early warning exercise, to issue regular reports on megatrends and catastrophic risks.
To improve our preparedness for future shocks, my report recommends an emergency platform that would be triggered automatically in large-scale crises, bringing together leaders from Member States, the United Nations system, key country groupings, international financial institutions, regional parties, civil society, the private sector, research bodies and others.
I also believe we need an intergovernmental body that thinks beyond immediate geopolitical dynamics to consider the interests of our entire human family, present and future. My report therefore proposes that Member States consider repurposing the Trusteeship Council, to make it into a deliberative platform on behalf of succeeding generations.
I hope Member States will consider a declaration on future generations to support this work. Unless we change course, we could bequeath to our children and their children a barely habitable world. You may have heard of the seven-generation principle, under which some indigenous communities make decisions based on the generations from their great-grandparents to their great-grandchildren. We have a lot to learn from them.
Third, my report recommends measures to rebuild trust and social cohesion through a renewed social contract, anchored in human rights. Much of our global unease is rooted in persistent poverty, hunger, lack of access to health care, education and income security, and growing inequalities and injustices. Most members of our human family — 55 per cent, or 4 billion people — are one step away from destitution, with no social protection whatsoever. The world’s 10 richest men saw their combined wealth increase by half a trillion dollars since the pandemic began. Meanwhile, we face the worst jobs crisis since the Great Depression, with hundreds of millions of people out of work or underemployed. As always, women are disproportionately hit.
Repairing the social fabric requires new initiatives at the national and global levels to accelerate progress on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, anchored in human rights and dignity for all. We must take full advantage of the commemoration of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Global cooperation can only be built on solidarity within countries. My report therefore proposes a series of measures to renew the social contract between Governments and people, and between people. We must take immediate lessons from COVID-19 through efforts to provide universal health coverage, education, housing, decent work and income protection for everyone, everywhere.
This is not only possible; it is an essential part of building peaceful, secure, resilient societies based on human rights and dignity for all. To anchor these efforts at the global scale, I propose a world social summit in 2025. This could be a new form of global deliberation that would take decisive steps on a global scale to coordinate efforts across borders and live up to the values that underpin the social contract.
The summit outcome could cover issues including universal social protection, universal health coverage, adequate housing, education for all and decent work, in the context of a fairer and more equitable global economy. It would give a strong push to the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals.
A new social contract must be based on rights and opportunities for all. In every society and sector, women and girls suffer from discrimination and disadvantage. On average, they have just 75 per cent of the rights of men and are systematically excluded from opportunities and social protection. This holds back not only women and girls, but humanity as a whole. My report therefore proposes transformative measures to strengthen gender equality, from repealing discriminatory laws to investing in the care economy and enacting emergency response plans to end gender-based violence. Ensuring equal rights and opportunities for women and girls is the single most effective measure we can take to create more stable, peaceful, resilient and prosperous communities and societies.
To rebuild social cohesion, we must also tackle the crisis of trust between people and the institutions that represent and govern them. Conspiracy theories, misinformation, disinformation and lies are thriving in our broken information ecosystem. The war on science is killing people. It must end.
I urge Member States, media outlets and regulatory bodies to join forces to explore new ways to promote integrity in public discourse — an empirically backed consensus around facts, science and knowledge. I also invite all countries to conduct inclusive national listening exercises, so their citizens can contribute to decisions that affect their future. It is time to reinvigorate our thinking around human rights more broadly, including their application to frontier issues and our online lives. I call for access to the Internet as a basic human right, and for steps to achieve this for everyone by 2030. And I urge all Governments to take steps to ensure people-centred justice, address corruption, reform the international tax system and establish a new joint structure on financial integrity and illicit financial flows. These are all critical ways to rebuild trust and public confidence.
Fourth and finally, the United Nations itself must adapt to support the vision of Our Common Agenda. The United Nations is the only institution with universal convening power. Our Common Agenda must therefore include upgrading the United Nations. We need a UN 2.0 that can offer more relevant, system-wide, multilateral and multi-stakeholder solutions to the challenges of the twenty-first century.
This transformation will be based on a quintet of cross-cutting issues: data; digital innovation; strategic foresight; behavioural science; and performance and results orientation. I will seek to re-establish the Secretary-General’s Scientific Advisory Board, to strengthen the role of the United Nations as a source of reliable data and evidence.
And I will broaden participation through an annual meeting with regional organizations, and a new advisory group on local and regional governments, as well as systematic engagement with cities, civil society, parliaments and the private sector. All United Nations entities will be asked to establish a dedicated focal point for civil society, to create greater space for civil society to contribute at the country and global levels, and within all United Nations networks and processes.
The futures lab, a repurposed Trusteeship Council, and my new envoy for future generations will together ensure that the United Nations takes far better account of the intergenerational impact of our work. Our finances must be put on a firmer footing, and I invite Member States to consider my proposals in this regard.
As regards any decisions by Member States to adapt the intergovernmental organs to the needs and realities of today, including reforming the Security Council, revitalizing the work of the General Assembly and strengthening ECOSOC, I stand ready to provide the necessary support.
Global governance may sound lofty or abstract. It is not. These decisions have life-or-death consequences for you and your citizens, from the quality of the air we breathe to the chance to earn a living wage and the risk of catching a deadly disease. Multilateral action led by the United Nations has achieved an enormous amount over the past 76 years, from preventing a third world war to eradicating smallpox and mending the hole in the ozone layer.
My report must be a starting point for ideas and initiatives that build on these achievements and take them further. Some of my proposals will be taken forward by the United Nations system. Others will require broader discussion, and decisions by Member States. I urge you all to act on your joint responsibility to ensure we achieve the breakthrough we need.
The United Nations is an intergovernmental organization. Member States will always be central to our collective ability to meet global challenges, with unique responsibilities in the multilateral system. But solutions to today’s challenges also depend on action from civil society, the private sector and others, particularly young people, who must be accountable for their commitments and have a meaningful role in deliberations. I look forward to hearing from you and your national leaders on these proposals, during the general debate and thereafter.
I am an engineer. I believe in the infinite capacity of the human mind to solve problems. When we work together, there is no limit to what we can achieve. My report on Our Common Agenda is a starting point for our joint efforts to improve global governance together, on foundations of trust, solidarity and human rights, to fulfil the hopes and expectations of the people we serve.