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COVID-19: UN Secretary-General says the world has failed an ethics test

Secretary-General António Guterres today told the United Nations General Assembly that a scientific triumph on COVID-19 vaccines had been undone by “the tragedy of a lack of political will, selfishness and mistrust.”

In his opening speech to the general debate of the General Assembly the Secretary-Generals said that one image told “the tale of our times”.

“The picture we have seen from some parts of the world of COVID-19 vaccines … in the garbage. Expired and unused.  On the one hand, we see the vaccines developed in record time — a victory of science and human ingenuity.

On the other hand, we see that triumph undone by the tragedy of a lack of political will, selfishness and mistrust.

A surplus in some countries. Empty shelves in others.”

Mr. Guterres pointed out that the majority of the wealthier world is already vaccinated, while over 90 percent of Africans are still waiting for their first dose.

“This is a moral indictment of the state of our world. It is an obscenity. We passed the science test. But we are getting an F in Ethics,” the Secretary-General said.

Secretary-General António Guterres (on screen) addresses the opening of the general debate of the General Assembly’s seventy-sixth session.
Secretary-General António Guterres (on screen) addresses the opening of the general debate of the General Assembly’s seventy-sixth session. UN Photo/Manuel Elías

In his speech presenting his report on the work of the Organization he warned that the world faced serious challenges.

“I am here to sound the alarm: The world must wake up. We are on the edge of an abyss — and moving in the wrong direction.  Our world has never been more threatened. Or more divided.”

The Secretary-General added that while the COVID-19 pandemic has supersized glaring inequalities, the climate crisis is pummelling the planet. A surge of mistrust and misinformation is polarizing people and paralyzing societies. At the same time human rights are under fire and science.

We need urgently a global vaccination plan to at least double vaccine production and ensure that vaccines reach seventy percent of the world’s population in the first half of 2022. And for climate, an area where the Europeans are stepping up their ambitions, we need more ambitions from all countries in three key areas – mitigation, finance and adaptation.

“Economic lifelines for the most vulnerable are coming too little and too late — if they come at all. Solidarity is missing in action — just when we need it most,” Mr. Guterres said.

Addressing, what he called “a breakdown in trust that is leading to a breakdown in values,” the Secretary-General said:

“When people see promises of progress denied by the realities of their harsh daily lives… When they see billionaires joyriding to space while millions go hungry on earth…. The people we serve and represent may lose faith not only in their governments and institutions — but in the values that have animated the work of the United Nations for over 75 years.” What we need is real engagement so we can live up to the promise of a better, more peaceful world.

Mr. Guterres said that the world is facing a moment of truth and the time was come to restore trust and inspire hope.

“And I do have hope. The problems we have created are problems we can solve.”

The European Union has a strong delegation at the General Assembly, including the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, and the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen and High Representative/Vice-President Borrell. On Monday 20 September they had a meeting with UN Secretary-General António Guterres and the EU will speak at the general debate on Friday September 24.

The General debate can be followed live on UN WEB TV here https://media.un.org/en/asset/k1e/k1ek5zr4iu

Secretary-General’s report on “Our Common Agenda”

Our Common Agenda


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