In a major speech to mark the 75th anniversary of the first session of the General Assembly, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres called for greater ambition to fight climate change and strengthened global partnership to ensure recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Secretary-General reviewed the accomplishments of the General Assembly in his virtual speech Sunday, noting that its work over the past decades “has helped to boost global health, literacy, and living standards, and to promote human rights and gender equality.”
Representatives of 51 countries met during the first General Assembly only months after the end of World War II and the creation of the United Nations, which now has 193 Member States working to overcome challenges in peace and security, development and human rights.
Despite progress, great and grave challenges remain, the Secretary-General noted, including a rise in poverty and food insecurity as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, an escalation in geopolitical tensions and threats of nuclear proliferation and those from transformative technology such as cyberwarfare and disinformation.
For the United Nations, the greatest challenge and the issue of most concern to the 1.5 million people who responded to the UN75 survey conducted in 2020 on the future of the United Nations, is climate change, the Secretary-General said in his speech.
“The climate emergency is already upon us and the global response has been utterly inadequate. The past decade was the hottest in human history. Carbon dioxide levels are at record highs. This is a war on nature – and a war with no winners,” the Secretary-General said.
With the next UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) set to take place in Glasgow in November, of this year, the Secretary-General has set carbon neutrality as the top priority of the UN in 2021.
“We now need increased ambition and action to deliver – beginning with the climate emergency. The central objective of the United Nations this year is to build a global coalition for carbon neutrality by the middle of the century. We need meaningful cuts now, to reduce global emissions by 45 per cent by 2030, compared with 2010 levels.”
The Secretary-General praised the pledge by the United Kingdom to cut emissions by 68 percent by 2030 compared to 1990 and urged the country to continue its strong leadership ahead of COP26 in Glasgow. In the days, weeks and months ahead, the Secretary-General can be expected to continue his push to encourage cities, organizations and financial institutions to adopt plans to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.
The Secretary-General warned of the potentially dire consequences of the failure to act.
”If we don’t change course, we may be headed for a catastrophic temperature rise of more than 3 degrees this century. Biodiversity is collapsing. One million species are at risk of extinction and whole ecosystems are disappearing before our eyes. This is a war on nature – and a war with no winners,” he said.
Turning to the COVID-19 pandemic which continues to ravage countries around the globe, the Secretary-General stressed the need for equitable access to vaccines and the need for the recovery to ensure that economies and societies emerge with stronger foundations.
“I have called for a new global deal. Power, resources and opportunities must be managed better and shared more equitably. Developing countries must have a proportionate role and more relevance in global institutions,” the Secretary-General said.
He also called for a new networked and inclusive kind of multilateralism based on the equal representation of women, one that included young people, civil society, business and technology, cities and regions, as well as science and academia.
“We must transform our global system into a global partnership,” the Secretary-General said. He will continue his virtual visit to London with a meeting on climate change Monday and another set of virtual remarks to the One Planet Summit in Paris earlier in the day.