UN Secretary-General António Guterres called for bold action to overcome the devastation in 2020 resulting from the global COVID-19 pandemic, insufficient ambition to fight climate change, growing inequality and to ensure inclusive recovery from the current economic crisis.
In his annual address to the United Nations General Assembly on 28 January, Guterres described a world in danger and warned of the consequences of the failure to work together.
“2020 was a global annus horribilis – a year of death, disaster and despair,” the Secretary-General said in his dark assessment of the past year during which 2 million people died globally from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The past year “brought us tragedy and peril. 2021 must be the year to change gear and put the world on track. We need to move from death to health; from disaster to reconstruction; from despair to hope; from business as usual to transformation,” Guterres told representatives of the Member States of the UN General Assembly.
The Secretary-General outlined ten priorities needed to provide hope and possibilities for people around the world, starting with ensuring access to equitable, affordable vaccines and secondly insisting on the need for an inclusive and sustainable recovery.
“Vaccines are the first great moral test before us,’’ Guterres said. “Science is succeeding but solidarity is failing,” he said, calling for six specific steps including prioritizing health and those most at risk and scaling up manufacturing of vaccines.
Guterres stressed that massive investments in universal health coverage, mental health care, social protection and decent work among others were needed. He also called for debt relief and insisted that recovery must start now. The world cannot heal from the virus if economies are on life support, he noted.
The Secretary-General’s eight other priorities include tacking climate change and biodiversity loss by making peace with nature, overcoming growing inequality, reversing assaults on human rights, combatting gender inequality, healing geopolitical risks, reversing the erosion of nuclear disarmament and the nuclear non-proliferation, seizing the opportunities of digital technologies while protecting against their growing dangers and finally a “reset for the 21st century.”
With concern over climate change at the top of the agenda, Guterres has put achieving a global coalition to achieve climate neutrality by 2050 at the top of his objectives ahead of COP26 in Glasgow later this year. He is also urging countries to forge ambitious Nationally Determined Contributions and a breakthrough on adaptation to climate change.
The Secretary-General told the General Assembly that more inclusive and more networked multilateralism were essential to overcome global challengers as well as a New Global Deal “among countries to ensure that power, benefits and opportunities are shared more broadly and fairly.”