UNITED NATIONS -- UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Tuesday warned that the world is on the edge of an abyss and moving in the wrong direction.
"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," he told the General Assembly before the opening of the General Debate.
"Our world has never been more threatened, or more divided. We face the greatest cascade of crises in our lifetimes," he said in his report to the assembly on the work of the world body.
The COVID-19 pandemic has supersized glaring inequalities. The climate crisis is pummeling the planet. Upheaval from Afghanistan to Ethiopia to Yemen and beyond has thwarted peace. A surge of mistrust and misinformation is polarizing people and paralyzing societies. Human rights are under fire. Science is under assault. And 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 the world needs it most, he said.
On the one hand, the COVID-19 vaccines were developed in record time, a victory of science and human ingenuity. On the other hand, triumph is being undone by the tragedy of a lack of political will, selfishness and mistrust: a majority of the wealthier world vaccinated, over 90 percent of Africans still waiting for their first dose.
People receive the COVID-19 vaccine in a mobile vaccination unit in Bangkok, Thailand, on Sept. 17, 2021. (Xinhua/Rachen Sageamsak) "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," said Guterres.
The climate alarm bells are also ringing at a fever pitch, he said.
"Climate scientists tell us it's not too late to keep alive the 1.5-degree goal of the Paris Climate Agreement. But the window is rapidly closing. We need a 45 percent cut in emissions by 2030. Yet a recent UN report made clear that with present national climate commitments, emissions will go up by 16 percent by 2030," he said.
"That would condemn us to a hellscape of temperature rises of at least 2.7 degrees above pre-industrial levels.
A catastrophe." COVID-19 and the climate crisis have exposed profound fragilities as societies and as a planet, he said. "Yet instead of humility in the face of these epic challenges, we see hubris. Instead of the path of solidarity, we are on a dead end to destruction." At the same time, another disease is spreading in the world today: a malady of mistrust, he said.
A breakdown in trust is leading to a breakdown in values. Promises, after all, are worthless if people do not see results in their daily lives, he warned. "Failure to deliver creates space for some of the darkest impulses of humanity.
It provides oxygen for easy fixes, pseudo-solutions and conspiracy theories. It is kindling to stoke ancient grievances, cultural supremacy, ideological dominance, violent misogyny, the targeting of the most vulnerable including refugees and migrants." It is a moment of truth. Now is the time to deliver. Now is the time to restore trust. Now is the time to inspire hope, said Guterres.
"And I do have hope. The problems we have created are problems we can solve. Humanity has shown that we are capable of great things when we work together. That is the raison d'etre of our United Nations."
But he cautioned that today's multilateral system is too limited in its instruments and capacities, in relation to what is needed for effective governance of managing global public goods. It is too fixed on the short term.
"We need to strengthen global governance. We need to focus on the future. We need to renew the social contract. We need to ensure a United Nations fit for a new era," he said.