UN Secretary-General António Guterres
UN Secretary-General António Guterres said 2020 brought the world “tragedy and peril” and stressed that 2021 “must be the year to change gear and put the world on track.” He added, “Now is the time to secure the well-being of people, economies, societies and our planet. It is possible. So, we must make it happen together.”
Volkan Bozkir , President of the General Assembly
Briefing to the General Assembly today (28 Jan) on his priorities for 2021, Guterres said the world needed to “move from death to health; from disaster to reconstruction; from despair to hope; from business as usual to transformation,” and stressed that the Sustainable Development Goals are “more important than ever.”
The UN chief said COVID-19 unleashed havoc in every country and every economy, adding that extreme poverty is back up to levels not seen in a generation. He said the climate crisis is raging, meanwhile, geopolitical tensions are undermining collective efforts for peace and humanitarian needs are escalating.
Guterres said the first priority for 2021 is to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccines are the first great moral test. He said, “Vaccines are reaching a handful of countries quickly, while the poorest countries have almost none. Science is succeeding — but solidarity is failing. Governments have a responsibility to protect their populations, but COVID-19 cannot be beaten one country at a time.”
The Secretary-General noted that if the virus is allowed to spread like wildfire in the Global South, it will inevitably continue to mutate becoming more transmissible, more deadly and, eventually, more resistant to vaccines, ready to come back to hound the Global North. He sited recent studies which found that vaccine hoarding could cost the global economy up to 9.2 trillion USD – with almost half of that impact in the wealthiest countries.
He said, “There is only one victor in a world of vaccine haves and vaccine have-nots: the virus itself.”
Guterres stressed that the world “cannot heal from the virus if economies are on life support; an inclusive and sustainable recovery must start now.: He said, “We need massive investments in health systems everywhere. Universal health coverage. Mental health care. Social protection. Decent work. And children safely back in school.”
He said recovery from the pandemic must be inclusive and sustainable, embracing renewable energy and green and resilient infrastructure. He underscored that no country should be forced to choose between providing basic services and servicing their debts.
The UN chief also highlighted the important of making peace with nature. He called on the international community to keep building the global coalition to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, which now represents 70 per cent of the world economy and 65 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions.
He said G20 countries and main emitters must lead the way and called on every city, company and financial institution to adopt concrete roadmaps with clear intermediary milestones to get to carbon neutrality by 2050. He added that key sectors such as shipping, aviation, industry and agriculture must do the same.
Guterres said, “It is time to put a price on carbon, stop building new coal power plants, phase out coal in OECD countries by 2030, and everywhere else by 2040, phase out fossil fuel finance, starting with the overseas financing of coal, end subsidies to fossil fuels, shift the tax burden from income to carbon, from taxpayers to polluters, make climate-related financial risk disclosures mandatory, integrate carbon neutrality into all economic and fiscal policies and decisions, and finally promote, fund and implement just transition plans.”
He welcomed today’s “new momentum in the global fight for racial justice. Racial inequality still permeates institutions, social structures and everyday life.” He added, “We must all stand up against the surge of neo-Nazism and white supremacy. The United Nations will never veer from its commitment to fight racism and discrimination. There is no place for racism within our Organization – and we will continue our work to root it out.”
The Secretary-General said COVID-19 has brought to light what is too often invisible, and that is that women are the essential workers keeping people and communities alive. He said women have suffered higher job losses, and been pushed into poverty at higher numbers As a result of the pandemic, which has also sparked a parallel epidemic of gender-based violence, from violence in the home and online, to increased child marriage and sexual exploitation.
He said women’s equal leadership and representation is the game changer the world needs. It is time to take greater, targeted measures to overcome the approaches and attitudes that deny women their rights, he added.