Secretary-General: Political will slowing as global warming speeds up,
warning ‘we are losing the race’ against time
Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks to the plenary session of the Saint Petersburg International Economic Forum, in Saint Petersburg on 7 June:
I am very pleased to be making my second visit to this prestigious Forum as Secretary-General of the United Nations. And I thank President [Vladimir] Putin and the people of the Russian Federation for hosting this dynamic gathering.
Saint Petersburg was home to many of the seminal events that marked the twentieth century. And today, the Saint Petersburg Forum embodies a twenty-first-century truth: global challenges require global solutions. No country, and no organization, can do it alone. And we need political leaders, the business world, scientists, scholars, philanthropists and civil society to join hands in addressing shared threats and pursuing common opportunities.
And that is why we are here. For nearly 75 years, the arrangements established after the Second World War have saved lives, advanced economic progress, upheld human rights and prevented a third descent into global conflict and catastrophe. Yet, today, international cooperation is under immense pressure. And the values of the United Nations Charter are being challenged and undercut.
Today I would like to highlight several imperatives on which the spirit of Saint Petersburg — the spirit of international cooperation — can help us prevail. First, building a fair globalization that works for all. No one can doubt the many benefits of globalization. More people have risen out of extreme poverty than ever before. More people are living longer and healthier lives.
But, the waves of prosperity and growth have not reached all, and there remains a vast backlog of despair. Hunger is again on the rise. Inequalities are stark, especially within countries. And levels of youth unemployment are in some parts of the world simply alarming. Discrimination against women remains pervasive. And signs of unease are everywhere we look.
Growth is slowing down. And trade tensions are heating up. And financial markets become uncertain. Debt is rising, limiting what countries can do to achieve their goals — and undermining their ability to act when crisis strikes. We need a global economy that works for all and creates opportunities for all. And the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development points the way.
The 17 Sustainable Development Goals are the world’s agreed blueprint for building a safer, more equitable world and leaving no one behind. But, we are not yet on track — and we know what works and we have important gains to build on. And so, I continue to call for more robust commitment to the world’s agreed blueprint for a better future. Political support is crucial — but the business community has an absolutely vital role to play.
Second, we must address the global climate emergency. We are in a race against time — and we are losing the race. In fact, the reality is proving to be worse than scientists had foreseen. We are also coming to recognize how climate impacts are accelerating the drivers of conflict, for instance in the Sahel, and even paving the way for expansion of terrorism and extremism in that region. Yet, as global warming speeds up, political will has sometimes slowed down. At a time when we know that technology is on our side, and when businesses and civil society are more and more engaged, this lack of political will could be tragic.
We need a green economy, not a grey economy. We need a rapid and deep change in how to do business, how to generate power, how to build cities and how to feed the world. That means putting a price on carbon, ending subsidies to fossil fuels. And we need to recognize that this is a race we can win.
But, we have the tools to tackle the climate crisis. Climate action could also yield a direct economic gain of $26 trillion compared to business as usual through 2030, according to a recent economic analysis. And that is why I am convening a Climate Action Summit at the United Nations in September to mobilize the ambition that can reap these gains. And I am asking leaders to come not just with speeches, but with concrete plans and commitments, including on financing. And I am asking that they do this not out of generosity, but out of enlightened self-interest.
Climate change is the most important systemic risk the world faces at this time. One of the primary roles of the United Nations is to look to the horizon and to identify emerging challenges and opportunities and bring people together to advance our collective well-being. It is in that spirit that, next Monday, a high-level panel that I established last year, and which is co-chaired by Jack Ma of Ali Baba and Melinda Gates of the Gates Foundation, will issue its report on recommendations on the future of digital cooperation.
Technology continues to transform our world. From bioengineering to artificial intelligence to data analytics, and from education and health to e-governance and the green economy, digital
technologies can turbocharge our work for the Sustainable Development Goals. Yet, as much as technology is a vector of hope, it is also a source of fear. We know there will be massive disruption in the labour market — with an enormous amount of jobs both created and destroyed with artificial intelligence. And that is why we need a massive investment in education, but also a different sort of education, not just learning things, but learning how to learn, and learning across the lifetime.
And we also need a new generation of safety nets, for effective social protection for the people negatively impacted. Obviously, the risks go well beyond the labour market. We already see the crippling impact of cyberattacks, as well as the threats to privacy and violations of human rights. And the Internet is simultaneously a remarkable vehicle for connecting people and a weapon for dividing them through the spread of hate speech. And while the digital age is taking ever-deeper root, nearly half of the world’s population is still not online. Our shared challenge is to reduce digital inequality, to build digital capacity and ensure that new technologies are on our side and are a force for good.
A new global landscape is taking shape even as age-old challenges remain. In today’s world, we live with a strange paradox. The challenges we face are global and can only be addressed globally. No country alone, no organization alone, can provide the solutions we need. But, at the same time, multilateralism is under attack, agreed norms are being eroded and tensions are rising. We are threatened by global warming, but also by global political warming. They are both dangerous, but they are both avoidable.
It is true that we are slowly moving towards a multipolar world. And that is, in itself, a very positive evolution. But, as history tells us, multipolarity alone does not guarantee peace. Europe was multipolar 100 years ago. But, the multilateral framework for cooperation and problem-solving was not there. And the result was a catastrophic world war. It is vital that the world has multilateral institutions and architecture, and that international relations are based on international law.
At the same time, we need new forms of cooperation with other international and regional organizations — a networked multilateralism — and closer links with businesses, civil society and other stakeholders — with an inclusive multilateralism. And this is the kind of international system we need in the twenty-first century. Our shared duty — for the United Nations and all of you in this room — is to show that we care and that international cooperation can deliver.
And that is why I am pursuing fundamental reforms of the United Nations so that it can better serve the world and the people. It is why we have also launched a disarmament agenda, strengthened our response to terrorism and extremism, and will soon be launching a plan of action to combat hate speech. It is why we are fortifying peacekeeping, emphasizing conflict
prevention and pursuing a surge in diplomacy to resolve protracted conflicts that are causing enormous suffering and unsettling the world.
And it is why I appeal to all of you to join with the United Nations and with each other to address the very dynamic problems we face at this time — and to build the better world we know can be ours. We can also reflect more deeply on our direction as a human family when we mark, next year, the seventy-fifth anniversary of the United Nations and of post-war cooperation writ large. As a committed multilateralist, but also as an engineer fond of evidence and facts, I see no other way forward than to address our challenges together — with all those who can contribute working for the benefit of all. Thank you.