Sustainable Development Goals
Secretary-General: Ladies and gentlemen of the media. Welcome. It is good to be with you, here in presence, but also to be able to contact so many of you through our technical, virtual mechanisms. The COVID-19 pandemic is a crisis unlike any in our lifetimes, and so this year’s General Assembly session will be unlike any other, too.
We have a full programme and the stakes could not be higher. Our world is nearing the grimmest of milestones: 1 million lives lost to the virus. Meanwhile, the outbreak remains out of control.
Today, we are issuing a report documenting what the United Nations has done since the beginning of the crisis — and what the world still must do. The virus is the number one global security threat in our world today. That is why, in March, I called for a global ceasefire. My appeal resonated with Member States, civil society and a number of armed groups across the world.
And today, from Afghanistan to Sudan, we see hopeful new steps towards peace. In Syria, Libya, Ukraine and elsewhere, ceasefires or standstills in the fighting can create space for diplomacy. In Yemen, we are pressing for a ceasefire, confidence building measures and resumption of the political process.
But, across these and other crises, spoilers are active; distrust is deep. We must persevere.
In my speech to the General Assembly on Tuesday, I will make a strong appeal to the international community to mobilize all efforts for the global ceasefire to become a reality by the end of the year. We must seize every opening in the weeks ahead and make a new collective push for peace.
This is also the moment when the international community needs to come together to defeat the virus. Many pin their hopes on a vaccine — but let’s be clear: there is no panacea in a pandemic. A vaccine alone cannot solve this crisis; certainly not in the near term. We need to massively expand new and existing tools that can respond to new cases and provide vital treatment to suppress transmission and save lives, especially over the next 12 months.
But, starting now, a vaccine must be seen as a global public good, because COVID-19 respects no borders. We need a vaccine to be affordable and available to all — a people’s vaccine. That means a quantum leap in funding for the ACT-Accelerator and its COVAX Facility.
For any vaccine to work, people across the globe need to be willing to take it. But, with the spread of the virus, we are also seeing a proliferation of misinformation about a future vaccine. This is fuelling vaccine hesitancy and igniting wild conspiracy theories. Mistrust in vaccines is on the rise around the world. We have seen alarming reports of large segments of the population in some countries indicating their reluctance or even refusal to take a future COVID-19 vaccine.
In the face of this lethal disease, we must do our utmost to halt deadly misinformation. We must also do far more to address the global fragilities that the virus has exposed.
Even before the pandemic, the world was veering far off course in efforts to eradicate poverty, achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, and we were losing the battle against climate change.
Greenhouse gas concentrations reached new record highs in 2020. The Northern Hemisphere has just experienced its hottest summer on record. The world is burning, and recovery is our chance to get on track and tame the flames.
Recovery must be aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on climate change. Recovery must be green. Subsidizing fossil fuels and bailing out polluting industries means locking in bad patterns for decades to come. Recovery must advance gender equality. And recovery requires effective multilateralism.
On Monday, Member States will adopt a declaration marking the seventy-fifth anniversary of the United Nations and committing to a reinvigorated multilateralism. They will also invite me to report on our common agenda for the future. This will be an important process of reflection and I will report back with analysis and recommendations.
Already, across this anniversary year, we have engaged in a global conversation — with surveys, polls, gatherings in person and now online. We placed special emphasis on the voices of young people. And the results are striking.
People are thinking big — about transforming the global economy, accelerating the transition to zero carbon, ensuring universal health coverage, ending racial injustice and ensuring that decision-making is more open and inclusive.
And people are also expressing an intense yearning for international cooperation and global solidarity — and rejecting go-it-alone nationalist approaches and divisive populist appeals.
Now is the time to respond to these aspirations and to realize these aims. In this seventy-fifth anniversary year, we face our own 1945 moment. We must meet that moment. We must show unity like never before to overcome today’s emergency, get the world moving and working and prospering again, and uphold the vision of the Charter. Thank you, and of course I am at your disposal to answer a few questions.
Q & A:
Question: Thank you, Secretary-General. Thank you on behalf of UNCA for doing this press conference. We are very happy to see you back in some kind of new normal. So, my question is on Iran. The US type of triggering does not [inaudible] process is facing opposition from almost all members of the UN Security Council and all remaining parties of the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action). The process will end on 20 September. Then the US is very likely to announce the return of all UN sanctions on Iran. My question is, are you planning to coordinate with the UN Security Council on the matter? And are you in contact with the Trump Administration, trying to avoid a diplomatic chaos at the UN and confront a tough test for the future of the JCPOA? Thank you.
Secretary-General: Our position is very simple and remains the same. It is the Security Council that is the body that is able to do the interpretation of the Security Council resolutions and we will act in line with what the Security Council does.
Question: Thank you, Mr. Secretary-General. My name is Ibtisam Azem from the daily Arabic Al-Araby newspaper. So, my first question is, in your own words, you said that the world is burning, and we are facing 1945 moments. You talked about new ideas and a will by young people and some world leaders to unite and face all together the new challenges, yet, one country, the strongest among all, is not on board. How do you exactly want to translate this hopeful… hopeful or wishful thinking in action? Could you please be more specific? I have a second question, if I may. Despite knowing that your heart is in the right place, year after year, in your Children and Armed Conflict report, you let off the hook or drop off the list of shame the names of Governments that report on [what] your own envoy says committed grave crimes of killing and injuries of children, for example, Israel, the Saudi-led Coalition, the Americans in Afghanistan, et cetera. My question is… to you is, how do you explain to the children of these countries why you are not adding the names of these Governments responsible for killing and injuring thousands of children to the annex? Thank you.
Secretary-General: Thank you very much. In relation to the first question, of course, I mean, our commitment is to enter into constructive dialogue with all Member States in order to make the UN agenda move forward. This is true in relation to climate change. This is true in relation to inequality. This is true in relation to all the aspects related to the ceasefire and the peace prospects. So, in all areas, we intend to work with all countries and to make sure that we make the UN agenda move forward.
The report on Children and Armed Conflict and the listing of the report is based on objective criteria. The report is not done by me. Even if it is presented by me, it is done by our Special Representative and her team. It’s based on objective criteria. And in the report, there are a number of situations that are described, like the ones that you have mentioned. They are described in detail so there is no [inaudible] of anything. But, then the listing… to list and to delist abides to criteria that are quantitative and qualitative, and those relate to the cooperation that the countries have established or not in order to mitigate those risks. And these criteria, these objective criteria, were the ones that were applied, and we believe that the credibility of the report also forces us to include those that should be included but not to include those that, for reasons related to those objective criteria, should not, because, if not, we would just be flying according to the pressure of those that want one thing or another, and I believe we need to keep objective criteria and stick to it. And that is what the team has done, and what is what I’ve ratified.
Question: Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary-General, and it is nice to see you. Edith Lederer from the Associated Press. We all saw yesterday’s ceremony at the White House, where Israel signed diplomatic agreements with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. Do you believe that this opens up new prospects for peace in the Middle East? And what is your message to the Palestinians, who were very angered about this?
Secretary-General: I think it’s important to seize the opportunities that exist. That agreement, independently of its context, managed one very important result, and that was the suspension of the annexation of occupied territory. Now, we always have said that that annexation would have dramatic consequences to the peace and stability in the region, would undermine the two-State solution. And we believe that the two-State solution is the only way to address the problem of the two peoples that need to be able to live together in peace and security. This opportunity now exists. The annexation was suspended, and we believe it’s the moment in which it’s important that Palestinians and Israelis restart their dialogue in order to find a political solution in line with what are the Security Council resolutions and the different [inaudible] of the international community in this regard. And so, I believe that, independently of the opinions that might exist about the agreement, it would be very important for Palestinians and Israelis to engage in direct negotiations for peace in the Middle East.
Question: Could I ask a quick follow-up? Is the UN doing anything to promote these negotiations as part of the Quartet, for example?
Secretary-General: Yes, we’ve been pushing hard not only to promote direct contact, but also to try to find a format in which the Quartet or a group of countries linked to the Quartet could meet. Until now, we were not able to gather the consensus necessary for that, but we will persist in our efforts. It is very important not to give up on the peace process in the Middle East.
Question: Mr. Secretary-General, in your late Cyprus report, you have stressed the need for a conducive environment to resume negotiations. Could you elaborate? What do you expect from the two communities, Turkey and the other guarantors and possibly other key players in the area?
Secretary-General: There was a consensus that we should wait for the elections in Northern Cyprus before moving on with the diplomatic initiatives that we have envisaged. As soon as they take place, it’s my intention to convene again the five key partners, the guarantors and the two communities and to also restart a dialogue with the leaders of the two communities in the follow-up of the dinner that I had with them in Berlin a few months ago. It is my deep belief that, in between, it’s very important to develop confidence-building measures and to avoid any unilateral actions that could undermine the future success of these negotiations, and I’m totally committed as soon as the opportunity is created — and as I said, there is a consensus to wait for the elections in the northern Cyprus — I’m totally committed to revitalize the political process.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. So, my question is on Belarus. Taking into account that protests there already going for more than a month after elections and it seems that neither Government is ready for dialogue with the position or protests are ready to stop, Mr. Secretary-General, how do you see the future of this situation? How do you see the possibility to solve this crisis? Is there a necessity of international platform to help facilitate dialogue?
Secretary-General: We see naturally with concern. We have repeatedly asserted that we believe that peaceful demonstrations need to be treated without repressive measures, that there must be a strong containment in the way authorities deal with the peaceful demonstrations. We have said time and time again that it’s important not to have prisoners of conscience, that people should not be arrested because of their opinions, being citizens, journalists or whoever. And we have said time and time again and communicated it through different channels, and the [High Commissioner for Human Rights] has been also very active. We have said time and time again that there must be a dialogue, a Belarusian dialogue, among Belarusians to define a solution for the country that can re-establish a national consensus that is absolutely essential for the harmonious development of the country. And I hope that these words of common sense will, in the end, be heard, and I hope that it will be possible to have in Belarus a political dialogue, inclusive and effective, to allow for an effective reconciliation in the country.
Question: Thank you, Secretary-General. We’ve seen the Security Council come up with a new mandate for UNSMIL [United Nations Support Mission for Libya]. We’ve had so many moments of hope, and it’s been dashed in Libya. One of them was last year in April when you yourself were in the country. How do you see this moment now for the country?
Secretary-General: I see this moment with mixed feelings. On one hand, it’s a scandal that we have a meaningful military build-up on both sides, with several countries violating resolutions of the Security Council and not only violating resolutions of Security Council, violating their own commitments made, namely, in the context of the Berlin Conference. On the other hand, the truth is that we came to a kind of a military standstill. It’s not a ceasefire agreed by both parties, but there is a military standstill. And there are promising contacts taking place. We are keeping the dialogue with the five militaries of each side, even if there was no progress, in relation to an agreed ceasefire in the immediate [time].
There was an important, we call it, track two set of meetings in Geneva sponsored by the UN with representatives of [Fayez] Serraj and of Aguila [Saleh], and they came, as you know, to a declaration in each house appealed for the ceasefire. There was a track of negotiations in Morocco, and with the support of the UN, we had in Geneva, again, with the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, a very important meeting with the representatives of different sectors of the Libyan community and with a very clear common perspective that we need to have a political process. That political process needs to renew the institutions that exist and, at the same time, to move for elections in an acceptable delay. So, there are signs of hope, and our Deputy Special Representative has been working in the preparation of what could be a next round of the Libya political forum that had been decided, as you know, that met partially in Geneva, but then could not move forward. So, everything is being prepared for that to move, and I hope that, now the Security Council has agreed on the structure, we will start immediately. We have certain names considered. We will now start also the consultations to have, as soon as possible, an envoy leading the UN process in Libya.
Question: Secretary-General, hi, waving at you. Good afternoon. Good to see you. Have you given any greater thought to what this virtual summit will mean for the UN General Assembly’s high-level week moving forward? As you well know, this is an annual event that happens in one of the most expensive cities anywhere in the world. The dollar currency is one of the strongest currencies globally. For example, the South African rand, you require 17 Rands for $1, which means it’s very expensive for large delegations in terms of travel costs, in terms of hotel accommodation, in terms of transportation, security, logistics and the like. Do the outcomes of high-level week justify the expense that is associated with coming to this event in the context of the shrinking fiscal space brought on by this pandemic and the growing socioeconomic needs that have been laid bare by it?
Secretary-General: First of all, this week will not see this massive presence of delegations coming from all over the world. This week will be a week in which the general debate will be done through messages recorded by the Heads of State — by the way, the largest number of Heads of State and Government ever — recorded in their own countries and then broadcasted in the General Assembly room with the presence of the permanent representatives but without delegations coming from the capitals. So, your concern about expenditure will not materialize, but I have to say that diplomacy, to be effective, requires personal contact. And I myself am very sorry that we are not going to have… knowing that there are costs associated, I’m very sorry that we are not going to have the opportunity to bring together leaders of countries and that, to be able for all those involved in conflicts like the Libya conflict or like the Yemeni conflict or any other one or leaders that have an important initiative in key areas, be it in relation to climate change, be it in relation to fighting against racism, in relation to gender equality, that we are not able to bring them together. We’ll do several virtual meetings with Heads of States in different areas that are very relevant for us, but we will miss that contact, that personal contact, that I believe is very important for diplomacy to be effective.
Question: But, if I could follow up, are those personal contacts producing the results you seek on the ground? Is it worth it, is the question?
Secretary-General: The truth is that, in many situations, I have the experience, the personal experience, that problems that had no solution were solved when I had the opportunity to be with both sides and to discuss with them a way forward. This has happened several times, not always. Let’s be clear, not always, but several times. And I still believe that personal contact is an essential tool in diplomatic efforts.
Question: Thank you, Secretary-General. It’s Pamela Falk from CBS News. Thank you for the briefing. You said this week that it was a stupid mistake, short-sighted for those who have not signed on to a COVID share… vaccine-sharing programme. Do you feel the same way about climate, which you have spoken about extensively, for countries not to be part or to have withdrawn from the climate accord, since we’re seeing so much severe weather? Thank you so much.
Secretary-General: I think it’s absolutely… we have witnessed a very important movement of many countries, 120 countries, almost 500 cities, committing to carbon neutrality in 2050, which is the condition, as you know, to have 1.5°C as a limit of temperature rise this century. And the problem is that they only represent 25 per cent of the emissions. It’s essential that the global emitters commit to it. Now, who are the global emitters? The United States, the European Union, where there is a very important progress in this direction, and there is the Green Pact and a clear road map to reach this carbon neutrality in 2050, but also countries like China, like Russia, like India that are absolutely… Japan, that are absolutely essential for this purpose. And I’m doing everything I can, and I’ve been addressing even the public opinions of this country. I made a conference in a Chinese… virtual conference in a Chinese university. I’ve been doing things in the United States. I spoke to a very important think-tank in India, and I will go on doing everything I can in relation to these countries, giving interviews to their media, et cetera, to make sure that they commit.
Now, in some situations, of course, Governments will not do it. And when Governments will not do it, I’m very determined to push as much as possible for civil societies, for companies, for cities to engage and to be able to make things move in this direction. There are very interesting signals in these, very interesting signals in the United States with many companies, many asset managers, many cities committing to carbon neutrality; very interesting signals from Japan, where a meaningful number of cities and companies that correspond to 70 per cent of the emissions also presented a strong commitment to carbon neutrality in 2050. And we see the same signals in the youth, in the civil society, in the public opinion, everywhere. I’m hopeful it will be possible to launch a very strong dynamic for countries to be able to review their nationally determined contributions before the COP26 that will take place in Glasgow in order for the world to be put on track for carbon neutrality in 2050.
Question: Just a quick follow-up. Do you have any message for the United States, for President [Donald] Trump, to get back into the accord?
Secretary-General: My message to everybody is the same. I think we all should be on board.
Question: Thank you, Mr. Secretary-General. Betul Yuruk, Turkish News Agency Anadolu. I have a follow-up question on climate change. Just last week, the UN released a major climate report and yet, not so long ago, we heard President Trump talking about climate change and saying that the world will start cooling again and science doesn’t know anything about it. I would like to know what your response is to that. And also, what kind of leadership do you hope to see next week during the UN high-level meetings?
Secretary-General: Well, first of all, usually the world cools during the winter in the northern hemisphere. Now, what I believe is important is to have, as I said, countries, and where countries are not ready to do so, companies, cities, states, civil societies committing to carbon neutrality in 2050. And I hope that, in the next General Assembly, there will be a big push in that direction. We are organising also a special event in this regard. But, the decisive moment will be when nationally determined contributions will be represented in the run-up to the COP26 in Glasgow.
Question: My second question, what kind of leadership do you hope to see next week during the UN high-level week?
Secretary-General: Leadership in a sense of a very strong commitment to fight together the COVID-19, very strong commitment to climate action, and very strong commitment to rebuild our economies and our societies in a way that is more inclusive, fighting inequality, fighting racism, with gender equality as a major concern, and more [sustainability], which means in line with our objectives of keeping temperature limited to a rise of 1.5°C, in line with the Paris Agreement.
Question: Thank you, Steph, and thank you, Mr. Secretary-General. On 8 August, last year, you made an important statement on Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan. It was a most comprehensive statement by a Secretary-General in years, and yet after a year the situation has deteriorated. Your statement called for the resolution of the dispute through dialogue based on UN Charter, applicable UN resolutions and bilateral agreements. Sir, the… India has now started to implement measures to change democracy in the disputed state. Do you have any comments on that?
Secretary-General: My position is exactly the same. I could repeat today exactly the same statement I made in that moment. It’s absolutely essential to move forward in a positive way according to what I expressed then and I maintain today.
Question: Secretary-General, Celia Mendoza from VOA. I’m going to ask you about Venezuela, and I don’t know if you may maybe answer in Spanish, if possible. And the question is about the Foreign Minister of Venezuela, Jorge Arreaza, mentioned that he had sent an invitation to the United Nations and your office to monitor or to participate in some capacity to verify what’s happening with the elections at the end of the year in Venezuela. That’s the first part of the question. And the second one is, the Fact-Finding Mission produced a report today that… it specifically talks about Nicolás Maduro and some of the ministers, and it’s basically saying that they had been involved in crimes against humanity, using the military forces to commit torture, arbitrary detentions and several different abuses to silence the opposition. What is your reaction? We know that this was requested by the Council of Human Rights last year, and it was presented today.
Secretary-General: Well, first of all, we can only do monitoring of elections if we have a mandate from the General Assembly or from the Security Council. So, it depends on these bodies of the UN. In relation to human rights, there were recently two [developments]. One was the acceptance by Venezuela to have a stronger cooperation with the Office of Human Rights High Commissioner and an increased number of officers present in the country, which is a positive one. And there was a report that you just mentioned that is a report that is very concerning and that should be taken very seriously by the Venezuelan authorities.
Question: Mr. Secretary-General, beyond the question of annexation, do you have anything to say about the fact that, for the first time in 26 years, in more than quarter century, there was an agreement by two Arab States to normalize relations with Israel and break a pattern that has lasted for such a long time? Also, can you comment on the execution of Navid Afkari in Iran?
Secretary-General: Well, first of all, in relation to the agreements, we were the first… or one of the first to welcome the agreement, and I think that international cooperation is an absolutely essential aspect to solve problems. Obviously, the question of the annexation is politically important, because it allows for the resumption of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. And I’ve just seen today that Mr. [Benny] Gantz said that it’s important to restart those negotiations, which show that there is an agreement with this perspective. On the other [question], we are against death penalty in all circumstances. I’m a strong believer that death penalty should never be applied to anybody anywhere. I believe my country is either the first or one of the two or three firsts that abolished death penalty, and I will consider the fight against death penalty as a major, major objective in my tenure in the United Nations.
Question: Thank you, Secretary-General. You touched on the voice of youth and the power of youth in opening statement, and we are aware of… from next week, a grass-root youth climate action movement called “Friday for Future” will restart all over the world. What is your message to the youth on the ground?
Secretary-General: My message is a message of humility and hope. Humility to say that my generation was not able until now to address effectively the problems of climate change and many other challenges that we face. And hope is that we hope that their generation will be able to assume the leadership that is needed to bring everybody together and to put pressure in relation to their societies, to their Governments for the world to be united in defeating the pandemic, in defeating climate change, in defeating the nuclear threat, in defeating the risks of misuse of new technologies and creating a new social contract to re-establish confidence among peoples and international organizations and Governments, and a new global deal to have a fair globalization and to have a redistribution of wealth and power in the world to make everybody feel that progress is working for everybody.
Question: Thank you, Mr. Secretary-General. You mentioned that, in your speech to the General Assembly, you want to appeal again for a global ceasefire to have one before the end of the year. Do you think it will be enough itself, or are you going to take any other steps? And would you like to see the support of the Security Council? Thank you.
Secretary-General: Well, as I mentioned, we have, in situations like Syria, a ceasefire that is holding, but not yet a global ceasefire we have asked for. We are seeing a standstill in Libya. We are seeing, in Ukraine also, the present ceasefire essentially holding. We had very good news in relation to a peace agreement in Sudan. We have negotiations starting in Doha for Afghanistan. So, there are very clear signals that there is an understanding that is emerging that these are wars that nobody can win and that everybody, in the end, will lose. And so, I believe this is the moment of a new push, a very strong push, led by the Security Council, but with everybody involved, with all those that are parties to the conflict or have an influence on the parties to the conflict to really move now to make ceasefires a reality, and at the same time, to create with that reality the opening for political negotiations, able to find the political solutions that will make those ceasefires as permanent.
Question: Hello. Thanks for your… taking my question, Secretary-General. You mentioned just a little earlier it’s very important not to give up on the peace process in the Middle East. It seems the Palestinians seem to have given up on following through on peace agreements, and the UN only seems to encourage that rejection. With that said, don’t you think the historic Abrahamic Accord signed yesterday should be seen as a positive way forward to peace in the region? And would you encourage the Palestinian leadership to accept them fully and return to peace talks with Israelis? Thank you.
Secretary-General: I do believe it’s absolutely essential that Palestinians and Israelis go back to direct negotiations, and I will do everything I can to make sure that we find the format — Quartet or similar format — in which a number of countries can be helpful in making sure that the peace process can move forward. It is absolutely clear for me that this is a problem that need to be solved, and I hope that what was achieved in relation to the… namely, in relation to the suspension, I hope that that will create an opportunity for direct talks between Palestinians and Israelis that I believe are essential to solve the problem.
Question: Thank you so much, Secretary-General. Benno Schwinghammer with the German Press Agency, DPA. My question is about this year’s structure of the high-level week, with prerecorded messages and such. Stéphane already said a couple of weeks ago that a high-level week with live speeches would make a wonderful Saturday Night Live skit due to technical problems that might occur and stuff like this. I would like to challenge this. Back in May, Estonia did a signature event on the end of [the Second World War] with 79 speakers from more than 40 countries, and it was all live. Why does the United Nation not seem to be capable to set up a live event with 40 speakers a day when Estonia can do double of that?
Secretary-General: But we had several events. I just remember one that… a summit we did on Financing for Development in the COVID-19 Area and Beyond, in which we had more than 40 people simultaneously involved. So, this has happened. The only thing that is clear is that when you have Heads of State and Government — and we are talking now about probably 160 or 170 Heads of State and Government — that will have to speak one after the other during several days and in which it is sometimes difficult, as you know, to guarantee that they will speak exactly the amount of time that is defined — I mean, to believe that this could be done, with everybody waiting for everybody, for a whole week online, I mean, even Estonia would have difficulties in doing it. So, I think it’s probably better, in these circumstances, to allow for messages to be recorded, to make sure that everybody will have an opportunity to intervene, that people will not be waiting for others that take too much time and things of this sort, and that we are able to fully fill the agenda. But, in parallel with this, we have several virtual events, several virtual summits taking place. We have a virtual summit on biodiversity. We have a virtual summit on Beijing+25. We have a virtual summit on financing for development…
And we have a virtual summit on climate change, and we will have virtual meetings, probably not at summit level, in relation to Yemen, Lebanon and a number of other crisis situations. So, there will be not one but many virtual summits taking place. But, the session in which all Heads of State and Government speak, that session, it’s impossible to do it live, because it lasts for one week, and there is no way we can guarantee that people will be waiting for each other. It’s a complicated… and let’s not forget that we have many different hours around the world, so it would become unmanageable. So, I…
Secretary-General: Thank you very much. All the best. I would say see you next week. I’m not sure.