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Important Excerpts from

UN Secretary-General’s Speech

Laying out his priorities for 2022, Secretary-General António Guterres, identified his priorities for 2022 in an address to the 193-member General Assembly as he began a second five-year term at the helm of the world body. In a wide-ranging speech, he pointed out a five-alarm global fire that requires the full mobilization of all countries: the raging Covid-19 pandemic, a morally bankrupt global financial system, the climate crisis, lawlessness in cyberspace, and diminished peace and security. Mr Guterres made a philosophical call for the restoration of humanism at a time of the emergence of “the twilight of shared values”. Sounding more like a sage than a political leader, he called for overcoming “egoism” to quench the accelerants flaming the fires.
Following are important excerpts from his speech wherein he enumerated the five alarms:

Alarm 1: The Covid-19 battle
On the coronavirus pandemic, Mr Guterres said the international community must go into “emergency mode” particularly in ramping up global vaccinations. Lamenting a failure of global governance, he said that stopping coronavirus spread must be at the top of the agenda everywhere.

Omicron is yet another warning. The next variant may be worse. Stopping the spread anywhere must be at the top of the agenda everywhere. At the same time, the virus cannot be used as cover to undermine human rights, shrink civic space and stifle press freedom. Governments have also imposed disproportionate restrictions that penalize developing countries — for example, what I described some time ago as “travel apartheid”. Our actions must be grounded in science and common sense. The science is clear: Vaccines work. Vaccines save lives.
Last October, the World Health Organization unveiled a strategy to vaccinate 40 percent of people in all countries by the end of last year, and 70 percent by the middle of this year.

We are nowhere near these targets.
Vaccination rates in high-income countries are seven times higher than in the countries of Africa. At this rate, Africa will not meet the 70 percent threshold until August 2024.
Manufacturers worldwide are now producing 1.5 billion doses per month. But the distribution is scandalously unequal – and we need to convert vaccines into

vaccinations everywhere.
Instead of the virus spreading like wildfire, we need vaccines to spread like wildfire. We need all countries and all manufacturers to prioritize vaccine supply to COVAX and create the conditions for the local production of tests, vaccines and treatments in so many countries able to do it around the world. This includes pharmaceutical companies more rapidly sharing licenses, know-how and technology.
We must also fight the plague of vaccine misinformation. And we must do much more to ready our world for the next outbreak in line with the recommendations of the independent panel on pandemic preparedness, including by strengthening the authority of the World Health Organization.”

Alarm 2: Reform global finance

Mr Guterres had strong words for the international financial system, which he said, is in dire need of comprehensive reform. He branded the global financial system “morally bankrupt” because it “favours the rich and punishes the poor” and called for reform to support the needs of developing countries.

We must go into emergency mode to reform global finance. Let’s tell it like it is: the global financial system is morally bankrupt. It favours the rich and punishes the poor. One of the main functions of the global financial system is to ensure stability, by supporting economies through financial shocks. Yet, faced with precisely such a shock — a global pandemic — it has failed the global South.

Lopsided investment is leading to a lopsided recovery. Low-income countries are experiencing their slowest growth in a generation. Sub-Saharan Africa could see cumulative economic growth per capita over the next five years that is 75 percent less than the rest of the world. Many middle-income countries are ineligible for debt relief despite surging poverty, and the growing impact of the climate crisis. Women and girls, who represent the majority of poor in most regions, are paying a high price in lost health care, education and jobs.
Unless we take action now, record inflation, soaring energy prices and extortionate interest rates could lead to frequent debt defaults in 2022, with dire consequences for the poorest and most vulnerable. The divergence between developed and developing countries is becoming systemic — a recipe for instability, crisis and forced migration.

Credit ratings agencies are de facto decision-makers in the global financial system. They should be accountable and transparent.

Developing countries also suffer from a lack of transparency around, in several circumstances, official development assistance, climate finance and more. This enables relabelling and double-counting. These imbalances are also the result of a disconnect between the real and the financial economies; between working people and money markets.

All countries must be able to invest in strong health and education systems, job creation, universal social protection, gender equality and the care economy, and a just transition to renewable energy. This requires a serious review of global financial governance mechanisms, which are dominated by the richest economies in the world.
Financial metrics must go beyond gross domestic product (GDP), to assess vulnerability, climate and investment risks. Credit ratings should be based on comparable fundamentals and evidence, rather than harmful preconceptions.

Alarm 3: The climate emergency
The UN chief has been a leader in the global movement for climate action and he reiterated his concern that the planet is “far off-track” to meet minimum targets for reducing global warming.

We must go into emergency mode against the climate crisis. The battle to keep the 1.5°C goal alive will be won or lost in this decade. And we are far off-track. Our planet has already warmed by around 1.2°C. The consequences have been devastating.

In 2020, climate shocks forced 30 million people to flee their homes — three times more than those displaced by war and violence. Small island nations, least developed countries, and poor and vulnerable people everywhere, are one shock away from doomsday. Numbers don’t lie. We need a 45 percent reduction in global emissions by 2030 to reach carbon neutrality by mid-century. Yet, according to present commitments, global emissions are set to increase by almost 14 percent over the current decade. That spells catastrophe.

This year, we need an avalanche of action. All major-emitting, developed and developing, economies must do much more, much faster, to change the math and reduce the suffering – taking into account common but differentiated responsibilities.

Developed countries, multilateral development banks, private financial institutions and companies with the necessary technical know-how all need to join forces in these coalitions to deliver needed support at scale and with speed. At the same time, every country must strengthen their nationally determined contributions until they collectively deliver the 45 percent emissions reduction needed by 2030.

No new coal plants. No expansion in oil and gas exploration. Now is the time for an unprecedented investment surge in renewable energy infrastructure, tripling to $5 trillion annually by 2030. This is particularly urgent in emerging and developing economies.
Wealthier countries must finally make good on the $100 billion climate finance commitment to developing countries, starting in 2022. Developing countries cannot wait any longer. And we need a radical boost for adaptation.

Alarm 4: Technology and cyberspace
The Secretary-General also called for better management of digital technologies, including “strong regulatory frameworks” and getting internet connections for the nearly 3 billion people who do not have them.

We must go into emergency mode to put humanity at the centre of technology. Technology shouldn’t use us. We should use technology. And if governed properly, the opportunities are extraordinary, especially if we can ensure safe and secure Internet connectivity everywhere. But, growing digital chaos is benefiting the most destructive forces and denying opportunities to ordinary people.
In countries with low broadband connectivity, simply connecting schools to the Internet can grow GDP by 20 percent. Realizing such benefits requires safely connecting the 2.9 billion people who remain offline, mainly in developing countries. Women still lag far behind men in terms of Internet access.

The business models of social media companies profit from algorithms that prioritize addiction, outrage and anxiety at the cost of public safety. We need strong regulatory frameworks to change this business model.
To address these issues, I’ve proposed a Global Digital Compact as part of the Summit of the Future in 2023. The Compact will bring together governments, the private sector and civil society to agree on key principles underpinning global digital cooperation. This will reinforce the ongoing coordinated approach on cyber security to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure.

And I’ve proposed a global code of conduct to end the infodemic and the war on science, and promote integrity in public information, including online. We look forward to developing this with Governments, media outlets and regulators.

Alarm 5: Peace and security
Guterres said conflict prevention is at the heart of his agenda. He said the United Nations needs a more united Security Council to tackle issues of international peace and security, as well as the financial and moral support of all 193 member states.

We need to go into emergency mode to bring peace to a world that sees too little of it. We face the highest number of violent conflicts since 1945. Military coups are back. Impunity is taking hold. Nuclear weapons stockpiles still exceed 13,000. Human rights and the rule of law are under assault. Populism, nativism, white supremacy and other forms of racism and extremism are poisoning social cohesion and institutions everywhere. The pushback on human rights — especially the rights of women and girls — continues.

Through our peacekeeping and peacebuilding capacities, the United Nations will always stand with and protect those who are caught up in the fighting, and work to build stronger, more resilient and peaceful communities. And conflict prevention is at the heart of the proposed New Agenda for Peace. I pledge to spare no effort to mobilize the international community — and step up our push for peace. Allow me to mention a few.

In Afghanistan, to provide a lifeline of help for the Afghan people, inject cash to avoid an economic meltdown, ensure full respect of international humanitarian law and human rights — particularly for women and girls — and effectively fight terrorism.

In Israel-Palestine, to encourage parties to refrain from unilateral steps – including settlement expansion and violence — and to help revive the peace process and pave the way to ending the occupation and achieving a viable two-State solution.

In Libya, to promote dialogue, support presidential and parliamentary elections as soon as possible, and push for the coordinated withdrawal of foreign fighters.

In Mali, to continue working with all national and regional stakeholders towards the restoration of Constitutional order, to schedule elections with an acceptable timetable and strengthen the peace agreement.

In Myanmar, to work for the restoration of democracy, deliver humanitarian aid, and mobilize international support grounded in regional unity.

In Ukraine, to reduce tensions, and urge that all issues be addressed exclusively through diplomacy. In Yemen, to reach a lasting ceasefire, open access to the country and restart an inclusive political process to end the calamitous seven year-conflict.

The writer is a member of staff.

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