UN chief sets fighting pandemic and tackling climate crisis as his 2022 priorities

Stopping coronavirus spread must be at the top of the agenda everywhere, Guterres said, calling for countries to “go into emergency mode in the COVID-19 battle.”

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UNITED NATIONS, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres Friday warned of five major challenges facing the world this year, describing them as a five-alarm global fire while speaking about the failure of the global governance system.

“We face a five-alarm global fire that requires the full mobilization of all countries,” he told the UN General Assembly, referring to the raging COVID-19 pandemic, a morally bankrupt global financial system, the climate crisis, lawlessness in cyberspace, and diminished peace and security.

He stressed that countries “must go into emergency mode”, and now is the time to act as the response will determine global outcomes for decades ahead.

Stopping coronavirus spread must be at the top of the agenda everywhere, Guterres said, calling for countries to “go into emergency mode in the COVID-19 battle.”

At the same time, the virus cannot be used as a “cover” to undermine human rights, curtail civil space and freedoms, or impose disproportionate restrictions.

“Our actions must be grounded in science and common sense,” he said. “The science is clear: Vaccines work. Vaccines save lives.”

Yet, vaccine inequity persists despite a global strategy to inoculate 40 percent of all people by the end of last year and 70 percent by the middle of this year.

Richer nations have vaccination rates seven times higher than those in countries in Africa, meaning the continent will not reach the 70 percent threshold until August 2024.

Furthermore, although 1.5 billion doses are produced each month, distribution is “scandalously unequal,” he said.

“Instead of the virus spreading like wildfire, we need vaccines to spread like wildfire,

“Mr. Guterres stated, urging all countries and manufacturers to prioritize supply to the COVAX solidarity initiative.

He also underscored the need to combat the “plague” of vaccine misinformation, and to improve preparedness for future pandemics, including through strengthening the authority of the World Health Organization (WHO).

The pandemic has also highlighted the failure of the global financial system, on which Mr. Guterres was particularly blunt. “Let’s tell it like it is: the global financial system is morally bankrupt. It favors the rich and punishes the poor.”

The system is supposed to ensure stability by supporting economies through financial shocks, such as the pandemic, but he said the lopsided investment is leading to lopsided recovery from the crisis.

As a result, poorer countries are experiencing their slowest growth in a generation, while middle-income nations are denied debt relief despite surging poverty levels. Most of the world’s poor are women and girls, who are paying a high price in lost healthcare, education, and jobs, the UN chief added.

“The divergence between developed and developing countries is becoming systemic – a recipe for instability, crisis, and forced migration. These imbalances are not a bug, but a feature of the global financial system,” he said.

Since the onset of the pandemic, the Secretary-General has called for reform of the global financial system to better support developing countries.

The measures he has recommended include redirecting Special Drawing Rights – a type of foreign reserve asset – to countries that need help now, a fairer global tax system, and addressing illicit financial flows.

Guterres will continue to push for reform this year, which he urged countries to support.

For the Secretary-General, countries have no choice but to go into “emergency mode” against the climate crisis.

The world is far off-track on limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels, as outlined in the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Global emissions must be reduced by 45 percent by the end of the decade to reach carbon neutrality by mid-century, which requires “an avalanche of action” in 2022.

All developing and developed countries that are major emitters must do more, and much faster, he said, taking into account common but differentiated responsibilities.

The UN chief appealed for the creation of coalitions that will provide financial and technical support to nations, which include some of the big emitters, that need assistance in transitioning from coal power to renewable energy.

Meanwhile, all governments must strengthen their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), their climate action plans under the Paris Agreement, until they collectively deliver the 45 percent emissions reduction target.

Guterres was clear: “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 dollars annually by 2030.”

Furthermore, wealthier countries must finally make good on their promise to provide $100 billion in climate finance to developing countries, starting this year.

Action on climate adaption is also an urgent priority. At the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow last year, countries committed to double adaptation finance, from $20 billion. The UN chief called this “a good first step”, though still far short.

“Access and eligibility systems must be reviewed to allow developing countries to get the finance they need on time,” he said.

Guterres acknowledged that climate response requires extraordinary effort, and he pointed to young people as a source for inspiration.

“As with so many other issues, young people are on the frontlines in pushing for progress. Let’s answer their calls with action”, he told ambassadors.

While technology offers extraordinary possibilities for humanity, Mr. Guterres warned that “growing digital chaos is benefiting the most destructive forces and denying opportunities to ordinary people.”

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