UNGA 2020: Guterres says work together to solve world’s problems

As the global body turns 75, its failings and successes will be in focus at this week’s largely online summit

Powered by automated translation

The UN on Monday marked its 75th anniversary with an appeal from Secretary General Antonio Guterres to preserve the longest period in modern history without military conflict between world powers.

While the UN hosts its 75th General Debate, giving a platform for presidents, prime ministers and kings to address the globe, the event this year will be like no other.

Hosted largely online because of the pandemic, most leaders will make speeches by video.

“It took two world wars, millions of deaths and the horrors of the Holocaust for world leaders to commit to international co-operation and the rule of law,” Mr Guterres told the online gathering of diplomats and officials.

He said that commitment produced results: "A Third World War, which so many had feared, has been avoided.

“This is a major achievement of which member states can be proud and which we must all strive to preserve.”

Sightline with Tim Marshall - UNGA in the midst of Covid pandemic

Sightline with Tim Marshall - UNGA in the midst of Covid pandemic

But the UN is navigating a polarised world facing a pandemic, regional conflicts, a shrinking economy, growing inequality and increasing competition between states.

Mr Guterres said other major UN achievements included peace treaties and peacekeeping missions, decolonisation and setting human rights standards.

He also listed “the triumph over apartheid” in South Africa, eradication of diseases, a steady reduction in hunger, development of international law, and landmark pacts to protect the environment and planet Earth.

But Mr Guterres said that today, “climate calamity looms, biodiversity is collapsing, poverty is rising, hatred is spreading, geopolitical tensions are escalating, nuclear weapons remain on hair-trigger alert”.

He said that technology had opened huge new opportunities “but also exposed new threats”.

Mr Guterres said before that the UN’s biggest failing was its inability to prevent medium and small conflicts.

And 25 years after world leaders in Beijing adopted a 150-page platform to achieve equality for women, he said that “gender inequality remains the greatest single challenge to human rights around the world”.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has laid bare the world’s fragilities,” Mr Guterres said, appealing for the world to work together.

“Today we have a surplus of multilateral challenges and a deficit of multilateral solutions."

Criticised for issuing billions of words with little to show for its primary mission of ensuring global peace, the UN remains the one place where its 193 member nations can meet to talk.

Despite the lack of progress, there is strong support for its ability to unite people to discuss critical issues.

The UN Charter was signed in San Francisco on June 26, 1945, by delegates from about 50 countries.

The world body marked its 75th anniversary on that date this year at an event scaled down because of the pandemic.

Monday’s mainly online commemoration was not a celebration.

It included a declaration on the anniversary, approved by diplomats from all UN member states after sometimes heated negotiations.

“It’s very unfortunate that it’s going to be a pretty gloomy celebration for the UN,” said Richard Gowan, UN director for the Crisis Group, a think tank in Brussels.

To mark its milestone, the UN launched “a global conversation” in January using surveys, polls, and online and in-person gatherings to find out what people were thinking about the future.

The results, which Mr Guterres called “striking,” were released on Monday.

More than one million people from all 193 UN member nations took part, including 50,000 people in 50 countries who were part of a scientific poll.

Fabrizio Hochschild-Drummond, the secretary general’s special adviser on the 75th anniversary commemoration, said it was striking that against the backdrop of polarisation, disagreement and deadlock, respondents across all regions, ages and social groups “were remarkably united in their priorities for the future”.

Mr Hochschild-Drummond said that amid the Covid-19 crisis, the immediate priority for respondents was access to affordable health care, education, safe water and sanitation.

That was followed by greater international solidarity and increased support for those hit hardest by the pandemic.

More than 87 per cent of respondents “believe global co-operation is vital to deal with today’s challenges", Mr Hochschild-Drummond said.

And 74 per cent said they believed the UN was needed to tackle the challenges the world faced.

Mr Guterres said the 75th anniversary was the ideal time to realise these aims.

“We face our own 1945 moment,” he said. “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.”

– additional reporting by AP