The UN Secretary General: "But today a wind of madness is sweeping the globe".

4th February 2020:
Opening remarks to journalists on priorities for 2020 and the work of the organization
UN Secretary-General António Guterres

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.

As you know, 2020 marks a milestone for the United Nations – our 75th anniversary.

Too often, governments and international institutions are viewed as places that talk – not as places that listen.

I want the United Nations, in this anniversary, essentially to listen – so we are marking our anniversary based on conversations in every corner of the world about the future we want and the United Nations we need.

There is no doubt that people have much to say.

The disquiet in streets and squares across the world is proof that people want to be heard.

They want world leaders to answer their anxieties with effective action.

That means addressing cascading challenges and breaking what I call the vicious circles that define our day.

One such vicious circle is in the realm of peace and security – making conflicts longer, more lethal and more likely to erupt in the first place.

Tensions were of course high as the last year ended, but we were moving in the right direction in a number of hotspots. We were seeing signs of de-escalation and some measure of progress.

That’s all changed.

I have spoken recently about winds of hope. But today a wind of madness is sweeping the globe.

From Libya to Yemen to Syria and beyond – escalation is back. Arms are flowing and offensives are increasing.

All situations are different but there is a feeling of growing instability and hair-trigger tensions, which makes everything far more unpredictable and uncontrollable, with a heightened risk of miscalculation.

Meanwhile, Security Council resolutions are being disrespected even before the ink is dry.

As we can see, problems feed each other.

As economies falter, poverty remains entrenched.

As future prospects look bleak, populist and ethnic nationalist narratives gain appeal.

As instability rises, investment dries up, and development cycles down.

When armed conflicts persist, societies reach perilous tipping points.

And as governance grows weak, terrorists get stronger, seizing on the [vacuum.]

In the year ahead I will press to break the vicious circles of suffering and conflict and to push for a strong surge of diplomacy for peace.

I would like to announce today that I will be attending the African Union Summit this coming weekend in Addis Ababa.

The African Union is one of the UN’s leading strategic partners, and I look forward to discussing the continent’s efforts to “silence the guns” as well as our shared work to address the full range of global challenges.

Another clear vicious circle is exacerbating the climate crisis.

As oceans warm, ice melts, and we lose the vital service the ice sheets perform - reflecting sunlight, thus further increasing ocean warming.

And as ice melts and the oceans warm, sea levels rise and more water evaporates, fueling ever greater rainfall, threatening coastal cities and deltas.

Last year, ocean heat and mean sea level reached their highest on record.  Scientists tell us that ocean temperatures are now rising at the equivalent of five Hiroshima bombs a second.

Ecosystems are suffering the fallout.

A recent study found that ocean heat in 2019 was 228 Zetta Joules above the 1981-2010 average; a Zetta is a “1” followed by 21 zeroes.

To put that in context, this rise in ocean heat last year is more than twenty times the amount of energy humanity has consumed since 2000.

Meanwhile, as permafrost disappears, and as tundra thaws earlier and freezes later, vast amounts of methane – a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide – enter the atmosphere, accelerating global warming.

And as forests burn, the world loses vital carbon sinks and emissions skyrocket.   

The smoke from Australia’s fires is now itself a literal vicious circle – circling the globe, releasing the equivalent of as much as six months of the country’s total carbon emissions in 2018.

What happens in Australia doesn’t stay in Australia – and the same can be said about any part of the world.

A new climate crisis alert by the World Meteorological Organization today indicates that CO2 concentrations will reach new highs [in] 2020.

The challenge for this year’s climate conference in Glasgow, COP 26, is clear: all countries must show more ambition on adaptation, mitigation and finance.

And the big emitters must lead the way.

We need a price on carbon, and an end to subsidies for fossil fuels.

We are still seeing too many plans for coal plants – the addiction to coal remains dangerously strong.

There is some good news.  Awareness of the risks is growing.  Announcements of climate action by governments and the private sector are gathering steam.  Investments are increasing.

Minds are changing.

This year’s conferences on oceans, sustainable transport and biodiversity are further opportunities for action.

But we need to keep up the pressure to break the vicious circle that is propelling both humankind and the natural world to the point of no return.

Now is also the time to break the vicious circle of poverty and inequality and to shape a fair globalization leaving no one behind.

The Sustainable Development Goals are, as you know, our blueprint.

Development is a goal in its own right.  But it is also our best form of prevention.

We have just launched a Decade of Action to deliver the Goals – a great, global mobilization.

Finance, of course, will be critical.

We know that progress on one Goal can generate progress on all – the virtuous circle we know is possible and that can point the way toward growth and prosperity for all.

This is crucial across all fronts – including education, gender equality, health and working together to confront new challenges such as the outbreak of the corona virus we are facing now.

As we can see from the challenges I have outlined today, multilateral institutions are needed more than ever and must be tuned to the challenges of the 21st century.

I will continue my efforts to build both a networked multilateralism, with the United Nations and all international organizations working together, and an inclusive multilateralism able to listen and incorporate the contributions of business, civil society, local and regional authorities, and young people.

Despite often deep divisions among Member States, I am determined to keep listening to people, to speaking out for reason, holding fast to principles, and guide myself and the UN by the mission and values of the UN Charter.

That’s how we will break the vicious circles and deliver for people and I thank you.


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