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Failure of global governance puts humanity into emergency mode: UN chief

Secretary-General António Guterres briefs the UN General Assembly on his priorities for 2022. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

In an address to the 193-member General Assembly, UN chief António Guterres on Friday urged the world to “go into emergency mode” to tackle “a 5-alarm global fire” of the raging COVID-19 pandemic, a “morally bankrupt” global financial system, the climate crisis, lawlessness in cyberspace, and diminishing peace and security. Outlining his priorities for 2022 as he begins his second five-year term, Guterres said that “all these challenges are, at heart, failures of global governance.”

These challenges are, at heart, failures of global governance

According to the UN Secretary-General, “many of today’s multilateral frameworks are outdated and no longer fit for purpose.” In his speech, he said that multilateral frameworks “do not protect critical global public goods that are intended to support humanity’s wellbeing – from the global economy and finance systems to the health of our planet.” He added that they are also not “delivering on our common aspirations for peace, sustainable development, human rights and dignity for all” in addition to failing in the fields of global health and digital technology. 

The UN chief said that “the full mobilization of all countries” was necessary to deal with these challenges. “Our responses to the five emergencies I have laid out today will determine the course of people and planet for decades to come,” he said.

Many multilateral frameworks are no longer fit for purpose

Pointing out that global access to COVID-19 vaccination was still “scandalously unequal”, Guterres said that supply to the COVAX solidarity initiative had to be prioritized. He urged “a serious review” of the global financial system which “favours the rich and punishes the poor”. In particular, the UN chief promoted debt relief, a fairer global tax system, fighting illicit financial flows and reviewing credit ratings and accessibility of credit, among other things.

As the world is far off-track on limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels, Guterres urged all governments to strengthen their climate action plans under the Paris Agreement, “until they collectively deliver the 45 per cent emissions reduction target.” This means “no new coal plants. No expansion in oil and gas exploration,” he said.

Guterres warned that “growing digital chaos is benefiting the most destructive forces and denying opportunities to ordinary people.” At the same time, he recalled that “nearly three billion people” still do not have internet access. He called for “strong regulatory frameworks” for social media as well as a global digital compact and code of conduct.

In the field of peace and security, the UN chief said that the world is now facing “the highest number of violent conflicts since 1945.”

“Geo-political divides must be managed to avoid chaos around the globe. We need to maximize areas for cooperation while establishing robust mechanisms to avoid escalation,” he said, calling for a “united Security Council.”

According to the UN Secretary-General, his report on Our Common Agenda, published in September 2020, “offers a roadmap to gather the world together, in solidarity, to address these governance challenges and reinvigorate multilateralism for the 21st century.”

An upgraded and stronger UN needs to be more open, inclusive and democratic

The Executive Director of Democracy Without Borders, Andreas Bummel, commented: “We are faced with a serious dilemma. The world needs a leap forward in global collaboration to tacke global challenges but in reality it seems to be going in the opposite direction. We welcome that the UN Secretary-General is trying to push against this trend. Still we do not see how his recommendations are addressing the root causes of a failing system of global governance.”

“We need a radical shift from a state-centric global system to one that is putting people at the center,” he said. “An upgraded and stronger UN at the same time needs to be more open, inclusive and democratic. This requires institutional change and our proposals are on the table,” the group’s co-founder noted with reference to a campaign of nearly 200 civil society organizations, dubbed “We The Peoples”, that is promoting better inclusion of parliamentarians, civil society and citizens at the UN.