In an alarming assessment, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres warned on Tuesday that nations are “stuck in a colossal global dysfunction” and are not ready or willing to combat the challenges that threaten the future of humanity and the planet. “Our world is in danger and paralyzed”, he sentenced.
During his opening address to the General Assembly meeting, Guterres made sure to emphasize that there is still hope. But his words reflected a tense and worried world. He mentioned the war in Ukraine and the increase in conflicts around the planet, the climate emergency, the serious financial situation of developing countries and the setbacks in the United Nations goals for 2030, including ending extreme poverty and provide quality education to all children.
He also warned of what he described as a “forest of red flags” around new technologies, despite promising breakthroughs to cure disease and connect people. Guterres noted that social media platforms are based on a model that “monetizes outrage, anger and negativity” and buys and sells data to “influence our behavior.” He assured that artificial intelligence “is putting at risk the integrity of computer systems, the media and democracy itself.”
The world lacks even an outline of “global architecture” to deal with the consequences of new technologies due to “geopolitical tensions,” Guterres added.
The General Assembly brought dignitaries from around the world to the UN compound in New York after three years of disruptions caused by the pandemic, including a fully virtual summit in 2020 and a hybrid last year. This week, the corridors of the United Nations are once again packed with delegates reflecting the world’s diverse cultures. There are many familiar faces, although delegates are required to wear masks at all times, except during their speeches, as a preventive measure against the coronavirus.
Guterres made sure to start with a sign of hope. He showed a photo of the first United Nations-chartered ship carrying grain from Ukraine — part of a Ukraine-Russia deal brokered by the UN and Turkey — to the Horn of Africa, where millions of people are on the brink of famine. He assured that it is an example of promise and hope “in a world full of turmoil”.
He stressed that cooperation and dialogue are the only way to maintain global peace, two of the fundamental principles of the UN since its foundation after World War II. And he warned that “no power or group can make decisions on its own.”
“Let’s work as a unit, as a coalition of the world, as united nations,” he asked the leaders gathered in the huge room of the General Assembly.
It is rarely that simple. Geopolitical divisions are undermining the work of the UN Security Council, international law, people’s trust in democratic institutions and many forms of international cooperation, Guterres said.
“The divergence between developed and developing nations, between North and South, between the privileged and the rest, becomes more dangerous every day,” said the secretary general. “It is the root of the geopolitical tensions and mistrust that poison every aspect of global cooperation, from vaccines and sanctions to trade.”