UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned on Monday that the world must wake up and take urgent action to change the trajectory of geopolitical conflicts and divisions, the climate crisis and economic inequality.
We need a course correction, Guterres said as he laid out his priorities for 2023 at the UN General Assembly.
The good news is that we know how to turn things around on climate, finance, conflict resolution, he added. And we know that the cost of inaction far outweighs the cost of action. But strategic vision, long-term thinking and commitment are lacking.
He mentioned the latest announcement from Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists to move the so-called Doomsday Clock 10 seconds closer to global catastrophe as a wake-up call.
On January 24, the organization’s board, citing Russia’s war in Ukraine and the threat of using nuclear weapons, said the planet is now 90 seconds to midnight.
This is the closest humanity’s darkest hour has ever come, and closer than even during the height of the Cold War, Guterres warned.
The organization of scientists, of which Albert Einstein was a founding member, created the clock in 1947 as an indicator of how close the world is to global man-made catastrophe.
Adding to the growing list of crises and concerns was Monday’s deadly 7.8 earthquake that struck parts of Turkey and Syria. Guterres said the United Nations is mobilizing to support the emergency response.
Let us work together in solidarity to help those affected by this disaster, many of whom are already in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, he said.
The epicenter of the earthquake was in parts of Turkey and Syria with large populations of refugees and people affected by more than a decade of civil war in Syria.
Guterres has been clear in his condemnation of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022 as a violation of the UN Charter and international law. He told the General Assembly that it had caused untold suffering to the Ukrainian people and had profound global implications. He expressed pessimism about the prospects for peace.
The chances of further escalation and bloodshed continue to rise, he warned. I fear the world is not sleepwalking into a wider war. I’m afraid you’re doing this with your eyes open.
He criticized the tactical use of nuclear weapons as absurd.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly warned that he is ready to use his country’s entire arsenal, which includes nuclear weapons, to defend Russian territory. On Thursday, he repeated the threat in a speech criticizing Germany for helping to arm Ukraine.
We are at the highest risk in decades of a nuclear war that could be started by accident or by design, Guterres said. We must end the threat posed by the 13,000 nuclear weapons held in arsenals around the world.
The head of the UN said that the world needs peace, not only in Ukraine, but also in many corners of the planet. He said conflicts and political crises in Afghanistan, Myanmar, the Sahel region of Africa, Haiti, the Middle East and elsewhere are fueling the suffering of two billion people.
If each country were to fulfill its obligations under [U.N.] Charter, the right to peace would be guaranteed, Guterres said. When countries break these promises, they create a world of uncertainty for everyone.