Russia’s invasion of Ukraine compels Member States of the United Nations to unite in “cooperation and solidarity” to support all those impacted “and to overcome this violation of international law” said Secretary-General António Guterres on Thursday, addressing the General Assembly in New York.
The UN chief was speaking at a meeting on enhancing international cooperation – part of the landmark Our Common Agenda blueprint for multilateralism and collective action going forward, launched last year.
It was the fifth and final Assembly-led consultation, and Mr. Guterres thanked all Member States for their “constructive and active engagement” together with all other stakeholders who have contributed to the themed discussions.
Peace – the primary ‘global public good’
Peace is the most important global public good and the United Nations was created to deliver it”, he said, noting that the meeting was taking place in the shadow of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. “War brings death, human suffering and unimaginable destruction, at a time when we cannot afford to add to the major global challenges we face.
“This conflict also calls on us to come together in cooperation and solidarity to support everyone affected, and to overcome this violation of international law”, he added.
Mr. Guterres said if we are to bequeath “a world free from want and fear, and full of opportunities to fulfil their potential, we must urgently focus on building and strengthening the foundations of the multilateral system.”
Solutions ‘essential, and urgent’
Amidst a “five-alarm fire”, that threatens to break the world apart, countries gathered in the gilded Assembly Hall, “must rise to the “enormous historical responsibility” of coming together.
He said the Common Agenda had been a contribution towards finding solutions, but it was up to Member States now, to take its proposals forward.
“But make no mistake: solutions are essential, and urgent. We must take the difficult decisions that will enable us to move forward.”
Staring into the ‘nuclear abyss’
With Ukraine’s desperate plight, the state of multilateral cooperation has assumed even greater importance, said the UN chief.
“We have been brought back to the foundational promise of the United Nations Charter, to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war. Many people around the world are asking how this could happen in the 21st century.
We have been brought back to the foundational promise of the United Nations Charter, to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war – Guterres
“How are we still staring into the nuclear abyss, as millions of people flee across borders and the most fundamental tenets of international law are trampled?”
He said global governance systems needed to be reviewed urgently, with the conflict raising “serious global implications on several fronts.”
Implications of Ukraine invasion
First, it will stretch humanitarian funding even thinner, increasing the suffering of many of the most vulnerable.
“Second, it could indirectly increase global hunger. Ukraine is one of the world’s biggest sources of grain, the Russian Federation is second, and the conflict could cause prices to spike.
“Third, this conflict is deeply linked with the climate crisis, demonstrating how our continued reliance on fossil fuels puts the global economy and energy security at the mercy of geopolitical shocks”, he added.
He said rising energy and food prices would hit the developing world hardest, as pandemic aftershocks and rising inflation – together with interest rates – were already hampering development.
“Improving international cooperation must look at all non-traditional threats, together with cyber warfare, disinformation campaigns, the threats from weapons of mass destruction, and more”, added the Secretary-General.
He said the Common Agenda report was “a wake-up call about the risks we face and the dangerous fiction that the status quo is a viable option. But you don’t need to read my report to wake up. You just need to look around.
“The climate crisis has passed the point of no return – even though we had plenty of warning and could have acted earlier. Much of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic could have been prevented or mitigated. Instead, millions of people have died, hunger and poverty are rising, and the economic impact of the pandemic is still playing out.
Reform global governance
He told delegates that a multi-faceted war was now “raging in the heart of Europe, in violation of the United Nations Charter.
“We need a serious effort to improve global governance, manage risks and safeguard the global commons and global public goods.
This is not only about the United Nations, or any other institution. It is about working together to solve our biggest problems, through existing structures if they are fit for purpose, and new or reinvigorated frameworks where needed.”
We need a serious effort to improve global governance, manage risks and safeguard the global commons and global public goods – UN chief
He said it was time to seek concrete recommendations to make global governance better, and announced a new High-Level Advisory Board on Global Public Goods, to be led by former President of Liberia Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and former Prime Minister of Sweden, Stefan Löfven.
Without duplicating other efforts, and building on Our Common Agenda, as well as on the consultations undertaken during the UN75 process and the preparation of the report – and the consultations led by the President of the General Assembly – he said the Board would “consider governance gaps, emerging priorities and levels of urgency” leading towards the proposed intergovernmental Summit of the Future, in September 2023.
‘Pact for the Future’
He said the Summit “would be an opportunity for leaders to commit to move away from the dangerous course we are on, through multilateral cooperation, based on the values enshrined in the United Nations Charter.
While it will be for Member States to decide what is included in such a pact, he said, the Common Agenda report proposes several elements:
- First, a new Agenda for Peace, that would unite us around a common vision of peace and security in the face of new threats and vulnerabilities.
- Second, a Global Digital Compact aimed at ensuring digital technology is a force for human wellbeing, solidarity and progress.
- Third, key principles for the peaceful and sustainable use of Outer Space.
- Fourth, the protocols around an Emergency Platform, which would enable us to more effectively manage global risks.
- And fifth, a Declaration outlining our promise to take account of the interests and needs of future generations in the decisions we take today, and mechanisms to do so.
The UN chief stressed all the proposals “are not about creating new bureaucracies. They are about Member States coming together to define the issues of concern that require governance improvements.
“The starting point needs to be respect for and compliance with international law; its progressive development; the strengthening of existing institutions and frameworks; and the engagement of all.
“Ultimately, our efforts are aimed not only at averting catastrophe, but improving the lives and prospects of billions of people who are left behind: children who have missed years of schooling; women whose precarious livelihoods have disappeared; refugees and migrants forced on dangerous journeys.
“The next steps depend on decisions by you, as Member States.”
‘Historic inflection point’: Assembly President
In his remarks, General Assembly President Abdulla Shahid, described the moment as an “historic inflection point”, noting the words of the 75th anniversary Political Declaration, that “our world is not yet the world that our founders envisaged 75 years ago. It is plagued by growing inequality, poverty, hunger, armed conflicts, terrorism, insecurity, climate change and pandemics.”
It was up to the countries in the room, to find a path back to “strong multilateralism”, he said, “one based on the principles of diplomacy and international cooperation, and best placed to meet the challenges of our time peacefully and effectively.
We must embrace the interlinks between sustainable development, peace, and human rights – Shahid
“We need resolute leadership that will help us change course and embark on a better path. A path where we recommit to the highest ideals of multilateralism and rediscover our common bonds of humanity.”
He said a stronger United Nations was critical. “As we strengthen international cooperation to meet our common objectives, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development must remain our guiding compass.
“We must embrace the interlinks between sustainable development, peace, and human rights. Through strengthening the three pillars of the organization, we can build stable and resilient communities that are better equipped to uphold peace and attain prosperity.”
But achieving this, said Mr. Shahid, will require the “full commitment” of Member States, and more frequent consultations and engagements with all stakeholders.
“This includes local and regional governments, parliaments, the private sector, regional organizations, financial institutions, youth, academia, development agencies, and other key actors in different spheres.”