The world cannot wait

We can’t confront problems unless we look them squarely in the eye. And we are looking into the eye of a Category 5 hurricane.

Our world is plagued by a perfect storm on a number of fronts.

Start with the short-term, a global economic crisis.

Many parts of the world face recession and the entire world faces a slowdown.

We see deepening inequalities and a rapidly unfolding cost-of-living crisis — affecting women and girls the most.

Supply chain disruptions and an energy crunch. Soaring prices. Rising interest rates along with inflation. And debt levels pounding vulnerable countries.

Add to all of that the lingering effects of the pandemic.

COVID-19 is still straining economies — with the world’s failure to prepare for future pandemics, that failure is straining our credulity.

Somehow — after all we have endured — we have not learned the global public health lessons of the pandemic. We are nowhere near ready for the pandemics to come.

Add to all that another major and, indeed, existential challenge. We are flirting with climate disaster.

The science has been clear for decades. We know the ecosystem meltdown is cold, hard scientific fact.

Add to this toxic brew yet another combustible factor — conflict, violence, war.

Especially the Russian invasion of Ukraine — not only because of the untold suffering of the Ukrainian people, but because of its profound global implications.

On global food and energy prices. On trade and supply chains. On questions of nuclear safety.

On the very foundations of international law and the United Nations Charter.

All these challenges are inter-linked. They are piling up like cars in a chain reaction crash.

We face the gravest levels of geopolitical division and mistrust in generations — and it is undermining everything.

First, the East-West divide.

The IMF reported that dividing the global economy into two blocs could cut global GDP by a whopping $1.4 trillion.

I am not convinced that the wealthier world and their leaders truly grasps the degree of frustration and even anger in the Global South.

Frustration and anger about the gross inequity of vaccine distribution in the recent past.

Frustration and anger about pandemic recovery — with support overwhelmingly concentrated in wealthier countries that could print money.

Frustration and anger about a climate crisis that is crippling countries that contributed least to global heating. And the lack of the financial resources to respond to the challenge.

Frustration and anger over a morally bankrupt financial system in which systemic inequalities are amplifying societal inequalities.

A system that is still routinely denying debt relief and concessional funding to vulnerable middle-income countries that are in desperate need. Because the rules are not made to allow it.

A system in which most of the world’s poorest countries saw their debt service payments skyrocket by 35 percent in the last year alone.

The developed world must finally deliver on its $100 billion climate finance commitment to support developing countries.

And the biggest emitters — namely the G20 countries — must unite around a Climate Solidarity Pact in which they make extra efforts in the 2020s to keep the 1.5-degree limit alive.

And it doesn’t work if developed countries attribute responsibility to emerging economies, and emerging economies attribute responsibility to developed countries. They need to come together, to bring together all their capacities — financial and technological — with the developed ones providing financial and technical assistance to help the major emerging economies accelerate their renewable energy transition.

Our climate goals need the full engagement of the private sector. It must be recognized that, in many ways, the private sector today is leading, but it is, to a certain extent, undermined by government action, or the lack of government action.

Across the spectrum of global challenges, we need private sector resourcefulness and cooperation to be able to advance in our common objectives of peace, sustainable development and human rights.
Excellencies and dear friends, there are no perfect solutions in a perfect storm.

But we can work to control the damage and to seize the opportunities available.

Now more than ever, it’s time to forge the pathways to cooperation in our fragmented world. To adopt multilateral institutions, to bring trust to where trust is badly needed, because the world cannot wait.


Excerpts from the Secretary-General’s remarks at the World Economic Forum, 18 January 2023.

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