Warning of a "five-alarm global fire" threatening humanity, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres made a philosophical call for the restoration of humanism at a time of the emergence of "the twilight of shared values".Sounding more like a sage than a political leader, he called for overcoming "egoism" to quench the accelerants flaming the fires."Solidarity is a part of human nature. But egoism is also part of human nature. When egoism wins, everyone loses," he said at a news conference on Friday after a speech to the General Assembly about his priorities for 2022, during which he criticised most of the post-World War II international framework as inadequate for today's challenges."In every corner of the world, we see this erosion of core values: Equality, justice, cooperation, dialogue, and mutual respect," he said.
"Let me be blunt: I fear the emergence of what I would call the twilight of shared values, and injustice, inequality, mistrust, racism and discrimination are casting dark shadows across every society," he added.To pull the world out of darkness, he said, "We must restore human dignity and human decency. We must prevent the death of truth. We must make lying wrong again."The accelerants to the "five-alarm fire", Guterres said, are "inequity and injustice in tackling the pandemic; a global economic system rigged against the poor; insufficient action on the existential climate threat; (and) a wild west digital frontier that profits from division".They are fuelling "social and economic fires (that) are creating unrest and conflict we see around the world, not just in places plagued with daily bombs and bullets, but everywhere", he added.
Earlier in his speech at the General Assembly, Guterres declared that many of the global structures, most of which rose from the embers of World War II, were powerless against the challenges of today.
"From global health to digital technology, many of today's multilateral frameworks are outdated and no longer fit for purpose," he said."They do not protect critical global public goods that are intended to support humanity's wellbeing from the global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 said, adding: "Nor are multilateral frameworks delivering on our common aspirations for peace, sustainable development, human rights and dignity for all."Outlining his priorities, Guterres started with a warning that the next virus variant may be worse and said, "We must go into emergency mode in the Covid-19 battle."He said the inequality in the availability of vaccines is "scandalous" and the 1.5 billion doses produced every month are not reaching everywhere, especially Africa."Instead of the virus spreading like wildfire, we need vaccines to spread like wildfire," he said.
For reforming the international financial system, he said there should be "a fairer global tax system, in which some of the trillions amassed by billionaires during the pandemic are shared more broadly".He said that action should be taken against "illicit financial flows, which drain more than $88 billion annually from Africa alone".
For combatting climate change, he called for a ban on new coal plants and on oil and gas exploration.To meet the challenges of technology that is unequally available while fanning divisiveness, he said that he would propose a Global Digital Compact as part of the Summit of the Future in 2023.It is important to "put humanity at the centre of technology. Technology shouldn't use us. We should use technology", he said.(Arul Louis can be reached at [email protected] and followed @arulouis)