Remarks by H.E. Mr. Abdulla Shahid, President of the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly
25 April 2022
I am honoured to address this seventh edition of the Raisina Dialogue.
I thank the Ministry of External Affairs of India and the Observer Research Foundation for inviting me to speak on the ‘Role of the UN in a Polarizing World’.
We meet against the backdrop of a once-in-a-century pandemic, a deepening climate crisis, and an undesirable and patently avoidable military confrontation.
While we are yet to fully grapple with the socio-economic costs of an unfinished pandemic which normalized school closures, devastated industries, disrupted global supply chains and rendered millions jobless, we have now been hit by a military aggression that is unleashing tectonic waves across the global energy, commodity and financial markets.
The UN estimates that as a result of the Ukraine-Russia conflict, about 1.7 billion people in 107 economies are “severely exposed” to either rising food prices, surging fuel prices, or have governments struggling to make debt payments and stabilize their economies.
That includes 41 countries in Africa, 38 in the Asia-Pacific and 28 in the Latin American and the Caribbean region.
The ongoing conflict when combined with the already devastating impacts of the pandemic and climate change will have a cascading effect setting us back on decades of progress in tackling global poverty, widening inequalities everywhere, and undoing decades of progress on gender equality.
Even as the conflict in Ukraine is unfolding, the remaining threats to our peace, security and safety are not on hold.
The pandemic exposed the global populace to the fragmented and overstretched health systems around the world.
Conflicts in Palestine, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Ethiopia, Mali, Afghanistan and Myanmar, continue to persist.
While these crises are becoming more internationalized, with the involvement of regional and global actors, they are also becoming more fragmented.
Today, multiple actors operate in loose and rapidly shifting coalitions, across borders with different agendas.
Extremism, terrorism, illicit financial flows and cyberwarfare are exacting a devastating toll and creating an acute risk of violence and conflict.
Deliberate and often covert spreading of fake information, has radically altered the media and security landscape.
How information is used, manipulated, and falsified is at the very core of conflict today.
There is also growing concern over risks posed by large technology companies.
When tech companies rather than governments become arbiters of truth, then discerning between information and disinformation becomes a challenge.
In the midst of all of this, hotter heat waves, drier droughts, bigger storm surges and greater snowfall are increasingly becoming common weather phenomena.
We didn’t need a rainfall in Greenland to remind us of the need to redouble climate action or to stick to the 1.5C ceiling and minimize climate-change harm to the people and the planet.
From phasing out fossil fuels to transiting to green energy, action is demanded of both the developed and the developing countries.
Whether it is mitigation or adaptation, finance and technology commitments made need to be fulfilled in time.
It is no surprise that we live in a polarized world, with polarized issues.
At the same time, in our globalized world these issues interconnect with each other. We cannot address them working separately, because global threats require global solutions.
It is more vital now than ever to embrace the principles and values of multilateralism.
We need to strengthen our collective ability to anticipate, prevent, and manage complex risks such as disease outbreaks, new wars, massive cyberattacks, environmental disasters, or other unforeseen events.
We need to revive and strengthen our capacity to tackle poverty and inequality, ensure inclusion, equal participation, and justice.
We need to build on existing initiatives and involve the relevant stakeholders toward effectively regulating the Internet in order to create a safe, free, and open digital environment, where the flow of data in a trusted environment is guaranteed.
Protection of the environment and health as well as social standards must be placed at the heart of our economic models while ensuring the necessary conditions for innovation.
We must endeavor to provide new age education for all that would equip the next generation with not only digital skills, but an appreciation of different cultures, acceptance of pluralism, and nurture tolerance and respect for freedom of conscience.
We need to ensure that the global recovery reaches everybody.
But around the world, there is a growing skepticism of multilateralism.
Increasingly, people question if the United Nations is even necessary.
My response to those skeptics is that the United Nations still remains the most viable and best placed organization to address global challenges.
The United Nations, especially the General Assembly, remains a forum where each and every country matters – regardless of their size or might.
In a world where important discussions increasingly take place in exclusive spaces, there is a need to preserve a space where every country has an equal voice. A space where all stakeholders, including the private sector, academia, civil society and people of all ages, can come together and contribute.
It is my firm conviction that the United Nations still remains the most viable avenue for dialogue and the best option for consensus building and to bridge the divides in our polarized world.
The United Nations was born out of war: at a time of great discord and depression. It was this great organization that rescued us from paths leading to further conflict on a global scale.
Throughout its existence it has continued to uplift humanity’s condition, through alleviating poverty, supporting decolonization and nation building, and by promoting human rights.
Today, United Nations agencies continue to lead the way in empowering people and in sustainable development.
Yes, at times the United Nations has fallen short. Many of the frustrations directed towards it are valid.
The world has undergone many transformations since the United Nations was founded: economically, socially and technologically. It is only natural that global institutions adjust to reflect these new realities. The United Nations has often fallen short in this.
I would like to propose three key actions that in my mind address the changes that are needed:
First, the United Nations needs to move closer to the people it serves. Often, there is a disconnect between what is discussed in the United Nations, and what is happening on the ground.
We need to listen, acknowledge and draw on the ideas and capacities of the academic and scientific institutions, local governments and cities, civil society organizations, youth and the business community.
This has been reiterated by the Secretary General in his “Our Common Agenda” Report which calls for leveraging diverse frameworks of cooperation and the capabilities of all relevant actors to deliver global public goods and manage the risks of an interconnected world.
This is why I have made it a point to engage with young people when I travel. And it is why I ensure there are representatives from a wide range of stakeholders at my debates. It is important to hear from our constituents to undertake well informed and targeted policies.
This listening and learning exercise could generate a rethinking of global governance institutions, policies, laws, operations, and norms and pave the way for a much-needed networked and inclusive multilateralism.
Second, the United Nations needs to reform.
We must strengthen our global multilateral architecture. Revitalizing the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council, and reforming the Security Council through the Intergovernmental Negotiation Process, is crucial.
It is not only our organs that need revitalizing – but our way of working as well. We live in a digital world. The United Nations needs to harness the transformative power of digital technologies to improve the efficiency of its work.
We must strengthen synergies between the work of our main organs, at the global, regional and national levels. The coordination between the specialized agencies and programmes and funds need to be enhanced. Our problem solving approaches need to be holistic and multifaceted.
Third, we must collectively re-commit to multilateralism.
The United Nations is its members. It is what the members make of it. What the members demand of it. And what the members invest in it.
Too often, we criticize the United Nations, while failing to recognize that often the failures of the United Nations are the consequences of power politics, resource challenges, and institutional weaknesses.
However, we have it in our power to address these things.
Last year, when we commemorated its 75th anniversary, our leaders pledged to breathe new life into the United Nations.
We now need to redouble our efforts to act on this pledge.
There is no other responsible choice to multilateralism.
The alternative is more friction, more polarization and more inaction – which will ultimately leave all our challenges unresolved.
By coming together as one global community, by revitalizing the principles and values of multilateralism, we can solve the challenges of our times; and lay foundations for a better more peaceful future.