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SG/SM/20493
11 December 2020

Human Solidarity ‘A Moral Imperative’, Secretary-General Tells Nobel Peace Prize Forum, Urging Efforts to Turn COVID-19 Crisis into Opportunity for Change

Following is the text of UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ video message to the Nobel Peace Prize Forum, held today:

It is a pleasure to join the Nobel Peace Prize Forum for this discussion of multilateralism and global governance in the aftermath of the COVID‑19 pandemic.  The pandemic is a crisis like no other, in which the world faces a common enemy.  Unfortunately, Governments have not mounted a joint response to this global threat.

From the start, the World Health Organization (WHO) provided factual information and scientific guidance that should have been the basis for coordinated global action.  But the response has been fragmented and chaotic, with countries, regions and even cities competing against each other for essential supplies and front‑line workers.

We cannot let the same thing happen for access to new COVID‑19 vaccines, which must be a global public good.  The social and economic impact of the pandemic is enormous, and growing.  No vaccine can undo the damage that has already been done.

We face the biggest global recession in eight decades.  Extreme poverty is rising; the threat of famine looms.  These intergenerational impacts are the result of long‑term fragilities, inequalities and injustices that have been exposed by the pandemic.

We need a reset.  In March, I appealed for a global ceasefire so that countries can focus on fighting the virus.  I echoed this call in my speech to the General Assembly in September, and urged new efforts to silence the guns by the end of the year.  I am encouraged by the support this call has received – and by the positive response by Governments to my call for peace in homes around the world and an end to violence against women and girls.

From the start, the United Nations has advocated for a stimulus package worth at least 10 per cent of global gross domestic product (GDP), and for debt relief for all countries that need it.  Many low- and middle‑income developing countries need immediate support to avert a liquidity crisis.  They are being forced to choose between providing basic services for their people, and servicing their debts.

The initiative we launched with the Governments of Canada and Jamaica has developed policy options for financing the response to COVID‑19 and putting us back on course to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.  These include increasing the resources available to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), through a new allocation of special drawing rights to the benefit of developing countries, and a voluntary reallocation of unused special drawing rights.

I also hope the G20 debt initiatives will be broadened so that all vulnerable developing countries are eligible, including all middle‑income countries that need debt relief.

In the longer‑term, we need a reformed global architecture to enhance debt transparency and sustainability.  I am pressing for these policies in all my global engagements, most recently at the G20.

The severe limitations of global cooperation and governance extend far beyond the pandemic.  The erosion of the nuclear disarmament regime and the lawless frontiers of cyberspace are just two areas that could produce a full‑blown global emergency within the next decade.

I spoke last week of our suicidal war on nature.  Without urgent action, we may be headed for a catastrophic 3- to 5‑degree temperature rise this century.  Every year, fires and floods, cyclones and hurricanes break new records, causing the greatest devastation to those who did least to contribute to global heating, and are least equipped to deal with it.

I see signs of hope in the growing coalition, led by young people, civil society, business, cities and regions, pushing for urgent climate action.  Mindsets are gradually shifting.  The European Union, United Kingdom, Japan, Republic of Korea and more than 100 countries have committed to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

The central objective of the United Nations for 2021 is to build a truly global coalition for carbon neutrality.  Every country, city, financial institution and company should adopt plans for transitioning to net‑zero emissions  2050.  I encourage the main emitters to lead the way by taking decisive decisions now.  Carbon should be given a price; fossil fuel subsidies should end; coal must be phased out.  We must shift the tax burden from income to carbon, from taxpayers to polluters.  The recovery from the COVID‑19 pandemic is an opportunity to build this momentum into a movement, and to integrate the goal of carbon neutrality into every economic and fiscal policy and decision.

2020 is the seventy‑fifth anniversary of the United Nations.  To mark the occasion, the United Nations General Assembly invited me to assess how we can best respond to current and future challenges, and to report back with analysis and recommendations.  I have launched a process to engage with Governments, civil society, thought leaders and others, on how we reinvigorate multilateralism.

The COVID-19 pandemic provides overwhelming evidence that we need more — and more effective — multilateralism, with vision, ambition and impact.  We cannot respond to this crisis by going back to what was or withdrawing into national shells.

We need more international cooperation and stronger international institutions.  The consultation process should address the inequalities at the foundations of global power relations.  The nations that came out on top more than seven decades ago have refused to contemplate reforms.  The composition and voting rights in the United Nations Security Council and the boards of the Bretton Woods system are a case in point.

Many African countries did not even exist as independent states 75 years ago.  They deserve their rightful place at the global table.  The developing world more broadly must have a far stronger voice in global decision‑making.  Any effort to improve global governance must take this into account.

Reforming global governance must be one step towards creating a fairer world that can solve shared problems before they overwhelm us.  We need global governance structures that deliver on critical global public goods, including public health, climate action, sustainable development, and peace.

In addition to more inclusive and equal participation in global institutions, we need a global financial architecture that recognizes the need for solidarity in the face of global threats.  A more inclusive and balanced multilateral trading system will enable developing countries to move up global value chains.

We need to reduce and end illicit financial flows, money‑laundering and tax evasion, including through achieving a global consensus to end tax havens.  And we need to integrate the principles of sustainable development into financial decision‑making.

Models of consumption and production should respect the rights and dignity of each other, and of future generations.  All countries have agreed to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.  And yet, I spend much of my time urging Governments to implement the global Goals, the Paris Agreement [on climate change] and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda.  Empty promises erode trust in public institutions.

Multilateral cooperation should be firmly based on the universal values of community, solidarity, equality and humanity; recognizing the fundamental human rights of all and providing opportunities for all.

None of this is a call for new bureaucracies.  We need multilateralism that delivers.  Twenty‑first century multilateralism must be networked.  It should link the United Nations family with other global institutions, from international financial institutions to regional organizations and trade alliances.  And twenty‑first century multilateralism must be inclusive.

Today’s United Nations must go beyond Governments to recognize the role of civil society, regions and cities, business and academic institutions.  We need to expand our circle of engagement to draw in the perspectives and expertise of all these sectors and more.

The commitment to climate action is now mobilizing Governments at national and global levels, companies, civil society and individuals.  That is the future of multilateralism.  Today’s crisis can and must be turned into an opportunity for change.  The Nobel Committee showed the way by awarding its Peace Prize to the World Food Programme (WFP).  WFP is the embodiment of an effective global organization.  It operates above the realm of politics, based on humanitarian values – our responsibility to people in need.  The prize recognizes the essential link between feeding the hungry, solidarity with those in need, and world peace.

The COVID-19 crisis has shown above all the urgent need for human solidarity.  Global governance must be based on a recognition that such solidarity is not only a moral imperative; it is in everyone’s interests.  We can only tackle shared threats through shared resolve.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.