New York

20 November 2020

Transcript of the Secretary-General's press stakeout prior to the G20 Summit

A very good afternoon to all of you.

This weekend, G20 leaders will meet as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to ravage our world.

I will take part and my main message is simple:

We need solidarity and cooperation.

And we need concrete action now — especially for the most vulnerable.

We must advance on two fronts:

First, recovering in a way that is inclusive — bringing everyone along.

Second, recovering in a way that is sustainable — meaning, above all, stepped-up climate action.

The recent breakthroughs on COVID-19 vaccines offer a ray of hope.

But that ray of hope needs to reach everyone.

That means ensuring that vaccines are treated as a global public good — accessible and affordable to everyone, everywhere.  A people’s vaccine.

This is not a “do-good” exercise.

It is the only way to stop the pandemic dead in its tracks.

Solidarity is indeed survival.

The ACT-Accelerator and its COVAX Facility are the vehicles to get us there.

Over the past seven months, countries have invested $10 billion in the effort to develop vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics. 

But $28 billion more are needed — including $4.2 billion before the end of the year.

This funding is critical for mass manufacturing, procurement and delivery of new COVID-19 vaccines and tools around the world.

G20 countries have the resources.

I am urging all of them to fully support the ACT-Accelerator.

Unfortunately, there is no vaccine for misinformation.

Vaccine myths and wild conspiracies continue to spread on social media.

Our UN communications networks are working to build vaccine confidence with factual, reliable and persuasive content — and reaching out to social media platforms to strengthen public trust.

All of these efforts are vital to save lives and provide an exit strategy out of this global economic and human crisis.

Across the board, I am issuing an SOS for the needs of developing countries.

Since day one, I have pushed for a massive rescue package equivalent to at least 10 per cent of the global economy.

Developed countries can afford to provide enormous relief for their own societies – and they are doing so.

But the developing world is on the precipice of financial ruin and escalating poverty, hunger and untold suffering.

We see tremendous debt vulnerabilities emerging, especially among commodity- and tourism-dependent economies, including middle-income countries, particularly small island states.

I am calling on G20 leaders to increase the financial resources available to the International Monetary Fund, including through a new allocation of Special Drawing Rights and a voluntary reallocation of unused Special Drawing Rights. 

The G20 extended the Debt Service Suspension Initiative for six months and adopted a common framework for debt treatments.

These are welcome steps — but more is needed.

I am pushing for a further extension through the end of 2021 and, critically, to expand the scope of these initiatives to all developing and middle-income countries in need.

And we need to build a global architecture to enhance debt transparency and sustainability.

A domino effect of bankruptcies could devastate the global economy.

We cannot let the COVID pandemic lead to a debt pandemic.

Recovery must be aligned with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

There are troubling signs.  As of September, the rescue packages of G20 countries have committed 50 percent more in funding in support of fossil fuels than on low-carbon energy.

It is madness to borrow money to heat up a planet living on borrowed time.

At the same time, we also have hopeful news on the climate front.

A great and growing global coalition for net zero emissions by 2050 is taking shape.

By early next year, countries representing more than 65 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions — and more than 70 per cent of the world economy — are very likely to have made ambitious commitments to carbon neutrality.

These commitments are sending a clear signal to markets, institutional investors and decision-makers.

They must act now to:

Put a price on carbon. 

To end fossil fuel subsidies. 

To stop construction of new coal power plants.

To invest in resilient infrastructure.

To shift the tax burden from income to carbon, from taxpayers to polluters.

To ensure mandatory financial reporting on exposure to climate risks.

To integrate the goal of carbon neutrality into all economic and fiscal policies and decisions.

And to implement the necessary measures – such as social protection and re-skilling – for a just transition towards decent jobs.

I firmly believe that 2021 can be a new kind of leap year — the year of a quantum leap towards carbon neutrality. 

We must all make that leap together.

It will not be possible without developing countries. They will need significant support.

Here, too, solidarity is survival.

This means taking into account, in good faith, the common but differentiated responsibilities of one and all, and accompanying developing countries in the adoption and the achievement of ambitious goals.

For this, we need developed countries to fulfill their climate finance commitments.

G20 countries must take decisive action in the boards of multilateral, regional, and national development banks, to urge them to collaborate, provide substantial concessional climate finance to developing countries, including for adaptation and resilience, and re-think their mobilization potential to unlock the trillions held by institutional investors.

Even as we strive to mitigate emissions in the future, we need to cope with the impacts happening here and now. 

Adaptation to present and future climate impacts — particularly for least developed countries and small island developing states —cannot be the forgotten component of climate action.

From health to the economy to the climate and beyond, we are confronting the biggest set of global challenges in generations.

The decisions we make in the coming months will shape the lives of generations to come.

We face epic policy tests.  But ultimately, there is a moral test.

The trillions of dollars needed for COVID recovery is money that we are borrowing from future generations.  Every last penny.

We cannot use those resources to lock in policies that burden them with a mountain of debt on a broken and dangerous planet.

We have the opportunity to not simply reset the world but to transform it.

A sustainable world will create new jobs, better infrastructure and a resilient future.

An inclusive world will help ensure that people can enjoy the full respect of their human rights and live with dignity on a healthy planet.

Now it’s time to build.

To coordinate.  To cooperate.  And to act.

We don’t have a moment to lose.

And I thank you for your attention.

Spokesman:  Thank you very much.

**Questions and Answers

Valeria Robecco.

Question:  Thank you so much, Secretary‑General, on behalf of UNCA (United Nations Correspondents Association), for this press briefing.

My question is, I'm wondering if, in preparation for the vaccine arrival, have been agreed... common policies have been agreed or will be discussed for the distribution of the vaccine between the G20, if you are planning to discuss this issue during the G20 summit. Thank you.

Secretary-General:  Well, there is a global alliance called COVAX. In the COVAX, we have the World Health Organization (WHO). We have Gavi. We have CEPI. We have the global funds, and we have now more than 160 countries that have committed to the COVAX, many of them developed but also many of them developing countries.

And the COVAX will be a system of coordination of the investments needed, both for the development, the production, and the distribution of the vaccines.

Beyond the COVAX, there are other initiatives of different countries that are intending to buy vaccines for their own people. And of course, I don't blame a government that decides to protect its own people, but this needs to be done combined with their commitment to COVAX.

And I have to say that several developed countries that have their own programmes already have joined the COVAX and already have invested in the COVAX to obtain vaccines also from the COVAX. So, I'm hoping that the COVAX will be the main instrument to guarantee that, indeed, vaccines will become a global public good available and affordable for all.

Spokesman:  Thank you. James Bays, Al Jazeera... 

Secretary-General:  And the G20 has a very important role, and I appeal to all G20 members to become members of the COVAX.

Question:  Secretary‑General, how concerned are you about the human rights record of the Host Country of the G20, Saudi Arabia? I'm talking about the lack of proper accountability for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the continued detention of political prisoners, including women activists, and reports of torture. Secretary‑General, you have the chance to address all of this fully, or you can dodge my question. But wouldn't that be... [Cross talk]
Secretary-General:  No, it was not...

Question:  Wouldn't that be effectively green‑lighting more abuses by the Saudi Arabians...? [Cross talk]
Secretary-General:  It is not by chance that, in what I've just said, there is a clear reference to the need of all these programmes to have one objective, that everybody should be able to enjoy full human rights in a healthy planet, and full human rights apply to all countries, including the Host Country of the G20.

Question:  What about the specific abuses in the Host Country?

Secretary-General:  That’s what I'm saying; what we want is human rights everywhere, including in the Host Country.

Spokesman:  Sherwin Bryce‑Pease, South African [Broadcasting].

Question:  Hi, Secretary‑General. From one Host Country to this Host Country, I wonder what you make of the political moment that is occurring currently in the United States, the pandemic moment that is happening in this country. So, I'm going to leave that broadly so you can go anywhere you'd like to go with that.

But, in addition, also a question on Ethiopia: What are your interventions been to date? There's a humanitarian crisis, catastrophe that's emerging there. The WHO chief has been drawn into this. What's your comment about the situation that's happening in Tigray and the impacts on regional countries?
Secretary-General:  Well, in relation to the electoral situation in the United States, we trust in the US institutions to solve all outstanding problems, and we are not worried with that.

Of course, we are very worried with the situation in Ethiopia and particularly because of the dramatic humanitarian impact of what's happening. We are doing everything possible to mobilise humanitarian support for the refugees that are already in Sudan, more than 20,000. And we have been asking for the full respect of international humanitarian law and also for the opening of humanitarian corridors and the truces that might be necessary for humanitarian aid to be delivered in the areas of conflict.

So, this is a matter of enormous concern to us, and I hope that these appeals will be heard, and I hope that this will end soon and that Ethiopia will be able to find the peace it needs for its development and the well‑being of its people.

Question:  Are you at all surprised that there's been no role here for the Security Council...?

Secretary-General:  Sorry?

Question:  The Security Council has not met on this issue. Does that surprise you given the regional implications and the threats to international peace and security?

Secretary-General:  Well, I've spoken with the head of IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority for Development). I've spoken with the Prime Minister of Sudan. I've spoken with the President of South Africa. I've spoken with the Chairperson of the African Union, and I've spoken, of course, with the Ethiopian Prime Minister, the Ethiopian President, and with several other actors.

Until now, there has not been the acceptance by the Ethiopian authorities of any form of external mediation, and that is probably the reason why this has not yet also been discussed... there was not any initiative in the Security Council. We go on entirely at the disposal of the African Union to support any African Union initiative in this regard, and as I said, our main concern now is the dramatic humanitarian impact.

Spokesman:  Iftikhar Ali, Iftikhar?

Secretary-General:  By the way, the President of the African Union is the President of South Africa, with whom I've spoken.

Question:  Steph, thank you, Steph. Mr. Secretary‑General, in your opening statement, you have proposed that G20's Debt Service Suspension Initiative be extended from June to the end of 2021. I believe you already had some consultations in this regard with some of the G20 members. How hopeful are you that this important initiative that you have taken... this important proposal that you have made will be accepted, will be endorsed by the G20, which is so important to the developing countries?
Secretary-General:  I'm hopeful that this will be understood, but the problem is not only to extend this period. The problem is also to make this initiative and other debt initiatives available not only to the least developed countries but also to other developing countries, including some middle‑income countries that have no access also to financial markets and are facing an extremely difficult situation. And we believe that all must be covered by the initiatives sponsored by the G20.

Spokesman:  Michelle Nichols, Reuters. Sorry. Michelle?

Secretary-General:  And of course, we have been in close contact with several members of the G20 in relation exactly to these points.

Spokesman:  Michelle Nichols, Reuters.

Question:  Thank you, Secretary‑General, for this briefing. The G... the draft G20 communiqué has just come out, and it repeated plans to revisit a possible six months' extension on the Debt Service Initiative. Are you disappointed that there's not a firm commitment?

And this morning, you released a very dire statement on Yemen. The United States is planning to designate the Houthis. What effect could this have?

And just a quick follow‑up on Sherwin's question, to be a little more direct. This is President [Donald] Trump's last G20. What's your reaction specifically to how he is handling the US election results? Thank you.

Secretary-General:  First of all, in relation to the communiqué, it's a draft. And, so, we wait for the final communiqué. Our position has been that the initiative should be extended until the end of 2021. In the draft, there is a reference about that possibility. Of course, we would like to see that reference transformed into a firm commitment, as I already mentioned.

The second question: We have, in relation to Yemen, a paradoxical situation. On one hand, we are making huge efforts, and we have hope that it will be able to convince the parties to come together, even if physically, in a meeting to discuss and, hopefully, adopt a Joint Declaration with a global ceasefire for Yemen, with a number of economic and social confidence‑building measures and with the opening of a political dialogue.

And we have been in intense contacts with the Ansar Allah, with the Government... [Abdrabbuh Mansur] Hadi Government, with Saudi Arabia and with the other countries in the region in order to make sure that this becomes possible, and this is an essential objective.

The paradox is, at the same time, we see a dramatic degradation of the humanitarian situation and the risk... as it was expressed this morning in my statement, the risk of a famine that probably would have had no parallel in recent history, except the famous famine of Ethiopia many decades ago. And we absolutely need to avoid it, and that means mobilising resources, but that means also the capacity to be able to have access and to be able to be effective in addressing the many challenges the country faces.

Now, in this very fragile situation in relation to famine and in this hopeful moment in relation to conversations, we believe that any other unilateral initiative will probably not be positive. I don't think we should rock the boat at the present moment.

Finally, in relation to the G20, of course, in the G20, each country will be represented by the government that is in place at the moment. And, so, the same will happen naturally in relation to the US Government.
Spokesman:  All right. Betul, and then we'll...
Question:  Thank you, Mr. Secretary‑General. There is now a new government in northern Cyprus, and I'm wondering when you are planning to bring parties and guarantor countries.

And recently, the Turkish President said... he called for a two‑state solution for the Cyprus dispute. Your reaction to that, please. Thank you.

Secretary-General:  First of all, Jane Lute has started consultations in order to create the conditions to prepare for a new meeting of the so‑called 5+1... I mean, plus the UN, which means the two Cypriot communities and the guarantors - Turkey, Greece and the UK. And we hope that this meeting will be possible, and we hope that this meeting will allow us to restart the discussions that took place in Crans‑Montana and that need to restart.

Obviously, in the context of these conversations and the context of these discussions, each party has the right to take the initiatives that each party wants. Our objective, at the present moment, is to be able to bring the parties together and to restart where we ended a few months ago.

Spokesman:  Thank you very much. Thank you.

Secretary-General:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Thank you. Thank you.

[Press Conference concludes at 12:52 p.m.]

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