UN Headquarters

28 January 2021

Opening remarks to the press following briefing to member states priorities for 2021

António Guterres

Good morning, good afternoon and good evening. I wish you all a happy and healthy start to the year.

My message today for 2021 is a message of hope and determination.

Hope, as I believe it is possible to change gear and put the world on the right track.

Determination, as we must all do everything we can to make it happen.

We have just lived through the most difficult year of my lifetime.

Our world was rocked on its axis in 2020.

The COVID-19 virus set off a global crisis that is still unfolding. This week, we passed the grim milestone of 100 million confirmed cases worldwide.

More than two million people have died. Behind those figures lies immeasurable loss and grief.

Some 500 million jobs have gone; trillions of dollars wiped from global balance sheets.

This human tragedy will reverberate for decades to come. Families, communities and countries are in mourning.

With some 600 thousand new cases every day, the future is still full of uncertainty. 

But we must chart a course ahead. 

In this spirit, earlier today I shared my ten priorities for 2021 with the General Assembly.

This must be the year when we put our world back on track towards peace, stability and opportunity for all.

Because it is clear that we have lost our way.

Those whose life chances were already reduced by inequality and injustice, based on income, race, gender and other forms of discrimination, are suffering most from the impact of COVID-19. 

Meanwhile, this week’s report by Oxfam found that the money accrued by the world’s ten richest billionaires during the crisis would be more than enough to prevent anyone from falling into poverty as a result of the pandemic. It could also pay for COVID-19 vaccinations for everyone, everywhere – with change to spare. 

If we fail to reverse these inequality trends, we are sowing dangerous seeds of discord, disunity and division for the future. 

The red flags have been apparent for some time. I, and others, have issued a series of global warnings and alerts. 

While the world has made enormous progress on poverty, hunger, health, education and gender equality over the past two decades, it has neglected critical global commons and global public goods: a healthy planet; a stable climate; universal health coverage; cyber security; effective global governance.    

The impact of that neglect is now starting to overwhelm and undermine the hard-won progress that we have made.

Hunger and poverty are rising for the first time in decades.

Women’s rights are going into reverse.

Hundreds of millions of children are missing out on education. 

Human rights are under assault.

Inequality is at obscene levels.

The global crisis triggered by COVID-19 is not some kind of Black Swan event. 

It was predictable and predicted. It is a symptom of neglect.

A crisis was always coming – but the world was not prepared.

Crisis provokes change.

Our challenge during this pivotal year is to make sure the change goes deep enough.

We must prioritize inequality, geopolitical divisions, widespread violations of human rights, the misuse of technology and the stagnation of the nuclear non-proliferation regime for urgent, coordinated global action.  

We need enhanced diplomacy for peace, and increased efforts for conflict prevention and resolution.

Dear friends,

Among the challenges we face, there are three global emergencies that demand immediate attention.

First, the distribution of vaccines for COVID-19. 

More than 70 million doses have been administered. Less than twenty thousand of these were on the African continent.

A global immunity gap puts everyone at risk.

If the virus continues to circulate in the Global South, it will inevitably mutate. New variants – and we are already seeing it - could be more deadly and more transmissible and threaten the effectiveness of current vaccines and diagnostics, prolonging or risking to prolong the pandemic significantly. 

Vaccine nationalism is an economic as well as a moral failure. The latest research by the International Chamber of Commerce shows that without support to the developing world, this crisis could cost the global economy up to US$9.2 trillion – almost half, including in the wealthiest countries. 

That figure is 340 times more than the $27 billion funding gap that we have now in the ACT-Accelerator – our best tool to make vaccines available to everyone, everywhere and speed up a global recovery. 

While every country has the right – and the duty – to protect its own people, no country can afford to neglect the rest of the world.

I thank the states and organizations that are supporting COVAX and the ACT-Accelerator and welcome the United States’ announcement that it will join them. 

We must close the funding gap; ramp-up vaccine production by making licenses widely available and sharing technology; and get doses into the arms of all who need them – starting with health workers and those most at risk around the world. 

We need a global vaccination campaign to deal with a global pandemic.

Dear friends,

The second area for urgent action is financial support for all countries that need it.

In today’s world, self-interest cannot be separated from solidarity.

The global economy is made up of an intricate web of transactions between developed and developing countries.

While the pandemic continues to disrupt supply chains, developed [economies] will not make a full recovery.

The implications are clear. For a fast and full recovery, the developed world should not only share vaccines equitably; it should support developing economies by ensuring continued liquidity, including through the issuance of Special Drawing Rights, and expanding debt relief to all developing countries and Middle-income countries in need of it. 

We need a quantum leap in financing from all sources, including private creditors to developing countries in the world. 

This is not an act of charity. It is economic common sense. 

Ladies and gentlemen,

The third global emergency is the climate crisis.

The recovery from the pandemic must embrace renewable energy and green and resilient infrastructure.

We have an opportunity to end our senseless war on nature and start the healing process.

At five minutes to midnight, Governments are finally starting to listen to scientists, businesses, cities, academia and in particular, the young people who have been global leaders on this issue.

Now, we need to build on that momentum.

The central objective of the United Nations for 2021 is to build a global coalition for carbon neutrality by 2050.

Every country, city, financial institution and company needs to adopt credible plans for transitioning to net zero emissions by 2050, and take decisive action now to put themselves on the right path.

Countries must review their Nationally Determined Contributions before COP26 in Glasgow to cut global greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent by 2030 compared with 2010 levels. 

We need to raise ambition across the board: in mitigation, but also in adaptation and finance.

But this in itself will not end our planetary emergency.

This year is packed with different international meetings in which we must:   

  • Halt the extinction crisis;
  • Approve a post-2020 global biodiversity framework;
  • Reduce energy waste and turbo-charge the shift to renewable energy;
  • End overfishing and drastically reduce maritime pollution including plastics;
  • Reduce food waste and dramatically transform the production and consumption of food. 

Dear friends,

We are at the start of a pivotal year for people and planet.

We must use the recovery from COVID-19 to address global fragilities, strengthen global governance, and deliver global public goods.

We have the chance of a reset.

We must grasp it. Thank you, and I am at your disposal for any question that you might be willing to ask.