13 May 2021

Remarks to Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO)

António Guterres

Magnificent Rector,

Now an explanation about this title. The University of Coimbra is the oldest university of Portugal and one of the oldest universities in Europe, created in the 14th century. The University of Coimbra is the only university in my country where the rector is always, when greeted, called Magnificent Rector – Magnífico Reitor. So it is my pleasure to call you in this session exactly the same title that is given to the Magnífico Reitor of the University of Coimbra of which I also have the honor to be an honorary doctor. And so this is the tribute I pay to the quality, the excellence of this university.

Dear professors and dear students,

I am particularly happy to be with you today because the model UN in this university is named, paying tribute to Vitaly Churkin. Vitaly Churkin was one of the best, if not the best, diplomat I have ever met. He was extraordinary in defending the interests of the Russian Federation, but also extraordinary in promoting the values of the UN, in particular, the UN Charter. And he was an extremely effective diplomat.

I have a particular debt of gratitude towards Vitaly Churkin because it was him that, coming out of a Security Council meeting, announced that the Security Council has decided unanimously to support my candidacy as Secretary-General of the United Nations. And so, one reason more for me to be extremely happy to be with all of you today.

I was invited by Foreign Minister Lavrov to visit Moscow and I gladly accepted,  and I gladly accepted to do it just a few days after Victory Day. And I want to express to all the Russians, and all those that come from countries of the former Soviet Union, my warm congratulations on the celebration of Victory Day, a landmark in the history of the continent and the history of the world.

Your warm hospitality feels like a real Russian “bread and salt” welcome.

I am very humbled by the award, the title that you have given me, that I must accept also on behalf of the United Nations, which continues to work all over the globe for peace, for sustainable development and for human rights.

And today I would like to list some of the common challenges we face and, humbly, my vision in relation to the way to tackle them.

First, the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19 is a health emergency, an economic disaster and also a human rights crisis rolled into one.

Now with the roll out of vaccines that is a symbol light at the end of the tunnel. Our immediate focus must be to ensure that everyone everywhere can be vaccinated as soon as possible.

And I was happy just before coming to, once again, encourage the UN staff to take profit of the generous offer of the Russian Government, both in the Russian Federation and in other countries that use the Sputnik vaccine, to encourage UN staff to be vaccinated with the Sputnik vaccine. And I was happy to once again see confirmed by Minister Lavrov and by President Putin that the Russian Federation is cooperating with many other countries around the world, distributing these vaccines in order to contribute for this global vaccination everywhere.

But unfortunately, many low-income countries have yet to receive a single dose, even if COVAX, the global vaccine equity mechanism, has started delivery, including to some of the lowest-income of them.

COVID-19 vaccines must be seen as a global public good.

And the world needs to unite to produce and distribute sufficient vaccines for all, which means at least doubling manufacturing capacity around the world.

The United Nations is also aware of the dramatic economic and social impact of COVID-19 and they have been calling for debt relief, where needed.

Many countries are now facing terrible choices, either to repay their debt or to address the dramatic economic and social needs of their population impacted by COVID-19.

It is essential that creditor countries and credit institutions and the private sector come together with the mechanisms of debt relief that allow for those countries to be able to make the right choice, to address the dramatic needs of their populations and not to be in situation in which they will not able to do so because the only thing they can do is to pay, sometimes with very high interest rates, the debts that have accumulated.

We are also pressing for a recovery that addresses inequalities and fragilities that the pandemic has so starkly put on display, which feed global instability, discontent, social unrest and, in some situations, conflict itself.

Dear friends,

COVID-19 has created an opportunity and a momentum for change. 

The recovery is our chance to reengineer our future. And your university has been in the centre of the Russian commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals and the Russian commitment to sustainable development that, at the same time, addresses the interests of your economy, the interests of nature and the interests of the planet.

And that brings me to a second point of the COVID-19, and that is the threat of climate disruption.

The climate crisis is poised to reverse hard-won development gains, exacerbating poverty and conflict in many regions.

And we cannot let that happen.

We need to make peace with nature and promote more ambitious climate action.

That means an equal emphasis on reducing greenhouse emissions and promoting adaptation and resilience.

Today, vast sums are being mobilized to revitalize economies in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Those investments can place the world on a more sustainable path by advancing a just transition to renewable energy, creating green jobs and promoting green infrastructure.

I am encouraged by the growing momentum for carbon neutrality by mid-century. Countries representing 73 per cent of emissions have committed to net zero emissions by the middle of the century.

Net zero means that they compensate with the sinking of carbon the emissions that still are being produced.

And the Russian Federation with its huge forest cover is particularly well-placed in relation to that capacity to absorb carbon.

We need all countries to close the mitigation gap further by COP26, and G20 countries must lead the way.

We must also achieve a breakthrough on adaptation and resilience.

The adaptation financing gap remains huge.

Donors and multilateral development banks must increase the share of adaptation finance from 21 per cent today to at least 50 per cent by 2024.

Adaptation cannot be neglected, because it represents half of the climate equation. And for many countries in the world, climate change is already there, having dramatic impacts in floods, in storms of all kinds, in forest fires, in the end of the permafrost, of risks to end the permafrost, in glaciers disappearing; In terrible storms that have an intensity, a frequency and a devastation that have no parallel in human history.

Finally, we have been instating on the need of developed countries to meet all financial commitments, namely in the Paris Agreement, including their pledge to mobilize $100 billion dollars annually for climate action in developing countries.

Allow me to say a few words on peace and security, that, as you know, is in the centre of the UN mandate.

As Yuri Gagarin famously said during his orbital flight - and I have just seen his statue when coming to the University - I quote, “Looking at the Earth form afar, you realize it’s too small for conflict, and just big enough for cooperation”.

I welcome Russia’s constructive engagement on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament.

Nuclear weapons remain an existential threat to all.

But we must also be aware that conflicts around the world are becoming increasingly complex and protracted and frequently associated with the spread of terrorism.

And I have with me Vladimir Voronkov, that is today the head of the Office of Counter-Terrorism of the United Nations, an office created already during my first mandate, my mandate as Secretary-General, and an office that has completely dynamized the capacity of the UN to support member states in their fight against terrorism and in the creation of conditions and capacities to address the challenges of violent extremism that can lead to terrorism.

A number of countries are in a vicious cycle in which conflict breeds poverty and fragility, which, in turn, decreases the resilience of the societies and the prospects for peace.

I am concerned, that international conflict management mechanisms are stretched to the breaking point.

Geostrategic divides and dysfunctional power relations are making conflict resolution more difficult. 

There is a widening discontent between governments and their people, declining public trust in institutions, threats to democracy, and rising anger at political establishment and elites.

In these volatile times it has never been more urgent to get at the roots of these divisions and ills.

Our guide, as ever, is the 2030 Agenda with its 17 Sustainable Development Goals that are at the centre of the teaching of this University.

We have less than 10 years now to meet the deadline.

We urgently need to turbocharge the Decade of Action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and a more equitable world.

And for that, we need massive investment and a new approach to financing.

We also need an effective, networked inclusive multilateralism with improved coordination among global and regional organizations, and based on growing interaction with civil society, businesses, local authorities and others.

In these areas, the Russian Federation has played and will go on playing an important role.

I am deeply concerned with the worsening relations between key global actors.

Trust – which is an essential prerequisite for collective action – has been affected by growing divisions and it needs to be urgently rebuilt.

I count on the leadership of our most influential Member States, through words and actions.

I call for stepped up dialogue, for mutual respect, for the capacity to listen to each other’s legitimate concerns and for avoiding hostile rhetoric and actions that lead down the spiral of worsening relations.

And particularly, we need to reach greater harmony and agreement in the Security Council to enable us to resolve and – most importantly – to prevent conflicts.

We will do this by cleaving to our common agenda defined by the SDGs and backed as always by the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

When I took office, human rights were under threat around the world.

That is why I issued a Call to Action for Human Rights just before the world went into lockdown in the face of the pandemic.

In 2023, we will commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and 30 years of the Vienna Declaration and the Programme of Action.

That will be a suitable moment to take stock.

One of the most pressing issues for human rights, and for sustainable development as a whole, is gender equality and the rights of women and girls.

Gender inequality and discrimination against women and girls are perhaps the most overwhelming global injustice.

That is why I will continue to speak out strongly for women’s rights.

When women and girls have the same rights and opportunities as men and boys, our world will be a much more peaceful and sustainable home for us all.

In conclusion, we face a multitude of global challenges that can only be addressed by working together in common cause.

I will count on Russia remaining a key player in everything we do.

I look forward to a constructive dialogue among nations and an interesting dialogue with the distinguished members of this audience.

Thank you very much.