UN Headquarters

16 December 2021

Opening remarks at Secretary-General's end-of-year press encounter

António Guterres

Good afternoon.
This is my final opportunity to address you in 2021 – so let me begin by wishing you all happy holidays.  
We are coming to the end of a difficult year.  
The COVID-19 pandemic raged on.  Inequalities kept rising.   The burden for developing countries grew heavier – with diminishing resources for recovery, rising inflation and mounting debt.
To add fuel to the fire, we are still off track in addressing the climate crisis – another amplifier of global injustice and inequality.
I am deeply worried.
If things do not improve – and improve fast – we face even harder times ahead. 
COVID-19 is not going away.  It is becoming clear that vaccines alone will not eradicate the pandemic. 
Vaccines are averting hospitalization and death for the majority who get them and slowing the spread.  
But transmissions show no sign of letting up.  This is driven by vaccine inequity, hesitancy and complacency.
The United Nations has fully mobilized for COVID-19 response and recovery.  
Today, we are releasing a report that details our efforts over the past year across all sectors – from health to humanitarian to socio-economic action.
Two months ago, the WHO unveiled a strategy to vaccinate 40 per cent of people in all countries by the end of the year, and 70 per cent by the middle of next year.  
That strategy requires the total commitment of Member States – especially those with vaccine production capabilities or large supplies. 
But just days from the deadline, 98 countries have not been able to meet that end-of-year target. 
40 of them have not yet even been able to vaccinate 10% of their population.
In lower-income countries, less than 4 per cent of the population are fully vaccinated.  
And the vaccination rates in high-income countries are 8 times higher than in the countries of Africa.  
At current rates, Africa will not meet the 70 per cent threshold until August 2024.
Vaccine inequity is giving variants a free pass to run wild — ravaging the health of people and economies in every corner of the globe.  
We cannot defeat the pandemic in an uncoordinated way.  
All countries, especially those that have potential of responsibilities, must take concrete action in the coming days to make greater progress to achieve WHO’s global 40 per cent target, and be far more ambitious in their efforts to reach 70 per cent of people in all countries by the middle of 2022.
Dear friends, at the same time, countries and economies are getting squeezed from all sides – especially in the developing world.  
Lopsided COVID-19 recovery efforts are accelerating inequalities and increasing stresses on economies and people.

Advanced economies were able to mobilize nearly 28 per cent of their Gross Domestic Product into economic recovery.

For middle-income countries, that number fell to 6.5 per cent.

And even worse, it plummeted to 1.8 per cent for the least developed countries — a tiny percentage of a very small amount.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, the International Monetary Fund projects that cumulative economic growth per capita over the next five years will be 75 per cent less than the rest of the world.  This is unacceptable.  

Meanwhile, inflation here in the United States and in many other countries has risen to a 40-year high and we see it growing elsewhere.  
As the U.S. Federal Reserve indicated just yesterday, interest rates will rise with it – and that will place even greater fiscal constraints on the countries that need help the most.  
Defaults will become inevitable for lower income countries that already bear much higher borrowing costs.  
The need to service an ever-mounting and more expensive debt will leave developing countries with little fiscal space for recovery, job creation, climate action, reimagining education and reskilling and training workers, and so much more.  
Today’s global financial system is supercharging inequalities and instability. 
It is a system that allows credit rating agencies to undermine the credibility of developing countries with good growth prospects and vital development needs, and this obviously makes private finance become more risk averse. 

International financial institutions alone do not have sufficient capacities to compensate.
And the clear majority of Special Drawing Rights are distributed to the biggest and richest economies in a way that is far from being compensated by voluntary redistributions.  
Meanwhile, inequalities keep widening.  Social upheaval and polarization will be growing.  And the risks keep increasing.  
This is a powder keg for social unrest and instability. 
It poses a clear and present danger to democratic institutions.
It is time to clearly assume the need for reform of the international financial system.  
Everything I have described today reveals two governance failures that are also two moral failures.  
We have a serious governance problem with respect to the prevention, detection and response to pandemics.
And we have a serious governance problem in relation to the international financial system.
I am determined that 2022 must be the year in which we finally address the deficits in both governance systems.
And this is a central aspect of the common agenda.
In making those much-needed reforms, we will move to a much more fair, peaceful and sustainable world.  
We know how to make 2022 a happier and more hopeful new year.
We must do all it takes to make it happen.
Finally, let me say, my last visit of the year will take me to a country that is in the grip of all these challenges and worse.  
I look forward to traveling to Lebanon as my quarantine will end at the end of this week, at the invitation of the government on a state visit to express my solidarity with the Lebanese people who have suffered for far too long.  
And allow me a last word before I close.  
I want to take profit of this moment to express my deep gratitude to my Chief of Staff, Maria Luiza Viotti, who will be leaving us at the end of this month.  
Over the past five years, she has been instrumental in not only shaping our vision, but in helping us to realize it.  
On behalf of the entire United Nations system, I want to express profound appreciation and warmest wishes.  
Thank you to all of you and I am obviously at your disposal for a few questions.