UN chief calls for solidarity to confront COVID-19

Source: Xinhua Published: 2020/12/4 11:07:43

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres addresses a high-level UN meeting to mark the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons at the UN headquarters in New York, on Oct. 2, 2020. (Rick Bajornas/UN Photo/Handout via Xinhua)

 UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Thursday called for global solidarity and a sense of urgency to confront COVID-19.

"As this difficult year draws to a close, let's resolve to take the tough, ambitious decisions and actions that will lead to better days ahead. In a global crisis, we must meet the expectations of those we serve with unity, solidarity and coordinated global action," he told a UN General Assembly special session in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I call on you to take the opportunity of this special session of the General Assembly to confront the COVID-19 pandemic with the urgency it demands; to save lives; and to build a better future together."

Looking ahead, the recovery from COVID-19 must address the pre-existing conditions it has exposed and exploited, from gaps in basic services to an overheated planet, he said.

Stronger health systems, universal health coverage must be a priority. Social safety nets must work for everyone. A new social contract between people, governments, the private sector, civil society and more can tackle the roots of inequality with fair taxation on income and wealth, universal benefits, and opportunities for all, he said.

New investments must lay the groundwork for sustainable development and carbon neutrality, in line with the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement, he said.

"We cannot bequeath a broken planet and huge debts to future generations. The money we spend on recovery must go into building a greener, fairer future," he said.

There is hopeful news on the climate front. A global coalition is taking shape for net-zero emissions. By early next year, countries representing more than 65 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions are likely to have committed to carbon neutrality.

This sends a clear signal to markets, to investors and to decision-makers: act now to put a price on carbon; end fossil fuel subsidies; stop constructing new coal power plants; and invest in resilient infrastructure, he said. "2021 must be a leap year -- the year of a quantum leap toward net-zero emissions of greenhouse gasses."

Every country should enhance their Nationally Determined Contributions well in advance of the 2021 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, and in line with the long-term goal of global carbon neutrality by 2050, said Guterres.

Adaptation is an essential component of climate action. For Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States, it is an existential issue, he said. "I appeal to developed countries to fulfill their long-standing promise to provide 100 billion dollars annually to support developing countries in reaching our shared climate goals."

Early warning systems, climate-resilient infrastructure and agriculture can help avoid future losses while generating gains for biodiversity and other benefits for humankind, he said.

Guterres stressed the need for a post-2020 biodiversity framework to halt the extinction crisis to be established at the UN Biodiversity Conference in Kunming, China.

"We cannot separate climate action from global well-being, particularly biodiversity. It is time to end the suicidal war with our planet. 2021 must be a year to address our planetary emergency."

He also called for urgent action to protect and advance the health of the world's seas and oceans, saying overfishing must stop and chemical and solid waste pollution must be drastically reduced.

The social and economic impact of the pandemic is enormous, and growing. Thanks to the hard work and dedication of scientists and researchers from around the world, vaccines may become available within the next weeks and months, he said. "But let's not fool ourselves. A vaccine cannot undo damage that will stretch across years, even decades to come."

Extreme poverty is rising. The threat of famine looms. The world faces the biggest global recession in eight decades. And these inter-generational impacts are not due to COVID-19 alone. They are the result of long-term fragilities, inequalities and injustices that have been exposed by the pandemic.

"It is time to reset. As we build a strong recovery, we must seize the opportunity for change."

The Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-Accelerator), a global collaboration led by the World Health Organization (WHO) for the development of diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines has a finance gap of 28 billion US dollars, including 4.3 billion dollars urgently needed for the next two months, he noted.

From the start, the United Nations has called for a stimulus package worth at least 10 percent of global gross domestic product, and for debt relief for all countries that need it, he said. "I welcome the steps that have been taken to help developing countries. But they are totally insufficient for the scale of this crisis."

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, said Guterres.

He called for an increase in the resources available to the International Monetary Fund, through a new allocation of Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) to the benefit of developing countries, and a voluntary reallocation of unused SDRs.

He also expressed the hope that the Group of 20 debt relief initiatives will be broadened so that all vulnerable developing countries are eligible, including middle-income countries that need debt relief.

"In the longer term, we need a reformed global architecture to enhance debt transparency and sustainability."

For the first time since the founding of the United Nations in 1945, the entire world is confronted by a common threat, regardless of nationality, ethnicity or faith. But while COVID-19 does not discriminate, countries' efforts to prevent and contain it do, he said.

From the start, the WHO provided factual information and scientific guidance that should have been the basis for a coordinated global response. Unfortunately, these recommendations were not followed. Some countries continue to reject facts and ignore guidance. And when countries go in their own direction, the virus goes in every direction, Guterres lamented.


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