On 20 September UN Secretary-General António Guterres told the opening meeting of the annual General Assembly debate that “Our world is in peril — and paralyzed” and urged Member States to develop common solutions grounded in goodwill, trust and human rights.
Our world is in big trouble. Divides are growing deeper. Inequalities are growing wider. Challenges are spreading farther.
But, as we come together in a world teeming with turmoil, an image of promise and hope comes to my mind. This ship is the Brave Commander. It sailed the Black Sea with the United Nations flag flying high and proud.
On the one hand, what you see is a vessel like any other plying the seas. But look closer. At its essence, this ship is a symbol of what we can accomplish when we act together. It is loaded with Ukrainian grain destined for the people of the Horn of Africa, millions of whom are on the edge of famine.
It navigated through a war zone — guided by the very parties to the conflict — as part of an unprecedented comprehensive initiative to get more food and fertilizer out of Ukraine and the Russian Federation: to bring desperately needed relief to those in need; to calm commodity markets, secure future harvests, and lower prices for consumers everywhere.
Ukraine and the Russian Federation — with the support of Türkiye — came together to make it happen — despite the enormous complexities, the naysayers, and even the hell of war. Some might call it a miracle on the sea. In truth, it is multilateral diplomacy in action.
The Black Sea Grain Initiative has opened the pathway for the safe navigation of dozens of ships filled with much needed food supplies. But each ship is also carrying one of today’s rarest commodities: hope.
We need hope — and more. We need action. To ease the global food crisis, we now must urgently address the global fertilizer market crunch. This year, the world has enough food; the problem is distribution. But if the fertilizer market is not stabilized, next year’s problem might be food supply itself.
We already have reports of farmers in West Africa and beyond cultivating fewer crops because of the price or lack of availability of fertilizers. It is essential to continue removing all remaining obstacles to the export of Russian fertilizers and their ingredients, including ammonia. These products are not subject to sanctions — and we will keep up our efforts to eliminate indirect effects.
Another major concern is the impact of high gas prices on the production of nitrogen fertilizers. This must also be addressed seriously. Without action now, the global fertilizer shortage will quickly morph into a global food shortage.
We need action across the board. Let’s have no illusions. We are in rough seas. A winter of global discontent is on the horizon. A cost-of-living crisis is raging. Trust is crumbling. Inequalities are exploding. Our planet is burning. People are hurting – with the most vulnerable suffering the most. The United Nations Charter and the ideals it represents are in jeopardy. We have a duty to act.
And yet we are gridlocked in colossal global dysfunction. The international community is not ready or willing to tackle the big dramatic challenges of our age. These crises threaten the very future of humanity and the fate of our planet. Crises like the war in Ukraine and the multiplication of conflicts around the globe. Crises like the climate emergency and biodiversity loss. Crises like the dire financial situation of developing countries and the fate of the Sustainable Development Goals. And crises like the lack of guardrails around promising new technologies to heal disease, connect people and expand opportunity.
In just the time since I became Secretary-General, a tool has been developed to edit genes. Neurotechnology — connecting technology with the human nervous system — has progressed from idea to proof of concept. Cryptocurrencies and other blockchain technologies are widespread.
But across a host of new technologies, there is a forest of red flags. Social media platforms based on a business model that monetizes outrage, anger and negativity are causing untold damage to communities and societies. Hate speech, misinformation and abuse — targeted especially at women and vulnerable groups — are proliferating.
Our data is being bought and sold to influence our behaviour, while spyware and surveillance are out of control — all, with no regard for privacy. Artificial intelligence can compromise the integrity of information systems, the media, and indeed democracy itself. Quantum computing could destroy cybersecurity and increase the risk of malfunctions to complex systems. We don’t have the beginnings of a global architecture to deal with any of this.
Progress on all these issues and more is being held hostage by geopolitical tensions. Our world is in peril and paralysed. Geopolitical divides are: undermining the work of the Security Council; undermining international law; undermining trust and people’s faith in democratic institutions; undermining all forms of international cooperation.
We cannot go on like this. Even the various groupings set up outside the multilateral system by some members of the international community have fallen into the trap of geopolitical divides, like in the G-20 [Group of 20]. At one stage, international relations seemed to be moving toward a G-2 world; now we risk ending up with G-nothing. No cooperation. No dialogue. No collective problem-solving.
But the reality is that we live in a world where the logic of cooperation and dialogue is the only path forward. No power or group alone can call the shots. No major global challenge can be solved by a coalition of the willing. We need a coalition of the world.