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SG/SM/20278
24 September 2020

Secretary-General Warns against Continued Ad Hoc Responses to Foreseeable Risks, in Security Council Briefing on Post-Pandemic Global Governance

Following is UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ briefing to the Security Council on global governance post-COVID-19, held today:

Thank you for this opportunity to address the subject of global governance as it relates to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A microscopic virus is now the number one threat in our world.  The COVID-19 pandemic is a full-blown crisis in itself, unfolding against a backdrop of high geopolitical tensions and other global threats in unpredictable and dangerous ways.

The pandemic is a clear test of international cooperation — a test we have essentially failed.  It has killed nearly 1 million people around the world, infected over 30 million, and remains largely out of control.  This was the result of a lack of global preparedness, cooperation, unity and solidarity.

The seventy-fifth anniversary of the United Nations reminds us of the achievements of our founders — and calls on us to live up to their ambitions.  We urgently need innovative thinking on global governance and multilateralism, so that they are fit for the twenty-first century.

First and foremost, we need a networked multilateralism based on strong links and cooperation between global and regional organizations, international financial institutions and other global alliances and institutions.

Since I became Secretary-General, I have prioritized our strategic partnership with the African Union.  Our relations are characterized by shared values, mutual respect and common interests.  The African Union-United Nations partnership is a model we should emulate in our relationships with other regional organizations.  We now have a strong African Union-United Nations framework on peace and security on the continent.

I urge this Council to deepen our engagement by creating strong, formalized links and regular communications with the African Union’s Peace and Security Council.  This would enable the most effective division of labour, allowing for African Union peace enforcement and counter-terrorism operations, backed by Security Council mandates, with predictable funding guaranteed by assessed contributions.  That is the only way we will build the coalition we need to beat terrorism on the African continent and fulfil the African Union’s flagship initiative to “Silence the Guns”.

The United Nations also has a responsibility to improve the effectiveness of global governance.  Our focus on prevention, our efforts to enhance the peace and security architecture, the “Action for Peacekeeping” initiative in partnership with Member States, and our drive to end sexual exploitation and abuse across the United Nations system, are all aimed at meeting this challenge.

I welcome resolution 2532 (2020), adopted by the Security Council in July, in support of my appeal for an immediate global ceasefire.  We now need a united effort, led by this Council, to silence the guns around the world by the end of this year.

The primary responsibility for making global governance work lies with Member States, including those on this Council.  Reform of global governance cannot be a substitute for collective action by Member States to confront common challenges.

Conflict, human rights abuses, humanitarian crisis and stalled progress on development reinforce each other and are interlinked, while our global response is more and more fragmented.  We are not keeping pace with the world as it is.  The institutions of global governance should work together in coordination, to contain, mitigate and reduce risks of all kinds.  Networked multilateralism must extend beyond peace and security, encompassing the Bretton Woods institutions, development banks, trade alliances and more.

The pandemic is heightening risks across the board.  Humanitarian needs are growing, decades of progress on sustainable development are at stake, and social unrest is increasing.  Many of the countries in the global South have been left hanging, without financial and practical resources.  Some middle-income countries face a crushing debt burden as they try to respond to the crisis.

I have advocated from the start for a comprehensive global response package, and for coordinated action on debt, through the mobilization of all partners.  We also need greater resources for the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and enhanced support for the World Bank Group and other financial institutions and bilateral mechanisms.

In May, together with the Prime Ministers of Canada and Jamaica, I brought Heads of State and Government, leaders of international organizations, representatives from the private sector and civil society together to launch an initiative on financing for development in response to COVID-19 and in general.  This initiative is focusing on areas that are critical to survival and building a strong recovery, including global liquidity, financial stability and debt vulnerability, and I look forward to its conclusions next week.

But, we cannot continue to respond with such ad hoc solutions to systemic, foreseeable global risks.  This pandemic is a wake-up call for even more catastrophic challenges that may arise, starting with the climate crisis.  If we meet these with the same disunity and disarray we have seen this year, I fear the worst.  We need global governance that is resolute, coordinated, flexible and ready to react to the full range of challenges we face.  In a world of interconnected threats, solidarity is self-interest.

Many of the cross-border challenges we face today, from the climate crisis to rising inequality to cybercrime, involve interest groups, businesses, organizations and entire sectors that are outside traditional concepts of global governance.  These challenges cannot be addressed effectively by States alone.  We need to broaden our idea of global governance, to take in businesses, civil society, cities and regions, academia and young people.

International conventions are not the only way to reach binding agreements for the common good.  We need flexible mechanisms in which different stakeholders come together, adopt protocols and codes of conduct, define red lines and create conditions for successful cooperation which is particularly relevant in the digital world.

Global governance must also recognize our responsibilities to our planet and to future generations.  Civil society movements, particularly those led by young people, are global leaders on these issues.  Let’s face it:  global governance mechanisms until now have been exclusive, and the largest group left out in the cold is women — half of humanity.  Women watching this week’s general debate have a perfect right to feel that they are not represented, and their voices are not valued.  The COVID-19 pandemic has proven what is obvious:  women’s leadership is highly effective.  We cannot hope to turn the climate crisis around, reduce social divisions or make sustained peace without the full contributions of all of society.

Reformed global governance is about approaches and institutions, which must be reformed and strengthened.  We need more, and better, multilateralism that works effectively and delivers for the people we serve.  We need more, and better, global governance based on national sovereignty and expressed through our shared ideals, eloquently expressed in the United Nations Charter.

The pandemic has illustrated beyond dispute the gaps in our multilateral system.  As countries go in different directions, the virus goes in every direction.  A rational and equitable approach to vaccination would reduce preventable deaths by prioritizing frontline workers and the most vulnerable.  But, we have struggled to mobilize the resources needed to ensure a vaccine as a global public good, available and affordable to all.

We urgently need multilateral institutions that can act decisively, based on global consent, for the global good.  And we need multilateral institutions that are fair, with better representation of the developing world, so that all have a proportional voice at the global table.

The General Assembly Declaration on the Seventy-fifth Anniversary of the United Nations has created space for a process of reflection on the future of multilateral cooperation on the post-COVID world.  I will report back with analysis and recommendations, guided by a common thread of solidarity within and between societies at the national and international levels, and with future generations.

Our world is no longer bipolar or unipolar; it is moving towards multipolarity.  We experienced fragmentation and polarization without effective mechanisms of multilateral governance 100 years ago.  The result was the First World War, followed by the second.  COVID-19 is casting a dark shadow across the world.  But, it is also a warning that must spur us to action.  We have no choice.  Either we come together in global institutions that are fit for purpose, or we will be crushed by divisiveness and chaos.

For information media. Not an official record.