Guterres warns of “a winter of discontent” due to the war in Ukraine, inflation and inequalities | International
The conflict in Ukraine, the rise in food and energy prices, global warming and, above all, the deep divisions and inequalities that run through the world have laid the groundwork for a “perfect storm”. In a somber intervention, UN Secretary-General António Guterres opened the week of leaders’ debates at the 77th UN General Assembly on Tuesday with a warning: “A winter of discontent looms on the horizon.”
The annual conclave of leaders from around the world at the United Nations headquarters is the first face-to-face meeting after two years of virtual or highly restricted meetings due to the coronavirus pandemic. But the atmosphere is far from festive on the banks of the Hudson River. The war in Ukraine, and its global consequences – the rise in food and raw material prices, especially – figure in every intervention, in most bilateral meetings, in informal huddles.
The announcement by the pro-Russian separatists that they will call annexation referendums in the occupied areas of Ukraine comes up again and again (“They cannot be accepted”, comments German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, “they are not covered by international law or agreements of the international community”). In a room, the Ukrainian foreign minister, Dmitro Kuleba, talks with the US ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield. The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, speaks in a video call with Volodímir Zelenski, immediately before his intervention in the plenary. In another aside, it is the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, who speaks with his Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Cavosoglu.
The war has accentuated divisions that already existed. Among the countries of the so-called Global South, boredom with a conflict in which their role is almost exclusively that of paying the consequences, in the form of inflation and increased poverty, is evident in many cases. In the West, attention remains focused on a war that has driven up the cost of energy.
Initiatives such as a special summit on food security, launched by the United States and co-chaired by Spain, among other nations, seek to offer solutions. A Western acknowledgment of the seriousness of the problem and the growing fatigue and discontent in the South regarding the conflict. In his intervention, which closed the morning session, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, stressed the need to prevent the “fracture” between north and south.
The French head of state was especially harsh towards the Russian invasion, which he considered to threaten “a return to the era of imperialism”. And he criticized those governments that explicitly or tacitly support Moscow. “Those who remain silent contribute unwittingly, or with a certain secret complicity, to the cause of a new imperialism, of a contemporary cynicism that threatens our international order, without which peace is not possible,” he insisted.
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Guterres summed up the global situation in his speech: “The purchasing power crisis is unleashed, confidence is crumbling, inequalities are skyrocketing, our planet is burning. People suffer, especially the most vulnerable.” And when action is most needed, “we are blocked by a colossal global dysfunction”, he lamented. “These crises endanger the very future of humanity and the destiny of the planet… we do not feed illusions. We are in a big tidal wave.”
Absent from the agenda was US President Joe Biden on this first day of debates. Although tradition dictates that the intervention of the tenant of the White House be the second on the inaugural day, immediately after Brazil, the Democratic president has delayed his participation until Wednesday, due to his presence at the state funeral of Queen Elizabeth II of England in London on Monday.
Ukraine will also intervene on Wednesday, in a video speech by Zelensky. The countries approved, in a vote on Friday, this special participation, despite the opposition of Russia. On Thursday, the Security Council foreign ministers will hold a special session to address the situation in the country invaded by Russia.
fight against climate change
The discontent to which Guterres alluded also extends to the management of the fight against climate change. As the Chilean president, Gabriel Boric, pointed out, the countries of the Global South are disproportionately affected by global warming, when they are little responsible for polluting emissions. 80% of them come from the member countries of the G-20, the club that brings together the largest economies on the planet. And developing countries are increasingly waiting impatiently for the richest to deliver on their promises of financial aid.
With barely two months to go before the UN climate summit, COP27, in Egypt, “climate action has taken a backseat,” the secretary general acknowledged in his speech.
In a gesture acknowledging the unease of developing nations, Guterres has called for rich countries to tax the profits of big energy companies, which have seen their revenues skyrocket due to the crisis in Ukraine. The funds obtained with these taxes should be used to alleviate the “damages and losses” of the countries affected by climate change and the inflation in the prices of food and basic necessities.
The discontent has caused a common call to be repeated over and over again in the speeches of the leaders: that of the reform of the UN. One after another, almost every participant in the first session has called for changes to the institution, so that its structure no longer represents the world as it was 70 years ago. That, instead, it be recognized that the current reality has more protagonists.
“The world is bigger than just five [países], and a fairer representation is possible”, claimed Erdogan in his speech. He was alluding to the five permanent members of the UN Security Council — the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, China and France — and their veto power. “The reform of the UN is mandatory, innovative solutions are necessary,” claimed the Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro.
The conclave also has significant absences. Neither the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, is scheduled to appear; nor the Chinese, Xi Jinping. Both did opt to hold their own summit last week in Uzbekistan. Their respective representatives will speak for them before the General Assembly this Saturday.
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