Covid-19 and Climate Change: Tough Times Ahead Warns UN Secretary

As he starts his second term as U.N. secretary-general, Antonio Guterres said Thursday the world is worse in many ways than it was five years ago because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the climate crisis and geopolitical tensions that have sparked conflicts everywhere — but unlike U.S. President Joe Biden he thinks Russia will not invade Ukraine.

Guterres said in an interview with The Associated Press that the appeal for peace he issued on his first day in the U.N.’s top job on Jan. 1, 2017 and his priorities in his first term of trying to prevent conflicts and tackle global inequalities, the Covid-19 crisis and a warming planet haven’t changed.

“The secretary-general of the U.N. has no power,” Guterres said. “We can have influence. I can persuade. I can mediate, but I have no power.”

Before he became U.N. chief, Guterres said he envisioned the post as being “a convener, a mediator, a bridge-builder and an honest broker to help find solutions that benefit everyone involved.”

He said Thursday these are things “I need to do every day.”

Guterres is scheduled to deliver a speech to the 193 U.N. member nations in the General Assembly on Friday on his priorities for 2022.

He singled out three immediate priorities that “are worrying me enormously”: the lack of vaccinations in large parts of the world, especially in Africa; the need to reduce emissions by 45% in this decade to try to meet the international goal of trying to limit future global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit); and the “extremely unjust” financial situation in the world that favors rich countries.

Many developing countries have very few resources, high debts that are growing and they pay much higher interest rates than in Europe or North America, have no vaccines, and disproportionately “suffer the impacts of climate change,” Guterres said.

“We need a deep reform in our international financial system in order to make sure that there is more justice in the way resources are available to allow for the recovery (from Covid-19) to be possible everywhere,” he said.

On another major issue, Guterres stressed that the Afghan people can’t be collectively punished for “wrong things that are done by the Taliban,” so it is absolutely essential to massively increase humanitarian aid “because the Afghans are in a desperate situation with the risks of deaths by hunger” and disease in a frigid winter with Covid-19.

“More than half the population is in desperate need of humanitarian aid,” he said, and money needs to be injected into the economy to ensure Afghan banks operate and doctors, teachers, engineers and other workers are paid to ensure human rights, especially women’s rights to work and girls’ education, are not affected.

The secretary-general said he will be attending the Beijing Olympics in February “which is not a political act” but “to be present when all the world comes together for good — for a peaceful message.”

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