United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has warned of a looming “great fracture” in the world, describing existing structures of global governance as unable to serve a changing world.
Addressing world leaders in the UN auditorium on Tuesday, Guterres called for sweeping changes to multilateral institutions, including reform of the powerful Security Council at the heart of the United Nations and an overhaul of global financial systems.
“The alternative to reform is not the status quo. The alternative to reform is further fragmentation,” he said. “It’s reform or rupture.”
“We are ever closer to a major fracture in economic and financial systems and trade relations,” he said. “One that threatens a single, open Internet, with divergent technology and AI strategies and potentially colliding security frameworks.”
Guterres described growing global multipolarity as heralding “new opportunities for fairness and balance in international relations” – acknowledging the rise of new world powers such as India and China and the growing bargaining power of regional blocs. But to ensure peace among nations in a multipolar arrangement, new and strengthened multilateral institutions are all the more important, he added.
The UN Security Council and the Bretton Woods agreement still reflect the unequal power relations of 1945, Guterres said, “when many countries in this assembly were still under colonial rule”.
The Security Council consists of five permanent members – the so-called USA, Great Britain, France, China, Russia – and 10 rotating members. Only one leader of the five permanent members – US President Joe Biden – decided to attend the UN General Assembly this year.
More than 50 UN countries have never been members of the Security Council.
Guterres’ speech touched on a long list of smoldering global issues, including bloody violence in Sudan, the Central African Republic and Haiti; oppression in Myanmar and Afghanistan; and the potential threats of limitless new technologies, including artificial intelligence.
It also paid considerable attention to climate change, Guterres’ main theme, with the Secretary-General targeting G20 countries for producing the majority of global emissions in rising global temperatures and calling on rich countries to provide billions in pledged funds to strengthen developing countries against climate threats.
Joining environmental activists around the world – and this week on the streets of New York – Guterres said: “To all who are working, marching and fighting for real climate action, I want you to know: You are on the right side of History. I’m with you.”
The Secretary-General’s speech echoed criticism that he had previously broadcast division in the world. In 2021, with parts of the world still plagued by Covid-19, Guterres said the world is “get an F in ethics.” In 2022, the Secretary-General warned the international community that “trapped in colossal global dysfunction” – although he pointed to the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which opened the way for the supply of Ukrainian grain to countries in need, as a crucial point of hope.
A year later, however, the grain agreement collapsed. And as Russia’s war in Ukraine shrinks, the geopolitical conditions for joint action to avert humanitarian and environmental catastrophes may seem more distant than ever.
“We have a level of division between the great powers that has no precedent since World War II,” Guterres noted in an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Monday before his speech.
All that has to bridge this divide, Amanpour said, is voice.
“The Secretary-General of the United Nations has no power and no money. What we have is a voice. And that voice can be loud. And I have a duty to do it out loud.”