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Make 2021 a year of possibility and hope, UN chief tells General Assembly

Outlining his priorities for the months ahead, Mr. Guterres emphasized that now is the time to secure the well-being of people, economies, societies and the planet. 

From tragedy to transformation 

“2020 brought us tragedy and peril. 2021 must be the year to change gear and put the world on track”, he said, speaking from the podium in the General Assembly Hall. 

“We need to move from death to health; from disaster to reconstruction; from despair to hope; from business as usual, to transformation.” 

The Secretary-General has called for a global reset as the world continues to reel from the COVID-19 pandemic, which has claimed more than two million lives and some 500 million jobs. 

He said the crisis is an opportunity for change, stating “We can move from an annus horribilis to make this an ‘annus possibilitatis’ – a year of possibility and hope.” 

Vaccine solidarity a top priority 

Ensuring equal access to newly developed COVID-19 vaccines is the first step in the transformation, but here the world is falling short. 

“Vaccines are reaching a handful of countries quickly, while the poorest countries have none. Science is succeeding — but solidarity is failing”, the UN chief said. 

Calling vaccines “the first great moral test before us”, Mr. Guterres urged countries to step up support to the COVAX Facility, the international coalition working to make these treatments available and affordable to all. 

“There is only one victor in a world of vaccine haves and vaccine have-nots: the virus itself”, he stressed. 

Inclusive and sustainable recovery 

However, the world cannot heal if economies are on life support, the Secretary-General continued, underscoring how post-pandemic recovery must be both inclusive and sustainable. 

Countries must invest now in sectors such as health, social protection, employment, and education. 

Mr. Guterres was concerned about developing nations, which have lost out hugely on remittances and tourism revenue due to the crisis, and he highlighted the need for debt relief and financial support. 

“Recovery must also be sustainable — embracing renewable energy, and green and resilient infrastructure,” he added.  “Otherwise, we will lock in harmful practices for decades to come.” 

© FAO/Luis Tato
An agro-pastoralist woman waters a crop in Amudat, Uganda.

A ‘critical year’ for climate action 

Making peace with nature is another top priority for 2021, which the Secretary-General described as “a critical year” for climate and biodiversity. 

“I call on every city, company and financial institution to adopt concrete roadmaps with clear intermediary milestones to get to carbon neutrality by 2050.  Key sectors such as shipping, aviation, industry and agriculture must do the same”, he said. 

Mr. Guterres challenged countries to phase out coal power over the next two decades, and to end subsidies for fossil fuels, urging them to “shift the tax burden from income to carbon, from taxpayers to polluters”.  

The UN chief again expressed solidarity with developing nations, particularly small island developing states confronting the existential threat of climate change. 

“Their territories could disappear within our lifetimes”, he warned. “We must never allow any Member State to be forced to fold its flag because of a problem that is within our power to fix.” 

Fight neo-Nazism and racism 

With extreme poverty and hunger rising, the pandemic has worsened inequalities and injustices. Human rights and basic freedoms are also under threat, as women, girls, minorities and LGBTI people experience chronic discrimination and violence. 

In welcoming new momentum in the global fight for racial justice, the Secretary-General underlined the UN’s commitment to promoting tolerance. 

“We must all stand up against the surge of neo-Nazism and white supremacy”, he said. 

“The United Nations will never veer from its commitment to fight racism and discrimination.  There is no place for racism within our Organization – and we will continue our work to root it out.”

Immediately after the General Assembly meeting, the UN chief briefed reporters at UN Headquarters. You can watch the full event below:

Guterres hails entry into force of treaty banning nuclear weapons

António Guterres said that the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) also represents a “strong demonstration of support for multilateral approaches to nuclear disarmament” overall.

‘Tragic testimonies’ of survivors

In a video message and statement, the UN chief commended the States that have ratified the Treaty and welcomed the “instrumental role of civil society in advancing the TPNW’s negotiation and entry into force”.

“The survivors of nuclear explosions and nuclear tests offered tragic testimonies and were a moral force behind the Treaty. Entry into force is a tribute to their enduring advocacy”, he said. 

Mr. Guterres said he was looking forward to guiding the UN’s response according the Treaty, including preparations for the first official Meeting of States Parties.

Growing dangers

“Nuclear weapons pose growing dangers and the world needs urgent action to ensure their elimination and prevent the catastrophic human and environmental consequences any use would cause”, said the UN chief.

“The elimination of nuclear weapons remains the highest disarmament priority of the United Nations. The Secretary-General calls on all States to work together to realize this ambition to advance common security and collective safety.”

The TPNW secured the 50 ratifications it needed to then enter into force, at the end of last October. The campaigners who had steered momentum towards Friday’s milestone moment, described it then as “a new chapter for nuclear disarmament”.

The accord was approved initially by 122 nations at the UN General Assembly in 2017, but it was civil society groups led by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) which had put in the “decades of activism” to secure the number of countries required to make it a reality.

Nuclear powers silent

So far however, the main nuclear powers of the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, China and France, have not signed the accord.

It declares that countries ratifying it must “never under any circumstances develop, test, produce, manufacture or otherwise acquire, possess or stockpile nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.”

In a statement released last October by the civil society and campaign umbrella group ICAN – which won the Nobel Peace Prize for its work in 2017 – it said that once the treaty comes into force, all States’ parties will need to follow through on their promises, and abide by its prohibitions.

As COVID deaths pass two million worldwide, Guterres warns against self-defeating ‘vaccinationalism'

“Behind this staggering number are names and faces: the smile now only a memory, the seat forever empty at the dinner table, the room that echoes with the silence of a loved one”, Mr. Guterres said.

Solidarity, to save more souls

 “In the memory of those two million souls, the world must act with far greater solidarity,” he added.

Since its discovery at the end of December 2019, COVID-19 has now spread to all corners of the world, with cases in 191 countries and regions. Deaths due to the disease reached the grim milestone of one million only in September.

 In addition, the socio-economic impact of the pandemic has been massive, with countless jobs and livelihoods lost globally, and millions pushed into poverty and hunger.

 A ‘vaccine vacuum’

 Mr. Guterres went on to note that though safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines are being rolled out, disparity continue between nations.

 “Vaccines are reaching high income countries quickly, while the world’s poorest have none at all,” he said, adding that “some countries are pursuing side deals, even procuring beyond need.”

 The UN chief went on to note that while governments have a responsibility to protect their populations, “‘vaccinationalism’ is self-defeating and will delay a global recovery.”

 “COVID-19 cannot be beaten one country at a time,” he stressed. Mr. Guterres called on countries to commit now to sharing any excess doses of vaccines, to help urgently vaccinate health workers around the world and prevent health systems from collapsing.

He also reiterated the need to ensure full funding for the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT Accelerator) and its COVAX facility, to make vaccines available and affordable to all.

Proven steps

At the same time, people must remember and practice “simple and proven” steps to keep each other safe: wearing masks, physically distancing, avoiding crowds, and hand hygiene.

 “Our world can only get ahead of this virus one way – together. Global solidarity will save lives, protect people and help defeat this vicious virus”, added Mr. Guterres.

Guterres to seek second five-year term as UN Secretary-General

Briefing correspondents at UN Headquarters in New York, his Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric, confirmed that the President of the General Assembly, had written to the UN chief, asking if he intended to run for the top job again.

In accordance with Article 97 of the UN Charter, the appointment is made by the General Assembly, on the recommendation of the Security Council, which in effect means that any of the five permanent members (P5) can veto the nominee. Each Secretary-General has the option of a second term, provided they can muster enough support from Member States.

Mr. Guterres secured the position in 2016, going through a reformed selection process that included a public informal dialogue session in the General Assembly, involving civil society representatives, where each of the 13 candidates presented vision statements, and took questions.

“In a response to the President of the General Assembly, who had enquired last Friday about the Secretary-General’s intentions regarding a second mandate”, Mr. Dujarric told journalists, “the Secretary-General conveyed to him today that he is available to serve a second term as Secretary-General of the United Nations, if that would be the will of the Member States.”

Mr. Dujarric said that the UN chief had informed the Security Council, and the heads of regional groups of his decision, and that it was too early to gauge any reaction from Member States at this stage, or speculate about any other potential candidates.

Process formally underway

Brenden Varma, Spokesperson for Volkan Bozkir, President of the General Assembly, confirmed that the presidents of the Assembly and the Security Council, would be discussing the Secretary-General selection process, at a regular meeting on Tuesday.

The next move to formally kickstart the process, will be a joint letter from the two presidents, sent to Member States.

He noted in response to questions, that under the new “inclusive and transparent” selection process begun in 2016, “this is the first time that we have actually seen an incumbent” put themselves forward for re-election, and more details would be forthcoming later in the week.

UN chief highlights need for climate action, pandemic response, in commemorating 75th anniversary of the General Assembly

António Guterres was speaking on Sunday during a virtual event to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the first meeting of the UN General Assembly, which was held in London.

 “The work of the General Assembly has helped to boost global health, literacy, and living standards, and to promote human rights and gender equality,” he said, reflecting on some of its accomplishments since then.

Delivering for the world’s people

The General Assembly is familiarly known as the world’s town hall. 

It is the place where UN Member States can peacefully address their differences and find solutions to global challenges, according to the current President, Volkan Bozkir of Turkey.

“Over the past 75 years, we have achieved more together than we could have apart,” he said in a video message for the online commemoration, which was co-hosted by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office of the United Kingdom.

“As we move into the next 75 years and our world becomes ever more connected, let us tighten those bonds, so we can best protect and deliver for the peoples we serve.”

While the international community can be proud of its collective accomplishments, the Secretary-General stressed the need for greater action in the face of pressing issues, including the pandemic. 

Nearly two million COVID-19 deaths have been reported worldwide as of Sunday, according to data from the World Health Organization (WHO).

‘A human tragedy’

The Secretary-General has frequently spoken of how the crisis has exposed inequalities and fragilities, both within and among countries, including threats to women and girls. It has further highlighted serious gaps in global cooperation and solidarity.

“We have seen this most recently in vaccine nationalism, as some rich countries compete to buy vaccines for their own people, with no consideration for the world’s poor,” he said.

Meanwhile, global response to the climate emergency has been “utterly inadequate,” he added.

UN Photo/Mark Garten
The UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, attends a virtual meeting marking the 75th anniversary of the first United Nations General Assembly which took place in London in January 1946.

Climate action a top priority

Although the UN chief described the pandemic as “a human tragedy”, he emphasized that it can be an opportunity to achieve a more sustainable and equitable world, as outlined in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

“The central objective of the United Nations this year is to build a global coalition for carbon neutrality by the middle of the century. We need meaningful cuts now, to reduce global emissions by 45 per cent by 2030, compared with 2010 levels,” he said.

Mr. Guterres also reported that a global survey conducted last year revealed climate action is a top priority for the world’s people, more than 1.5 million of whom shared their hopes and fears as part of events marking the UN’s 75th anniversary.

Find new ways

People worldwide also want to see better access to healthcare, education, safe water and sanitation, according to the survey.  The majority, or a staggering 97 per cent, called for improved international cooperation to address global challenges.

UK Minister of State, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, acknowledged the collective concern over the damaging impact of climate change on the natural environment and global security.

“We all need to find new ways of doing things, so our progress is not at the expense of our planet but by us working together,” he said, recalling that the UK will co-host the latest global climate change conference, known as COP26,  to be held in Glasgow, Scotland, in November.  

Dialogue with youth 

Following the official segment, the Secretary-General answered questions from several young people working in areas such as climate action, gender equality, global health and peace.

Josie Naughton, co-founder of Choose Love, an organization that supports people displaced by conflict or persecution, asked about his appeal for a global ceasefire during the pandemic. She wondered if it could be a reality.

Mr. Guterres reported on tentative progress, including in Syria, Libya and South Sudan, but noted that conflict still rages in places such as Yemen.  He cited mistrust and “spoilers”, or external involvement in a country’s affairs, as obstacles to peace.

“Look at Libya: the spoilers are making it much more difficult to move forward after the ceasefire into a political solution. And we need to make sure that we are able to put an end to this kind of interference of countries that undermine the possibility of those that are in conflict in one country to come together,” he said.

The Secretary-General underscored the importance of a unified UN Security Council, and for major powers to overcome their differences and work together.

“We need a strong Security Council able to take decisions and to implement them to make sure the ceasefires that are declared are implemented, and those that have not yet been possible become possible.”
 

UN mourns ‘legendary’ official, Sir Brian Urquhart dies at 101 

Expressing his deep sadness over Sir Brian’s passing, Mr. Guterres offered his condolences to the family of the “legendary long-time United Nations official” as well as to his “legions of admirers within and beyond” the UN.  

A life well lived 

Mr. Urquhart joined the UN at its birth in 1945.  

“Sir Brian’s imprint on the United Nations was as profound as that of anyone in the Organization’s history”, Mr. Guterres said. 

Until his retirement in 1986, the long-serving official worked as a principal adviser to five UN secretaries-general, directed 13 peacekeeping operations, recruited 10,000 troops from 23 countries and instituted peacekeeping as one of the core tenets of the Organization. 

“He set the standard for the international civil service: dedicated and impartial”, the UN chief continued.   

“As an aide to Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld, he helped to define the UN’s scope of action in addressing armed conflict and other global challenges. And as a close associate of Ralph Bunche, the renowned UN official and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Sir Brian helped to establish and then propel international peacekeeping into wide-ranging use”. 

Life-long optimist 

In his memoir, A Life in Peace and War, about the UN’s earliest days, Sir Brian wrote: “We were all optimists…who believed in the possibility of organizing a peaceful and just world”.  

“Across the decades, in service to several of my predecessors, Sir Brian[’s]… involvement in global affairs continued well after the end of his UN career through extensive writings that included definitive biographies of Hammarskjöld and Bunche”, said the UN chief.   

And Mr. Urquhart maintained that optimism across his life, shaping the United Nations and history itself.   

“He was also a mentor for UN staff and countless young people as they pursued their careers”, said the Secretary-General. “We are grateful for his brilliant and incomparable contributions as a stalwart servant of ‘we the peoples’”.  

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General Assembly approves $3.2 billion UN budget for 2021

The General Assembly body dealing with UN administrative and budgetary matters (Fifth Committee) had discussed and approved the budget this afternoon before the plenary voted in favour of the financial plan. 

Back in October, the UN chief had proposed a programme budget of $2.99 billion – a net reduction of 2.8 per cent over 2020. 

Secretary-General António Guterres had told the Fifth Committee that despite the pandemic and liquidity crunch, “our new processes and structures have proven instrumental in enabling us to remain open and function effectively…we are running this Organization from thousands of dining tables and home offices”. 

A look back 

“We worked together to build consensus, exercise prudence and flexibility, at a critical time in history”, General Assembly President Volkan Bozkir told the final plenary of the year. 

He reflected on some of the 75 plenary meetings that were convened in the Assembly Hall, including the General Debate, Biodiversity Summit, 31st Special Session in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and high-level meetings on the 25th Anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women. 

Mr. Bozkir observed that the Assembly’s performance throughout this difficult year was a testament to the high caliber of diplomacy practiced in the Hall, which also encompassed efforts to ensure a more gender-inclusive chamber.   

“In 2020, the General Assembly continued to lead on the world stage and fully function, in order to implement its mandates…to meet the needs of the people we serve”, he said. 

New Year’s resolutions 

Discussing resolutions for the new year, the Assembly President urged the Member States to harness multilateralism to end the COVID-19 pandemic and “address the needs of those furthest behind first”. 

He pushed for actions towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), while ‘greening the blue’ and noted that despite the pandemic, “climate change continues to destabilize the world”.   

Because the Assembly Hall is one of the few rooms in UN Headquarters with the capacity to facilitate social distancing, Mr. Bozkir upheld that it would continue to open its doors to UN bodies “to live up to our promise, to create the UN we need for the future we want”. 

And finally, he encouraged the Ambassadors to create a better future by joining him in re-committing to the UN Charter and strengthening multilateralism. 

“Our work here in the General Assembly requires us to recognize the great responsibility placed upon us by the people we serve”, he stated and called it “our solemn duty” to engage in constructive dialogue to pursue the UN’s noble goals of universal peace, human rights and sustainable development. 

This story will be updated later. 

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We all have a role to play for a better tomorrow, UN Assembly President says in New Year message

In a message for the New Year, Assembly President Volkan Bozkir said that each individual, community, and country has a role to play, locally and globally, to reduce inequalities, protect the most vulnerable people, and create more just, safer societies 

“‘We the peoples’ are resilient,” he highlighted, referring to preambular words of the United Nations Charter. 

“Together, we can build peace around the world, uphold the human rights, and inherent dignity of every person, and implement the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).” 

Looking out for each other 

Mr. Bozkir also recalled the challenges humanity faced in 2020, and hoped for a better 2021.  

“We can be proud that, as individuals, we looked out for our neighbours over the past year,” he said, adding: 

“We have made it through a dark period in history, but there are brighter days ahead in 2021, as we begin the roll out of vaccines for all, which will be fundamental to our collective efforts, to safeguard humanity.” 

Power to achieve impossible 

The General Assembly President also applauded the “power of humanity” to achieve what may seem impossible, “just like the founders of the United Nations did seventy-five years ago.” 

“In 2021, there is only one New Year’s resolution that has the power to change the course of history, and that is, to work together to create a better world for all,” he said. 

Looking back at 2020, In Case You Missed It

Confined to our homes, we continued to inform you about the UN’s work worldwide, with the pandemic adding to a seemingly un-ending list of crises the Organization had to confront and help find solutions for.   

Zoom meetings and webinars replaced in-person negotiations, and the General Assembly’s annual debate, the so called “diplomatic Superbowl”, also moved virtual, but we had it covered. 

We brought you stories of challenges and of hope, and we took on the “virus of misinformation” in order to help inoculate societies globally through our Social Media-based Verified campaign. 

And with this epochal year coming to an end, here’s a look back at some of our multimedia coverage, with the top five most read, heard and tweeted news stories across our platforms – that did not revolve around the pandemic – #InCaseYouMissedIt  

Since Christmas Eve, we’ve been featuring some more in-depth pieces on how the coronavirus has changed the world.

For full coverage through the year, click here. And from all of us here, have a safe, healthy, happy and successful 2021.

STORIES

1. Yemen: ‘Hanging on by a thread’, UN chief requests funding to meet staggering humanitarian crisis

IOM
A displaced family in Marib, Yemen, carries a winter aid package back to their shelter.

2 June 2020  – More than five years of conflict have left Yemenis “hanging on by a thread, their economy in tatters” and their institutions “facing near-collapse”, the UN chief told a virtual pledging conference on Tuesday, calling for a demonstration of solidarity with some of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable.  Read  more…

2. Use of religious beliefs to justify rights violations must be outlawed, says UN expert

3. UN Secretary-General calls for domestic violence ‘ceasefire’ amid ‘horrifying global surge’

4. As famines of ‘biblical proportion’ loom, Security Council urged to ‘act fast’

5. Extraordinary ‘megaflash’ lightning strikes cover several hundred kilometres, smashing records 

 

AUDIO

1. PODCAST SPECIAL: Nations United, hosted by Julia Roberts

UN Photo/Cia Pak
The Sustainable Development Goals projected onto UN Headquarters, New York.

21 September 2020 – In the midst of COVID-19, we have an historic opportunity to look at the world as it is, based on the facts, and then focus on collective solutions, according to a special project undertaken by the United Nations this year to mark its 75th anniversary, and the fifth anniversary of the game-changing Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Tune in to this special edition of our Lid is On podcast – Nations United: Urgent Solutions for Urgent Times, hosted by Hollywood great, Julia Roberts. Listen here…

2. UN peacekeepers stand with Lebanese in aftermath of Beirut blast

3. Biodiversity must ‘move up international agenda’, following Australia bushfires

4. From child bride to UN human rights officer: one Iraqi woman’s journey

5. Solidarity through song: Tongan musician hails Pacific Unite Concert

 

TWITTER

Screenshots from Twitter
Top five tweeted news stories on @UN_News_Centre

Click here to view our Twitter timeline.   

VIDEO

Click here to view the playlist.

 

After year of ‘trials, tragedies and tears’, UN chief sends message of hope for 2021 

Praising the kindness shown by people around the world, the tireless efforts of frontline workers, the scientists who have developed vaccines in record time, and the countries making new advances to save the planet from climate catastrophe, Secretary-General António Guterres expressed his wish for a year of healing.  

Against the backdrop of persistent suffering and grief, in a year when the COVID-19 pandemic marked everyone’s lives, Mr. Guterres said in his New Year’s message that we shall work together “in unity and solidarity”, so those “rays of hope can reach around the world”. 

“So many loved ones have been lost — and the pandemic rages on, creating new waves of sickness and death”, he noted. Adding that poverty, inequality and hunger are on the rise, with jobs disappearing, certain sectors struggling to survive, debts mounting and children struggling, Mr. Guterres raised his concerns regarding the increased violence in the home and insecurity.  

A transition to a sustainable future 

But a New Year lies ahead, he continued, and if we work together in unity and solidarity, the rays of hope can reach around the world: “people extending a helping hand to neighbours and strangers; frontline workers giving their all; scientists developing vaccines in record time; and countries making new commitments to prevent climate catastrophe”.  

“That’s the lesson of this most difficult year”, he said, “both climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic are crises that can only be addressed by everyone together – as part of a transition to an inclusive and sustainable future.”  

Resolutions and goals for next year: time for healing  

As for the UN’s plans for 2021, a central ambition is to build a global coalition for carbon neutrality – net zero emissions – by 2050, Mr. Guterres spelled out, adding that “every government, city, business and individual can play a part in achieving this vision”. 

Urging the world to act together, the UN Secretary-General called on people to make peace not just among themselves, but also with nature, tackling the climate crisis, stopping the spread of COVID-19 and making 2021 a year of healing: “healing from the impact of a deadly virus. Healing broken economies and societies. Healing divisions. And starting to heal the planet”, he noted.   

“That must be our New Year’s Resolution”, the UN chief concluded, sending his wishes for a happy and peaceful 2021.

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