UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres told world leaders that multilateralism was “under fire precisely when we need it most” in his opening address to UN General Assembly on Tuesday.
He told representatives attending the mostly full General Assembly hall that trust in international institutions “is at a breaking point”, just minutes before US President Donald Trump took the stage for his second UN speech and railed against the very multilateral bodies Mr Guterres was defending.
Under Mr Trump’s administration, Washington has pulled much of its funding for the UN, reducing the global body’s budget by 5 per cent next year. Mr Trump championed that his administration has the right to defend its sovereignty outside of multilateral commitments, such as recognition of the International Criminal Court.
The UN chief painted a grim picture of the state of the world, pointed to rising polarisation and populism, ebbing cooperation, and "outrage" at the inability to end wars in Syria and elsewhere.
“Individual leaders have the duty to advance the well-being of their people,” Mr Guterres said.
“But it runs deeper. Together, as guardians of the common good, we also have a duty to promote and support a reformed, reinvigorated and strengthened multilateral system.”
He called for a renewed commitment to a rules-based order with the United Nations at its center and warned against a spreading of "politics of pessimism".
In his speech to the world leaders in attendance, he harked back to Europe a century ago during the First World War and the emergence of a unity of nations to address global conflict.
He struck a much more sombre tone when he began talking about the disintegration of the global order in an “increasingly chaotic” world, where shifts could increase the potential for conflict.
He made references to war in Syria and Yemen, the Rohingya crisis and the transfer of refugee status for the Palestinian people.
“There is outrage at our inability to end the wars in Syria, Yemen and elsewhere, the Rohingya people remain exiled, traumatised and in misery, still yearning for safety and justice,” he said. “Palestinians and Israelis are still locked in endless conflict, with the two-state solution more and more distant”.
The Secretary General has called upon countries to develop methodologies and commit to providing resources to deal with an increasingly displaced world.
He said member states must band together to avoid the humanitarian toll in those countries and to help remedy the violence that has taken place.
The UN chief also highlighted the need for member states to take climate action and to reinforce environment policy in their countries.
“Let’s touch upon a direct, existential threat. We have reached a pivotal moment, if we do not change course, we risk climate change, because it’s running faster than we are,” he said.
The UN heralded a victory in 2015 after the signing of the COP21 agreement in Paris, where 196 countries sealed a legally-binding agreement to reduce global warming to less than 2 degrees celsius by 2050.
However, countries have fallen short of their individually set targets to reduce their carbon emissions, creating a dire situation whereby climate change is slipping beyond the global community’s control.
“We as a community of world leaders are not doing enough, we must listen to the world’s best scientists, see what’s in front of our eyes, and we need greater ambition and sense of urgency,” he said.
According to the World Meteorological record, the past two decades have included 18 of the warmest years on record since record keeping began in 1850.
The Secretary General announced that he will hold a climate action summit next September to focus on climate action, just one year before the countries who signed up to the Paris Agreement are expected to further commit themselves to global warming mitigation.
“Only a higher level of ambition will do, we must act without delay, the world needs you to be climate champions,” he said in the closing statements of his speech.