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United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres: Diplomacy or Urgency?

After the G20 fiasco, what will it take to make the world care that climate change will soon be “irreversible?”

Secretary-General António Guterres addresses the G20 Summit in Osaka, Japan. 28 June 2019. (Photo by: UN Photo/Ichiro Mae)

Could it be the media’s fault? The Secretary-General preaches his message at every available moment, but time and time again, it seems as if some other headline takes precedence in grabbing the media’s attention.

Antonio Guterres is currently serving his first term as United Nation’s Secretary-General. It is clear that one of his topmost priorities is climate change, and the continued progress in achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). However, his message doesn’t seem to be getting the attention that it deserves. As  a student approaching my senior year in college, I can say that I had never heard of the SDGs until taking a class specifically covering the UN. So, if it hadn’t reached me and other students who live right here in NYC, where the UN is based, it’s safe to say that the chance that this message is reaching others across the US, and the world for that matter, is slim to none. We need to ask what could possibly be the reason for this because as the UN reports, we have “only 11 years left to prevent irreversible damage from climate change.”

Could it be the media’s fault? The Secretary-General preaches his message at every available moment, but time and time again, it seems as if some other headline takes precedence in grabbing the media’s attention. This past weekend at the G20 Osaka Summit, almost the entirety of the Secretary-General’s message addressed the need for climate action from the G20 leaders, and yet there was barely any coverage capturing his message, except for a few small publications. Even in a New York Time‘s article, where they listed the top five takeaways from the G20 summit, climate change came in last.

Secretary-General António Guterres meets with Shinzo Abe, Prime Minister of Japan, at the opening of the G20 Summit in Osaka, Japan. 28 June 2019. (Photo by: UN Photo/Ichiro Mae)

The bigger publications’ focus was on President Trump schmoozing with President Putin and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the G20 summit.  The Intelligencer summed it up quite succinctly in an article appropriately entitled, “Trump’s G-20 Trip was a Victory for Dictators.” President Trump and President Putin had a chuckle over Trump’s suggestion of “getting rid of journalists.”   The Saudi Crown Prince, who was just recently named as the perpetrator of having journalist Khashoggi killed as stated by UN reports, was treated to a working breakfast by President Trump the second day of the summit. President Putin, who himself is rumored to have had journalists killed, gave the Crown Prince a high-five at the summit.  If you didn’t know better, you would have thought it was a good-old-boys’ retreat.

So it begs the question, could it be the Secretary-General’s fault as to why his message is not getting across? It seems as if his inaction speaks louder than his own words. Continuously reiterating that it is not in his power to open up a criminal investigation into Khashoggi’s murder, has left the Saudi Prince, not only in the clear to mingle with other world leaders, but it seems to be praised as “one of the boys.” It could be argued that the Secretary-General is being prudent as this is only his first term, but at what point is enough – enough – and who will call them out on it? The only one at the G20 summit who did seem to have enough was British Prime Minister, Theresa May, who according to CNN, “gave Putin the diplomatic equivalent of being taken out to the wood shed, by pressing him to bring to justice the suspects in the Salisbury poisoning attack and calling for the release of 24 Ukranian seamen in Russian custody.”

It seems that we are in a trepidatious moment in history where global leaders are following in President Trump’s footsteps, and propagating the same abhorrent ideals-such as hate speech-as he is. It’s a dangerous path, and as the UN approaches its 75th anniversary next year, it must remember its origins. We are doomed to repeat history if global leaders are allowed to act in this way. It wasn’t too long ago that there was a group of dictators with similar beginnings, which led to the devastation of WW2. We can not be expected to focus and unite on such pressing issues as global warming when some of the leaders of the most powerful countries of the world cannot take their leadership roles seriously. Maybe Guterres is waiting for his second term to take action or maybe he’s waiting for the upcoming Climate Action Summit in September to make his message reverberate around the world.  Hopefully, at that point, it will not be too late.

 

 

 

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