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Guterres Urges Leaders to “Do What is Necessary” for Peace and the Planet

Interview with the UN chief Antonio Guterres: the UNSG is urging Member States to bring “concrete plans” to the 74th session of the General Assembly

by Melissa Fleming / UN News

Secretary-General António Guterres tours Abaco Island, Bahamas to witness at first-hand the devastation caused by Hurricane Dorian. (UN PHOTO/Mark Garten)

The UN Secretary General hopes of bolstering the Paris Agreement on climate change and the ambitious goals that are the bedrock of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  In a special interview for UN News conducted this week by newly-appointed head of Global Communications, Melissa Fleming, Mr. Guterres lamented that “we are not on track” to meet a 2030 deadline in many aspects, highlighting that the first-ever SDG summit on 24 and 25 September, will inject more momentum.   The UN chief told Ms. Fleming that “more and more of the crises we face, have a multiplicity of factors, from different parts of the world” and resolving these issues begs “more international cooperation” with the UN firmly “at the centre of it.”  

The Secretary-General sits down with newly-appointed head of Global Communications, Melissa Fleming, for an exclusive UN News interview ahead of the 74th General Assembly Debate at UN Headquarters in New York

Melissa Fleming: You have said that the world is facing a critical time on a number of fronts: The climate emergency, rising inequality, an increase in hatred, intolerance as well as peace and security challenges. Do you have a formula to address them?  

Secretary-General: The formula is more international cooperation. These are global issues that no country can solve alone, in relation to climate. That’s why we are having a summit. And that summit is aiming at making countries understand that they need to do much more than what they have been until now, because we need to defeat climate change that is still running faster than what we had.   

And we see the consequences in devastating hurricanes, we see the consequence in glaciers melting, we see the consequences in public health deteriorating, with heat waves and new diseases coming to several areas. And so, we need more international cooperation to defeat climate change.  And inequality is the same. We need fair globalization, and fair globalization is only possible with more international cooperation. That’s why we are going to have a summit on the Sustainable Development Goals. That’s why we have the Agenda 2030, which is the blueprint of the UN to bring all countries together for fair globalization.  

Then if you move into all the other areas, from hate speech – it is clear that this is now spreading like wildfire everywhere – we need to fight it together. Or even security issues – more and more of the crises we face have a multiplicity of factors, from different parts of the world. So only with more international cooperation and the UN at the centre of it, are we able to address these challenges and hopefully to start solving them.  

The General Assembly will be an excellent opportunity for many of these issues to move forward. We have a climate summit. We have a summit on the Sustainable Development Goals – which means on the Agenda 2030, the blueprint for fair globalization – and a summit for financing it, which is absolutely central because without finance, there is no way we can move in the development areas; a summit on public health and Global Health Coverage for public health; a summit on the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) that are the first victims of climate change as we all know.   

And all these combined, all these together, represent a comprehensive response in which the UN is trying to bring all countries into the same platform to be able to solve exactly the kind of problems that you mentioned in your first question.   

Melissa Fleming:  One of those summits is a youth climate summit. Why is this special? Why are the youth being called together now here in New York?   

Secretary-General:  Because the youth has shown an enormous leadership on this and it’s perfectly understandable.  Climate change is already a dramatic problem today, but it is clear it will be even more dramatic in the years to come. And so, when the young people of today will be the adults that will be running the world in a few decades, they will be facing the worst consequences of the mistakes we might make now. So, the youth have been really in the forefront of pushing governments and pushing businesses and pushing cities and pushing all other actors to do what they have to do, to stop climate change. And so, a youth summit is a very important instrument to put pressure on those who have to take the decisions that are necessary.  

Melissa Fleming:  Well the following day, you will be convening the global climate summit here. You have quite famously now said you are asking countries to come, not with beautiful speeches, but with real action. What kind of expectations do you have for the kind of initiatives that might come?   

António Guterres:  The action that is needed to meet the requirements that the international community of scientists is telling us are necessary to defeat climate change. Not to let temperatures go above 1.5 degrees at the end of the century, means that we need to be carbon-neutral in 2050, that we need to reduce dramatically the emissions during the next decade. And what we want to have, is more and more countries coming here and committing to carbon neutrality in 2050, and committing to reductions.  

And our target is 45 per cent of the emissions during the next decades. Coming here to commit in relation to the financing of the Green Climate Fund and the $100 billion we need to have every year to support developing countries – in adaptation and mitigation in the coming year – and announcing the other investments that are absolutely essential in order to make sure that we promote the kind of energy – renewable energy – that is needed in relation to the fossil fuels that represent the past; that we are able to have different agriculture, a different use of land; that cities have different strategies in the way they reduce their emissions…(There are) lots of concrete, concrete measures that we hope States, cities, businesses will be able to announce during the summit.   

Off the coast of Fiji last May, the frontline of “the battle against climate change”, Secretary-General António Guterres takes a tour on an eco-friendly, solar powered sail boat that teaches conservation as well as climate-related issues. (UN Photo/ Mark Garten)


Melissa Fleming:   Let’s move to the last two questions: Very importantly, the leaders at the GA (General Assembly) are also being asked to come here for a summit on the Sustainable Development Goals.  

On Tuesday, also with commitments that will bring about results, there will be a meeting, as you just mentioned, on mobilizing financing to achieve the SDGs. What are your specific expectations for the outcome of this? 

Secretary-General: Well, first of all, the recognition that we are not on track – the agenda 2030 in relation to the eradication of poverty in relation to health; in relation to education; in relation to water and sanitation; to the oceans, to climate change; to all these aspects, that the agenda 2030 determines that we should, in 2030, have reached a number of concrete goals. We are not on track; we are not doing enough.   

And obviously there has been progress. There is less absolute poverty then a few decades ago. There has been improvement in child mortality or in access of education, but we are not on track.   

We need more investment, more political action, more priority to those aspects that are described in the Goals that we have fixed to have a fair globalization, to have a development that is simultaneously sustainable and inclusive, that leaves no one behind, that brings all those that have been marginalized by development into the benefits of that development…(We must) recognize that we are not on track and then take the decisions necessary in investment, in policies, in changes of different forms of cooperation; also, at the international level or with the businesses, the civil society, the local authorities, in order to come together more effectively to make sure that Agenda 2030 is successfully implemented.   

 Melissa Fleming:  Somewhat related to the SDGs, obviously is health, and there is going to be also a high-level meeting on Universal Health Coverage next week. Why is this so important in today’s world?   

Secretary-General:  Because it’s a basic right that is not yet universal. Many people have no healthcare and many people that have healthcare, have no quality of care.  And one fundamental objective is to make sure that sooner rather than later, the world will be able to provide to all the citizens of the world the kind of quality of care they need, and they deserve.   

Melissa Fleming:  Finally, peace and security will likely loom large during the GA this week. Do you see any signs of hope in this area?   

Secretary-General:  There is hope in the sense that we see some problems moving forward in a positive way. We have seen progress in Sudan, we have seen progress in the conversations on South Sudan last week. We have seen progress in the Central African Republic, with its peace agreement. We see that many elections that were supposed to have been a disaster for the countries, ended without violence – from the DRC, to the Maldives, to Madagascar.   

So, there are many positive signs, but unfortunately, we also have many negative signs and we see people going on dying in Syria, in Libya, in Yemen. And so, we need to increase our commitment to diplomacy for peace, and we need to make countries understand – especially those that to a certain extent, are responsible for these wars by proxy – make countries understand, that these are wars nobody’s winning, everybody is losing.  

And they are becoming more and more interlinked to global terrorism and becoming a threat, not only for the countries where these conflicts take place, but for the whole of the international community.   

Melissa Fleming:   A final note: your message to the leaders coming here to New York, to the General Assembly next week.   

Secretary-General:  Do what is necessary to make sure that we are able to solve the dramatic problems we face.  

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