"The United Nations was created precisely for moments like this: moments of maximum danger and minimum agreement," concluded his opening remarks by UN Secretary-General, 19 September 2023, New York. Photo: UN.

Speaking on Tuesday at the opening of the session of the General Assembly, in New York, António Guterres said that the catastrophe in the Libyan city of Derna, where thousands of people have died from floods, is a "sad snapshot of the state of our world, with the avalanche of inequality, injustice and inability to face the challenges that threaten us."

"Thousands of people lost their lives in Derna in epic and unprecedented floods. They were victims many times. Victims of years of conflict. Victims of climate chaos.

"Victims of leaders, near and far. who did not know how to find a way to peace. Even now, as we speak, corpses wash up on the shore of the same Mediterranean Sea where billionaires sunbathe on their superyachts," Guterres told the plenary of the General Assembly.

In a speech with a visible sense of urgency, the UN secretary-general urged the 193 UN countries to undertake a reform of multilateral institutions to reflect the "economic realities of the twenty-first century".

"The world has changed. Our institutions, no," Guterres said before the start of the debate in the General Assembly. "We cannot respond effectively to problems as they are if institutions do not reflect the world as it is. Instead of solving the problems, they risk becoming part of the problem."

Earlier, he recalled the series of "existential crises" that the world is experiencing: from the climate crisis to "disruptive technologies" such as artificial intelligence or autonomous weapons that work without human control.

On this point concerning new technologies, he called for the creation of a "new global entity" to help mitigate risks and benefits for humanity.

"Our world is becoming unhinged. Geopolitical tensions are rising. Global challenges are growing. And apparently we are unable to come together to respond," Guterres told high-level representatives of UN member states.

He said the global organization and the way countries cooperate must evolve to respond to changing times.

The UN secretary-general said that this multipolar world needs "effective multilateral institutions" and called for "determination" from heads of state and government to end wars, improve the lot of the population, face the challenges of the planet and respect human rights and international law.

"Our world needs a spirit of state, not of play and blockade," he said in the face of evidence of an increasingly "multipolar" world in which the term "commitment" has become "a dirty word."

In addition to the wars and conflicts that ravage different regions of the world (Ukraine, Sahel, Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, Afghanistan, Burma, Palestinian Territories), he warned about gender inequality, the economic inequality "that defines our time" and the challenges imposed by climate change.

"Every continent, every region and every country feels the heat. I'm not sure all the leaders are feeling that heat," the secretary-general said.

Guterres insisted the world needs action now, not just more words, to deal with a worsening climate emergency, growing conflicts, "drastic technological disruption" and a global cost-of-living crisis that is increasing hunger and poverty.

"However, in the face of these and other things, geopolitical divisions undermine our ability to respond," he warned.

"We face a multitude of existential threats, from the climate crisis to disruptive technologies," he said before observing that all this occurs at a time of "chaotic transition" on the road from the unipolarity of a single power to the multipolarity of different regional powers, which generates geopolitical tensions and global challenges that are increasing and to which the world seems unable to respond.

"However, global governance is stuck in time. Just look at the United Nations Security Council and the Bretton Woods system. They reflect the political and economic realities of 1945, when many countries in this Assembly were still under colonial domination. The world has changed. Our institutions, no," Guterres said.

The week-long session, the first all-in-person summit of world leaders since the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted global travel, has 145 speeches by leaders scheduled.

The G77, a large United Nations group of developing countries that already has 134 members, including China, has pushed for this year's meeting to focus on the 17 UN goals approved by world leaders in 2015. Progress is lagging far behind halfway through 2030.

At a two-day summit to take action toward those goals, Guterres cited the grim conclusions of a U.N. report released in July.

15% of the approximately 140 concrete targets to achieve the 17 goals of the 2030 Agenda are on track. Many are going in the opposite direction and none of them are expected to be achieved in the next 7 years.

The goals include ending extreme hunger and poverty, ensuring that all children receive a quality secondary education, achieving gender equality and making significant progress in the fight against climate change, all by 2030.

At the current rate, the report said, 575 million people will still live in extreme poverty and 84 million children will not even go to primary school by 2030, and it will take 286 years to achieve equality between men and women.

At the opening of the summit on Monday, Guterres told leaders that he was calling on them to rescue the 17 Sustainable Development Goals they promised in 2015 to build "a world of health, progress and opportunity" for all, and pay for it.

Shortly after his speech, leaders of the 193 member states adopted by consensus a 10-page political declaration recognizing that the goals are "in jeopardy."

The declaration does not offer many concrete plans, but Guterres said he was "very encouraged," especially by the commitment to improve developing countries' access to the "necessary fuel" to reach the financial target.

He mentioned support for a stimulus package of at least $500 billion a year to offset difficult market conditions faced by developing countries.

Leaders are expected to have made commitments at the summit to meet the Sustainable Development Goals.

(With information from AFP, AP and UN News)

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