U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned Monday that the world needs to wake up and take urgent action to change the trajectory on conflicts and geopolitical divisions, the climate crisis, and economic inequality.
“We need a course correction,” Guterres said as he laid out his 2023 priorities to the U.N. General Assembly.
“The good news is that we know how to turn things around — on climate, on finance, on conflict resolution, on and on,” he added. “And we know that the cost of inaction far exceeds the costs of action. But the strategic vision — the long-term thinking and commitment — is missing.”
He cited the recent announcement by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists to move the so-called Doomsday Clock 10 seconds closer to global catastrophe as a “wake-up call.”
On January 24, the organization’s board, citing Russia’s war in Ukraine and the threat of the use of nuclear weapons, said the planet is now “90 seconds to midnight.”
“This is the closest the clock has ever stood to humanity’s darkest hour, and closer than even during the height of the Cold War,” Guterres warned.
The organization of scientists, of which Albert Einstein was a founding member, created the clock in 1947 as an indicator of how close the world is to manmade global catastrophe.
Adding to the growing list of crises and concerns was Monday’s deadly 7.8 earthquake that struck parts of Turkey and Syria. Guterres said the United Nations is mobilizing to support the emergency response.
“Let’s work together in solidarity to help those hit by this disaster, many of whom are already in dire need of humanitarian aid,” he said.
The quake’s epicenter was in parts of Turkey and Syria with large populations of refugees and people affected by more than a decade of civil war in Syria.
Guterres has been clear in condemning Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine as a violation of the U.N. Charter and international law. He told the General Assembly that it has inflicted “untold suffering” on the Ukrainian people and had “profound” global implications. He voiced pessimism about the prospects for peace.
“The chances of further escalation and bloodshed keep growing,” he warned. “I fear the world is not sleepwalking into a wider war. I fear it is doing so with its eyes wide open.”
He criticized the “tactical” use of nuclear weapons as an “absurdity.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly warned he is ready to draw on his country’s entire arsenal, which includes nuclear weapons, to defend Russian territory. On Thursday, he repeated the threat in a speech criticizing Germany for helping to arm Ukraine.
“We are at the highest risk in decades of a nuclear war that could start by accident or design,” Guterres said. “We need to end the threat posed by 13,000 nuclear weapons held in arsenals around the world.”
The U.N. chief said the world needs peace, not just in Ukraine, but also in many corners of the planet. He said conflicts and political crises in Afghanistan, Myanmar, Africa’s Sahel region, Haiti, the Middle East and elsewhere are driving the suffering of two billion people.
“If every country fulfilled its obligations under the [U.N.] Charter, the right to peace would be guaranteed,” Guterres said. “When countries break those pledges, they create a world of insecurity for everyone.”