Lessons learnt from efforts to address the global pandemic must be used to “do things right for the future”, UN Secretary-General António Guterres has said, addressing a gathering of leading parliamentarians.
In his remarks online to the World Conference of Speakers of Parliament, the Secretary-General said that COVID-19 was highlighting the challenges plaguing societies and had exposed some major systemic fragilities.
“Even before the virus, our societies were on shaky footing, with rising inequalities, worsening degradation of the environment, shrinking civic space, inadequate public health and untenable social frictions rooted in governance failures and a lack of opportunities,” said Mr. Guterres.
“And so we cannot go back to what was, but rather must turn the recovery into a real opportunity to do things right for the future”, he added.
Climate emergency already upon us
The Secretary-General underscored that this is all the more important in responding to the climate crisis, with climate-related destruction continuing to intensify and ambition for climate action falling short of what is needed.
“While COVID-19 has forced the postponement of COP26 until 2021”, he said, referring to the UN conference that assesses progress in dealing with climate change, “a climate emergency is already upon us.”
Mr. Guterres added that as the international community works to overcome the COVID crisis, it has an opening to address another, and steer the world onto a more sustainable path.
“We have the policies, the technology and know-how,” he continued, urging countries to consider six climate positive actions as they rescue, rebuild and reset their economies.
Quite simply, how the world recovers from COVID-19 is a ‘make-or-break moment’ for the health of our planet – Secretary-General
Six climate-positive actions
The actions, he outlined, include making societies more resilient and ensure a just transition; ensuring green jobs and sustainable growth; having bailouts of industry, aviation and shipping conditional on aligning with the goals of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change; stopping fossil fuel subsidies and the funding of coal; considering climate risk in all decision-making; and working together.
“Quite simply, how the world recovers from COVID-19 is a ‘make-or-break moment’ for the health of our planet,” stressed the UN chief.
In his address, the Secretary-General also highlighted that recovery efforts must address other sources of instability and drivers of discontent, including inequalities both within and between countries and communities.
“From racism and gender discrimination to income disparities, these deeply entrenched violations of human rights threaten our wellbeing and our future,” he said.
Inequality, Mr. Guterres continued, is associated with economic instability, corruption, financial crises, increased crime, and poor physical and mental health, and it is manifesting in new dimensions.
New social contract
“That is why I have been calling for a New Social Contract at the national level,” he said.
“This should feature a new generation of social protection policies and safety nets, including Universal Health Coverage and the possibility of a Universal Basic Income. Education and digital technology can be two great enablers and equalizers, by providing new skills and lifelong opportunities.”
And at the international level, a New Global Deal is needed, to ensure that power, wealth and opportunities are shared more broadly and equitably, with a fair globalization and a stronger voice for developing countries.
“Parliamentarians have a central role to play in helping the world respond to the pandemic wake-up call. We need you to align your legislation and spending decisions with climate action and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” said the Secretary-General.