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UN chief to leaders of regional bloc: end wars, deal with existential crises

UN Secretary-General António Guterres. (file photo)
UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
UN Secretary-General António Guterres. (file photo)

UN chief to leaders of regional bloc: end wars, deal with existential crises

Peace and Security

Deep global divisions and conflicts must end to clear a path to tackling world’s two existential threats: climate change and the negative impacts of the artificial intelligence (AI) boom, UN chief António Guterres told the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Summit in Astana on Thursday.

“The central goal of our multilateral system must be peace – a pre-condition for sustainable development and the enjoyment of human rights,” he told Heads of States attending the world’s largest regional organisation meeting in Kazakhstan’s capital.

António Guterres listed multiple conflicts where ceasefire and lasting peace are needed, from the Middle East to Ukraine and from Sudan to the Sahel, in addition to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, Myanmar and Haiti.

“We need peace in Afghanistan and an inclusive government that respects human rights and is integrated into the international community. All countries should unite to prevent Afghanistan from ever again becoming a hotbed of terrorism,” he told the Council of the SCO, the world’s largest regional security body that includes Belarus, China, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

With such wide representation, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization has the power and the responsibility to push for peace, the chief of the universal organisation insisted.

Existential threats

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The UN Secretary-General underscored that the meeting in Astana was happening amid raging wars, geopolitical divides, “an epidemic of impunity” and backsliding on sustainable development – a key global goal -  causing cynicism and a crisis of trust.

These global challenges cannot be solved on a country-by-country basis. This is the moment to reaffirm our common commitment to multilateralism, with the United Nations at its centre, bound by the principles set out in the UN Charter, international law and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” the UN chief said, cautioning that people are losing faith in multilateralism, as they point to broken promises, double standards and growing inequalities.

The UN Secretary-General also highlighted the urgent need for collective action on two looming existential threats: the climate emergency and the unchecked rise of digital technologies, particularly AI.

Climate breaking down

UN climate experts have confirmed that although 2023 was the hottest year on record, it could soon be seen as one of the coolest years in a rapidly warming future. The Secretary-General warned that the devastating impacts of our changing climate are already evident in the melting glaciers, deadly floods, storms, droughts, and extreme heat waves that are battering countries worldwide.

"Our climate is breaking down," he said, emphasizing the dire consequences for water and food security, development and global stability. The call to action should be clear, he insisted, in a call for ambitious measures to slash greenhouse gas emissions and achieve climate justice, with the greatest responsibility falling on the world's biggest emitters.

Outlining solutions to the global climate crisis, Mr. Guterres urged all governments to submit new Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) by next year, fully aligned with the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

These NDCs should include absolute emissions reduction targets for 2030 and 2035 and outline plans for critical global transitions, with key actions such as ending deforestation, tripling renewable energy capacity and reducing fossil fuel production and consumption by at least 30 per cent by 2030. Additionally, countries must commit to phasing out coal power entirely by 2040, the UN chief said.

SCO+ summit in Astana.
UN Kazakhstan
SCO+ summit in Astana.

Financial mobilization for climate action

Highlighting the critical role of finance in support of climate action, the Secretary-General called for a strong financial outcome from COP29, the global climate conference to be held in Baku, Azerbaijan, in November. He stressed the need to increase the lending capacity of Multilateral Development Banks and attract more private capital for climate initiatives. Developed countries should also double their financing for climate adaptation and fulfil their commitments, including substantial contributions to the new Loss and Damage Fund, the UN chief said.

To support these efforts, the Secretary-General advocated for innovative financial mechanisms, including carbon pricing and taxes on the windfall profits of fossil fuel companies. He called for early adopters to implement solidarity levies on sectors such as shipping, aviation and fossil fuel extraction by COP29.

AI: balancing potential and risk

Turning to AI - the second existential threat facing the planet - the Secretary-General highlighted the transformative potential of the technology in accelerating sustainable development. However, he cautioned that AI is advancing faster than regulatory frameworks can keep up, exacerbating power imbalances, concentrating wealth in the hands of a few, undermining human rights and increasing global tensions.

To address these challenges, the UN chief’s Advisory Body on AI has outlined five priorities: establishing an international scientific panel on AI, initiating regular policy dialogues developing common ethics and standards for AI, ensuring governance of the data used to train AI algorithms and supporting capacity building in developing countries through a global fund. Mr. Guterres also proposed the creation of a compact, dynamic and flexible UN AI Office to oversee these efforts.

Summit of the Future

The Secretary-General expressed hope that the upcoming Summit of the Future will be a turning point in renewing global unity and addressing the existential threats facing humanity. "I look forward to welcoming you to New York in September," he said, before urging the regional bloc’s leaders to seize this pivotal opportunity for collective action.

The UN Secretary-General attended the SCO top-level meeting in the course of his tour of the Central Asia countries that covers Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan to discuss a wide range of issues from peace, non proliferation to sustainable development.