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Global solidarity missing in action, says UN chief

  • Diplomatic Correspondent
  • 19 January, 2022 12:00 AM
  • Print news

UN Secretary-General António Guterres has told the world and business leaders that “global solidarity is missing in action”.

Addressing the virtual World Economic Forum from New York on Monday, he said this year’s event is taking place “in the shadow of an enormously difficult period for economies, people and our planet.”

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, for the second year in a row, the Forum scrapped its annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, for a series of online plenaries and discussions over the year ahead, under the banner of The Davos Agenda.

According to the UN’s flagship economic forecast released last week, the world is emerging from the depths of a paralysing economic crisis, but recovery remains fragile and uneven.

 With persistent labour market challenges, supply-chain disruptions, rising inflation and looming debt traps, the recovery is now slowing down drastically.

“The last two years have demonstrated a simple but brutal truth - if we leave anyone behind, we leave everyone behind,” the UN chief said, urging all participants in the Forum to focus on three urgent areas.

The first one, he explained, is to confront the pandemic with equity and fairness. Reminding of the World Health Organization (WHO) goal to vaccinate 40 percent of people in all countries by the end of last year, and 70 percent by the middle of this year, Guterres said the world was nowhere even close.

In fact, he added, vaccination rates in high-income countries are “shamefully” seven times higher than in African countries.

Besides a focus on vaccine equity, the UN chief argued that the world must prepare for the next pandemic with investments in monitoring, early detection and rapid response plans in every country.

WHO’s authority should also be strengthened, he said.

The second area in need of urgent action is the global financial system. “We need to reform the global financial system, so it works for all countries,” Guterres explained. “At this critical moment, we’re setting in stone a lopsided recovery.”

With more than eight out of ten recovery dollars being spent in developed countries, the UN chief believes low-income countries are at a huge disadvantage. “They’re experiencing their slowest growth in a generation - and trying to dig themselves out with woefully insufficient national budgets,” he said.

Guterres pointed to record inflation, shrinking fiscal space, high interest rates and soaring energy and food prices, saying they are hitting every corner of the world, especially low and middle-income countries. For him, “the global financial system has failed them when they need it most.”

He believes these nations are “shackled by mounting debt and extortionate interest rates” and ineligible for debt relief, despite surging poverty, unemployment and development losses.

Stressing the need for a system that is fit for purpose, the UN chief asked for urgent debt restructuring, reforms of the long-term debt architecture, and an expansion of the Common Framework for Debt Treatment to middle-income countries.

He also asked governments and institutions to go beyond Gross Domestic Product to measure for investment risks, to address corruption and illicit financial flows, and to ensure that tax systems are “fair and designed in a way that truly reduces inequalities.”

The third, and last, area highlighted by the UN Secretary-General was climate action in developing countries. Even if all developed countries keep their promises to drastically reduce emissions by 2030, global emissions will still be too high to keep the 1.5 degree goal within reach.