22 September 2020
In a world turned upside down, this General Assembly Hall is among the strangest sights of all. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our annual meeting beyond recognition.
But it has made it more important than ever.
In January, I addressed the General Assembly and identified “four horsemen” in our midst — four threats that endanger our common future.
First, the highest global geo-strategic tensions in years.
Second, an existential climate crisis.
Third, deep and growing global mistrust.
And fourth, the dark side of the digital world.
But a fifth horseman was lurking in the shadows. Since January, the COVID-19 pandemic has galloped across the globe – joining the four other horsemen and adding to the fury of each. And every day, the grim toll grows, families grieve, societies stagger, and the pillars of our world wobble on already shaky footings.
We face simultaneously an epochal health crisis, the biggest economic calamity and job losses since the Great Depression, and dangerous new threats to human rights.
COVID-19 has laid bare the world’s fragilities. Rising inequalities. Climate catastrophe. Widening societal divisions. Rampant corruption. The pandemic has exploited these injustices, preyed on the most vulnerable and wiped away the progress of decades.
For the first time in 30 years, poverty is rising. Human development indicators are declining. We are careening off track in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Meanwhile nuclear non-proliferation efforts are slipping away — and we are failing to act in areas of emerging danger, particularly cyberspace.
People are hurting. Our planet is burning. Our world is struggling, stressed and seeking real leadership and action.
We face a foundational moment. Those who built the United Nations 75 years ago had lived through a pandemic, a global depression, genocide and world war. They knew the cost of discord and the value of unity. They fashioned a visionary response, embodied in our founding Charter, with people at the centre.
Today, we face our own 1945 moment. The pandemic is a crisis unlike any we have ever seen. But it is also the kind of crisis that we will see in different forms again and again. COVID-19 is not only a wake-up call, it is a dress rehearsal for the world of challenges to come.
We must move forward with humility — recognizing that a microscopic virus has brought the world to its knees.
We must be united. We have seen, when countries go in their own direction, the virus goes in every direction. We must act in solidarity. Far too little assistance has been extended to countries with the fewest capacities to face the challenge.
And we must be guided by science and tethered to reality. Populism and nationalism have failed. Those approaches to contain the virus have often made things manifestly worse. Too often, there has also been a disconnect between leadership and power. We see remarkable examples of leadership; but they are not usually associated with power. And power is not always associated with the necessary leadership.
In an interconnected world, it is time to recognize a simple truth: solidarity is self-interest. If we fail to grasp that fact, everyone loses.
As the pandemic took hold, I called for a global ceasefire. Today, I appeal for a new push by the international community to make this a reality by the end of this year. We have exactly 100 days.
There is only one winner of conflict during a pandemic: the virus itself.