Antonio Guterres wants to avoid a Great Fracture

Editor’s Note:
The end-of-year holiday period sees many international agencies, INGOs and foundations closed, with comparatively little announcement activity. We lead this edition – the first of 2021 – with a perspective essay by Antonio Guterres from November from The Economist, followed by an editorial on prospects for 2021 from the editorial board of The Financial Times. Both sources are a bit skewed from our typical content weighting…


The Economist – The World in 2021
Antonio Guterres wants to avoid a Great Fracture
The leader of the UN says co-operation is more crucial now than ever
Nov 17th 2020

COVID-19 is a test of international cooperation—and it is a test the world is failing. With some notable exceptions, countries have focused on themselves and defined their own strategies, sometimes in contradiction to what their neighbours were doing. We have seen the results. As countries go in their own directions, the virus has gone in every direction. Populism and nationalism, where they prevailed, did not contain the virus and often made things manifestly worse.

Rich countries mobilised resources at unprecedented levels, but much-needed resources are not reaching developing countries, which could face crippling debt and a liquidity crisis. Now, as a new year looms, the challenges are clear: the pandemic response will consume 2021 and the climate crisis will drive the decade. A sensible, sustainable recovery must start now.

Many are pinning their hopes on a vaccine, but there is no panacea in a pandemic. The priority is ensuring that any vaccine is a global public good—a people’s vaccine available and affordable for everyone, everywhere.

We also need a vaccine for our overheating planet. The five-year period since the signing of the Paris agreement on climate change has been the hottest on record. Greenhouse-gas concentrations in 2021 will reach heights unseen in millions of years.

Ahead of the next United Nations climate conference in November 2021, I have urged world leaders to submit more ambitious national plans and long-term strategies aligned with the Paris agreement and the goal of limiting the average temperature rise to 1.5ºC. All countries, especially g20 members, should commit themselves to carbon neutrality by 2050. All companies, banks and cities should establish their own plans and benchmarks for a transition to net-zero emissions of greenhouse gases.

Technology and economics are on our side. A green economy fuels employment. Renewable energy generates three times more jobs than investments in fossil fuels. Bail-outs of industry, aviation and shipping should be conditional on aligning with the goals of the Paris agreement. It is time to end fossil-fuel subsidies, put a price on carbon and commit to no new coal.

Pandemic recovery is our chance to re-engineer economies and re-imagine our future. Recovery must also advance gender equality; no other single step could do more to fortify societies for the future. As vast sums are deployed to re-energise economies, how these funds are spent is a critical matter for people and planet alike. Covid-19 response and recovery also depend on silencing the guns and standing up for human rights. The fury of the virus shows the folly of war. A surge of hatred and misinformation has heightened the dangers. That is why I have called for a global ceasefire.

We must also avoid a new cold war, where the two largest economies split the world in a Great Fracture—each side with its own trade and financial rules, internet and artificial-intelligence capacities. Such divides risk turning into geostrategic and military splits.

International co-operation will be crucial. The arrangements agreed on 75 years ago prevented a much-feared third world war. But the world now needs a new generation of global governance with the UN at its centre. At a time of lawlessness in cyberspace, erosion of arms-control agreements, rising inequalities, a pushback on human rights and a global trading regime tilted against the poor, we are not keeping pace.

We do not need new bureaucracies. But we do need a networked multilateralism that links global and regional institutions. We also need an inclusive multilateralism that engages businesses, cities, universities and movements for gender equality, climate action and racial justice.

My plan for a new social contract focuses on the national level, with investments in social cohesion, a new generation of social protection and policies to promote resilience in the face of economic and environmental shocks. Education and digital technology must be two great enablers and equalisers in making this possible.

My proposed new global deal seeks to ensure that power, wealth and opportunities are shared more broadly. Fair globalisation, free and fair trade, and prioritising the well-being of future generations are all building blocks of this new model of global governance.

We face two critical tests—covid-19 and climate change—compounded by a third: fragility and fragmentation. Realising that solidarity is self-interest will help us end this crisis and emerge stronger together.

This article appeared in the International section of the print edition of The World in 2021 under the headline “It’s time to pull together”