Τhe secretary-general of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, was unblinking in his appraisal of the state of the world and unsparing in his criticism of global leadership in his speech opening the organization’s General Assembly on Tuesday.
“I am here to sound the alarm: The world must wake up. We are on the edge of an abyss – and moving in the wrong direction. Our world has never been more threatened. Or more divided,” he said.
The world has of course seen global conflicts in the last century and endless troubles in some parts. But the threats that humanity faces today go way beyond the magnitude of past wars, raising the question of whether we are capable of working together to avert our own extinction.
The climate crisis and the pandemic demand a global effort to prevent the situation from worsening. And yet, as the secretary-general noted, mistrust and misinformation are polarizing societies and paralyzing the planet, with human rights and even science falling victim to this.
In global politics, we are witnessing such a lack of trust between nations that even the United States has been shaking up international institutions that it established after World War II. It is alienating allies at a time when global governance demands cooperation not only among friends but also with rivals. Within many nations, extremist opinions have riven societies, causing division and enmity toward immigrants, undermining international cooperation.
The secretary-general’s description of the dire state of things is a call to arms. The world is facing a moment of truth, he said, and it is time to restore trust and inspire hope. “And I do have hope. The problems we have created are problems we can solve.”
At the global level, where great decisions must be taken, nothing is decided. The major powers talk about the need for cooperation but tensions among them rise. However, the worsening situation makes people more sensitive to danger. More of us care about the future of the planet than ever before, and this puts pressure on governments and organizations for a change of course.
The question that each society faces is whether division or cooperation will prevail.