UN chief urges regional bloc leaders to end wars

BERLIN, GERMANY - DECEMBER 17: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres addresses the media during a joint press conference with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas after a meeting on December 17, 2020 in Berlin, Germany. Guterres is visiting Berlin, where he is meeting with German leaders on a variety of topics, including the global coronavirus pandemic and Germany's bid for a seat on the UN Security Council. (Photo by Michael Sohn - Pool/Getty Images)

By Cecilia Ologunagba

New York,  UN Secretary-General António Guterres said that deep global divisions and conflicts must end to clear a path to tackling the world’s two existential threats – climate change and the negative impacts of artificial intelligence.

Guterres said this in his address to the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit in Astana on Thursday.

The 24th Meeting of the Council of Heads of State of the SCO kicked off Thursday in Astana, with Belarus officially becoming a member of the association.

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“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.

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.

The body includes Belarus, China, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

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

The 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,’’ he said.

The UN chief cautioned that people were losing faith in multilateralism, as they point to broken promises, double standards and growing inequalities.

He 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.

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.

Guterres 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, emphasising 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, 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.

In addition, Guterres said countries must commit to phasing out coal power entirely by 2040.

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.

Turning to AI – the second existential threat facing the planet – the secretary-general highlighted the transformative potential of the technology in accelerating sustainable development.

He, however, 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.

Others are ensuring governance of the data used to train AI algorithms and supporting capacity building in developing countries through a global fund.

Guterres also proposed the creation of a compact, dynamic and flexible UN AI Office to oversee these efforts.

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.

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