Photo: UN Secretary-General Guterres speaking about 'The Importance of Multilateralism in a Time of Unprecedented Challenge' at Hamad Bin Khalifa University in Doha, Qatar on 16 December 2018. Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, Chairperson of Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development (QF), attended the lecture. Credit: Hamad bin Khalifa University, Doha. - Photo: 2018

Multilateralism Works – With All Its Problems, With All Of Its Difficulties

By António Guterres

The author is UN Secretary-General. Following are extensive extracts from his  public lecture at Hamad Bin Khalifa University in Doha, Qatar on 16 December 2018, which attracted more than 375 guests, including students, faculty and diplomats.

DOHA (IDN-INPS) – We live in a world where, more and more, we have challenges that are global, more and more we have problems that no country can solve by itself, but at the same time a world where many people do not believe that international organizations can be helpful. They believe that their own countries should be doing it by themselves.

Nationalism and forms of xenophobia, forms of populism have been emerging. People are angry – they do not trust their institutions, do not trust their governments, do not trust international organizations. And in this paradox, one can ask – okay, what is the role of the UN? And is the UN doing anything or is it just a talk shop where people discuss lots of things but in the end do very little to solve the problems of humankind?

Probably the central threat for humankind today is climate change and everybody recognizes that climate change is running faster than we are, that it poses a risk to our survival.

On the other hand, we see a multiplication of conflicts and the enormous difficulty in solving those conflicts, and we see those conflicts linked to another global threat, which is terrorism. And terrorism is spreading and is becoming something unpredictable – it can strike anywhere at anytime. No place is safe in relation to international terror today. There was always terrorism, but not this kind of global terrorism that now appears.

It is obvious that we have people on the move. We have victims of conflict or persecution who are refugees. We have people who can simply no longer live in their countries because of drought, because there are no chances of employment or because they aspire to a better life for them or their children and migrate.

In a context where, as we all know, most of these movements are today controlled by smugglers and traffickers who dramatically violate their human rights and generate situations of chaos that have a very negative impact on public opinion, that become themselves xenophobic against migrants and create problems even in the political systems of their countries.

Not to mention the fact that we are now facing the impact of new technologies from the use of the Web that we all, to a certain extent, are now, I would say, relatively, we became slaves, but artificial intelligence and all the new developments that are taking place that will have a huge impact.

There will be massive destruction of jobs, massive creation of jobs, at the same time, we are not prepared for that. It is clear that education, training, skills are absolutely vital, but it has no longer any meaning to teach people to do things. What is necessary is to teach people to be able to learn permanently because for the students that are here, very probably you will have jobs in the future that today simply do not exist and are not even imaginable.

So the question is, all our educational systems need to adapt to this new reality and permanent change, but it’s also obvious that facing this will require adequate social safety nets. People will lose their jobs, but the jobs created will not be similar to jobs that existed. We will need to have probably a new concept of work, with a new relationship between work, leisure and other occupations.

So many things are challenging us and we are not making enough efforts to prepare ourselves for these challenges.

Now, in this context, as it was said, it is clear that countries cannot do it alone. It is clear that we need multilateral forms of governance. It is clear that we need to have international cooperation to address these questions, but we see more and more reluctance in many areas of the world and more and more do it by ourselves, more and more let’s solve our problem and forget about the others.

So, in this context, what are we doing?

These two weeks, it started in Marrakech. I don’t know if you have heard about Marrakech. In Marrakech, we were able to approve a global compact on migration. Not all countries were there. Some do not believe in international cooperation.

But when we see these movements of people around the world, with countries of origin, countries of transit and countries of destination, it is obvious that no country alone can solve the problem. And we see people stranded at borders, suffering enormously, and we see situations that have created dramatic violations of human rights and we see fortunes being made by smugglers, traffickers everywhere. So it’s clear we need international cooperation, but some are saying “no, no, no, no – we’ll do it by ourselves, we’ll close our doors and the problems will go somewhere else.” They won’t go somewhere else. There is no way to close the doors – if you close the door, people enter by the window, if you close the window, people dig a tunnel. There is no way. We need to have international cooperation.

So what was extremely important in Marrakech is that we came together – more than 150 countries – and we decided to cooperate on a number of things that seem obvious, but it’s very difficult to implement.

First, we need to offer opportunities to people where they live. Development cooperation policies – and there are billions that are used in development cooperation policies – sometimes, they do not really care to make sure that conditions are created for people to have opportunities in their own villages, their own cities, in their own communities.

Sometimes development cooperation supports investments that uproot people, and when you’re uprooted once, you become easily uprooted many more times. So we need to redesign all development cooperation policies in order to make sure that they help create opportunities for people to have a future in their own countries, and not only in their own countries, in their own regions.

To avoid this kind of massive chaotic urbanization that we are seeing in some parts of the world, urbanization is inevitable, but it should be organized, it should be progressive and not chaotic, generating slums where people live in very miserable conditions and where, of course, people become the first candidates to migrate to other places. So we were able to redesign what development cooperation should be.

But we were also able to agree that migration is necessary, and if migration is necessary, it is better to organize it. My country needs migrants. Portugal is a relatively poor country but I used that example in the meeting [in Marrakech].

My mother is 95 years old. We have a 24-hour system of support to her because of her health condition. I’ve never seen a Portuguese taking care of my mother. So we need migrants. Everybody needs migrants, even those that say no, no, no – no, no, no, they need migrants. But if we need migrants, better then to organize this movement, cooperate, to have legal opportunities for migration.

And what we have agreed was let’s establish more legal opportunities for migration and let’s cooperate much more in cracking down on traffickers and smugglers. If you look at today’s world, there is very effective international cooperation on cracking down on drug traffickers, but much less effective cooperation on cracking down on traffickers of human beings.

If I want to be cynical, I have an explanation for that. When I was in government, I never thought that my children would be trafficked, but I always thought that they would be victims of drugs. So probably all members of government everywhere in the world are more worried with the drugs than with the trafficking because they believe that their children themselves will not be trafficked.

The problem is that for the levels of poverty that exist, the levels of discrimination that exist, many, many people are now victims of trafficking for the most horrible situations that you can imagine and we are all under threat of that. So cracking down effectively on smugglers and traffickers requires forms of cooperation of intelligence services, of police forces, of justice systems, much stronger than the ones that we have now.

And these were the things that we were trying to establish in Marrakech. These were the things that we were trying to create as a compact, a voluntary compact, because in today’s world, it’s very difficult to have everybody agreeing on mandatory things, but a voluntary compact bringing countries together to try to give a human face to migration, and, at the same time, to create conditions for countries of origin to benefit and countries of destination also to benefit from an ordinary regular migration instead of this chaotic thing that we see sometimes on the screens of televisions that one hand show suffering of people, on the other hand show that countries are not benefiting from the contributions of those people.

And then after Marrakech, I went to Stockholm, you might have heard about it, for the Yemen talks. After many years, it was possible to have a first agreement. Now, why is the UN important in the context of these countries? For a very simple reason.

There is such a level of mistrust among those that are involved in these countries that you need bridge builders, you need honest brokers, you need entities that have the legitimacy to be perceived as impartial.

And it cannot be done by those that are involved in the conflict themselves or those that have interests related to those conflicts. It’s very difficult to have a mediator that both sides will trust and that’s exactly the role of the UN.

And I believe, when I see what we are doing in Yemen, when I see what we are doing in Libya, when I see what we did in South Sudan, what we are doing in the DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo], what we are doing in so many other parts of the world – the UN has this legitimacy being the organization of all countries in the world. We are not here to serve east or west, south or north, this country or that country – we are here to offer a platform for those that fight each other to sit together and have a referee that is impartial to establish new forms of solving their problems.

And the truth is that it works. The truth is that we have seen many conflicts in the world being effectively mediated and then the UN also has the capacity to organize peacekeeping operations through different forms of development cooperation or humanitarian aid.

In Yemen, there is a gigantic humanitarian operation that is essentially led by the United Nations. Through the combination of true mediating capacity, humanitarian aid and development cooperation, there are things that the UN can do and that countries by themselves, even if they can do, they have not the legitimacy that allows for them to be trusted to be able to do.

And then, I went three times in these two weeks to Katowice [in Poland]. In Katowice, we had a meeting of COP24 – COP means Conference of Parties. They are the Conference of Parties in relation to the climate convention. And the objective of Katowice was to approve the work programme of the Paris Agreement. Now, why was it so important and why do we need the UN to do this?

First, it was extremely important for a very simple reason: climate change, as I mentioned in the beginning, is running much faster than we are. We are seeing that all the scientific predictions – I know that there are still some people that do not believe in science; I believe that it is better if we believe in science than go to a witch! – even the scientific predictions that were made are, to a certain extent, proven wrong because things are getting worse than what was forecasted.

We see glaciers melting much more quickly than before, we see the temperature of the water rising much more quickly than expected, we see the ice cap of the Arctic being reduced at such a level that soon it will completely disappear in the summer. I read this week that the glaciers in eastern Antarctica, for the first time, are melting and risking separation.

On the other hand, we see the multiplication of natural disasters that are more and more damaging, dramatic impacts and more frequent and with the worst humanitarian consequences – the Caribbean or the islands of the Pacific or even recently in Florida, in Asia, in India – so things are getting worse and worse and worse and the political will is not growing as fast as necessary and the response is not as fast as necessary.

We are not reducing our emissions. On the contrary, we are still increasing the level of emissions in the last year. And the Paris Agreement was extremely important because, for the first time, countries came together in a UN context and were able to accept a number of commitments, common commitments, to make sure that we wouldn’t have an increase in temperature in the end of the century bigger than 1.5 to 2 degrees and this commitment was made.

And at the same time, countries engaged in a number of measures that they promised to do, but what we are seeing is that they are not yet doing it entirely, or many of them are not doing it entirely, and the way to regulate these and the way to measure these and the way to create monitoring mechanisms for these and the way to be transparent in how this is done and how the financial support for countries also to do it from those that have more capacity to those that lack capacity – for all these to be approved, it’s like when you’re in a country, a constitution, then we need the laws to implement the constitution. Those laws to implement the Paris Agreement were one problem of the Paris Agreement that had to be approved in Katowice.

There was a reason not to reach an agreement, and the reason I went there three times was exactly to make sure that we could reach an agreement and the funny thing is that the last difficult moment of the Katowice Agreement was solved here in Qatar. There was a problem – I’m not going to mention the country – and it was in Qatar I met the minister of the country yesterday evening and we agreed that indeed the problem had to be solved and we had the solution for the problem.

The role of the UN is to be an honest broker, is to be the kind of impartial element that can build with developed and developing countries, with the countries that have big emissions and countries that are the main victims of climate change. There must be this role and an environment where they can all come together, that’s the role of the UN.

As you have seen, there was a success – people have agreed and this will allow us now to be much more ambitious. I have convened a summit for September next year to bring together heads of State and Government from all over the world to make sure that the commitments that were made in Paris and need to be renewed in 2020 will be in peace for us to be able to finally contain the impacts of climate change in relation to our society.

And so for those that say that the UN is not necessary, we can do it by ourselves, the proof is that when we want to come together and address the most dramatic challenges that we face in peace and security or in human rights, the rights of migrants, or in addressing challenges like the ones that correspond to climate change, the UN is not only necessary, but with all of its problems, with all of its difficulties, it works.

And it can work better and that is why we are so strongly engaged in a process of reform to make it more effective, more nimble, more able to respond quickly to the challenges that we face, more able to provide a platform of action much more effective than the one that exists today.

But I want to report that many people say, the fact is, with all its problems, with all of its difficulties, multilateralism works. We are able to address problems, we are able to solve them, and, in a chaotic situation in which there will be no rules, in which each one will fight for each one’s interests, it is clear that for the powerful, it might be a solution, but for the world, it will be a disaster. [IDN-InDepthNews – 23 December 2018]

Photo: UN Secretary-General Guterres speaking about ‘The Importance of Multilateralism in a Time of Unprecedented Challenge’ at Hamad Bin Khalifa University in Doha, Qatar on 16 December 2018. Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, Chairperson of Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development (QF), attended the lecture. Credit: Hamad bin Khalifa University, Doha.

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate. –

Send your comment: 

Subscribe to IDN Newsletter:

Related Posts

Begin typing your search term above and press enter to search. Press ESC to cancel.

Back To Top