Photo: Secretary-General António Guterres briefs journalists on his priorities for 2020 and the work of the Organization. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten. - Photo: 2020

The UN at 75 Moving From a Talking Shop to a Listening Post

By Ramesh Jaura

BERLIN | NEW YORK (IDN) – Bob Dylan in “Blowin’ in the Wind”, one of the ‘Greatest Songs of All Time’, poses a series of rhetorical questions about peace, war, and freedom. The refrain “The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind” has been described as “impenetrably ambiguous: either the answer is so obvious it is right in your face, or the answer is as intangible as the wind”.

This applies, albeit partially, to United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres´ brief to journalists at the UN headquarters in New York on 4 February on the work of the organization and priorities for 2020 which marks a milestone for the United Nations – its 75th anniversary.

“Too often, governments and international institutions are viewed as places that talk – not as places that listen,” he said. Therefore, he wants the UN “essentially to listen”. So, the world body intends to mark the anniversary “based on conversations in every corner of the world about the future we want and the United Nations we need”.

The UN chief has no doubt that people have much to say. The disquiet in streets and squares across the world is proof that people want to be heard. They want world leaders to answer their anxieties with effective action, he says.

“That means addressing cascading challenges and breaking what I call the vicious circles that define our day,” he adds. “One such vicious circle is in the realm of peace and security – making conflicts longer, more lethal and more likely to erupt in the first place.”

From Libya to Yemen to Syria and beyond, “winds of hope” have been replaced by “a wind of madness… sweeping the globe”. Escalation is back. Arms are flowing and offensives are increasing.

“All situations are different,” says Guterres, “but there is a feeling of growing instability and hair-trigger tensions, which makes everything far more unpredictable and uncontrollable, with a heightened risk of miscalculation”. To make things worse, adds the UN chief, Security Council resolutions are being disrespected even before the ink is dry.

How can world leaders answer the peoples’ anxieties with “effective action”? One looks for the Secretary-General’s response in vain. As Dylan would say: “The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind”.

Instead, Guterres continues with an impressive description of the dire situation characterised by entrenched poverty, populism and ethnic nationalism, rising instability, persisting armed conflicts, governance growing weak and terrorists getting stronger.

And then he announces that in the year ahead, he will “press to break the vicious circles of suffering and conflict and to push for a strong surge of diplomacy for peace”, adding that he would be attending the African Union Summit on February 9-10 in Addis Ababa.

Moving on to the vicious circle of exacerbating climate crisis, ocean warming, the impact on ecosystems and the Australian bushfires, Guterres says: “The challenge for this year’s climate conference in Glasgow, COP 26, is clear: all countries must show more ambition on adaptation, mitigation and finance. And the big emitters must lead the way.”

While “we are still seeing too many plans for coal plants – the addiction to coal remains dangerously strong,” he adds: “There is some good news. Awareness of the risks is growing. Announcements of climate action by governments and the private sector are gathering steam. Investments are increasing. Minds are changing…But we need to keep up the pressure to break the vicious circle that is propelling both humankind and the natural world to the point of no return.”

The UN chief says, “now is also the time to break the vicious circle of poverty and inequality and to shape a fair globalization leaving no one behind”. As is widely known, the blueprint are Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and a Decade of Action to deliver the Goals. In such “a great, global mobilization,” finance is of course critical, states Guterres the obvious.

Then follows the Secretary-General’s assurance: “I will continue my efforts to build both a networked multilateralism, with the United Nations and all international organizations working together, and an inclusive multilateralism able to listen and incorporate the contributions of business, civil society, local and regional authorities, and young people.

“Despite often deep divisions among Member States, I am determined to keep listening to people, to speaking out for reason, holding fast to principles, and guide myself and the UN by the mission and values of the UN Charter.”

A welcome resolve! But “either the answer is so obvious it is right in your face, or the answer is as intangible as the wind”. [IDN-InDepthNews – 08 February 2020]

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Photo: Secretary-General António Guterres briefs journalists on his priorities for 2020 and the work of the Organization. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten.

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate. –

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