Africa: UN Chief Warns of Rising Misogyny, Xenophobia, Discrimination, Racism & Hate Speech

UN Secretary-General António Guterres addresses a special session of the Italian parliament in Rome.
19 December 2019
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Rome — Antonio Guterres, United Nations Secretary-General, in an address to the Italian Senate

As we prepare to bid farewell to 2019, we must take a clearsighted look at the global situation and the new challenges we face.

Our world is undergoing a shift. It is no longer bipolar or unipolar. But it is not yet truly multipolar. Balances of power are changing, creating new and dangerous risks.

Around the globe - and just a few hundred kilometres from here - national and regional tensions are spreading.

The Sahel, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan - these conflicts are causing terrible suffering and uprooting millions of people.

Rather than wars between sovereign States, we now see asymmetric conflicts between States and non-State groups. With the growing interference of third parties, these conflicts rapidly take on a regional dimension and are linked to new forms of global instability and terrorism.

The impact of the Libyan conflict on the Sahel and the Lake Chad regions shows how national conflicts can draw in neighbouring states and global powers, creating regional insecurity with implications across continents.

It is particularly worrying to see that the Security council has declared an arms embargo and that we have several member states providing weapons.

In the background to these conflicts is the renewed threat of nuclear proliferation, which is making a worrying comeback.

If we hope to make our world more peaceful and secure, we must start by addressing the underlying causes of tension and conflict.

Prevention is more essential than ever; and prevention on the scale we need is only possible through multilateralism.

That is why all the work of the United Nations is based on crisis prevention and mediation; combating violent extremism and strengthening peace and security; advancing sustainable, inclusive development; and protecting the human rights and dignity of all people, everywhere.

We are pursuing all these efforts in cooperation with regional organizations, including the European Union, a long-standing and essential partner.

I want to focus on five areas in which we face new risks and widening fault lines - and suggest some ways of solutions.

The first area is a failure of global solidarity with the most vulnerable.

I arrived in Rome from Geneva, where I attended the Global Refugee Forum. This forum aims to turn the Global Compact on Refugees, agreed by governments last year, into action, by sharing responsibility for refugees between members of the international community.

I commend the openness, care and compassion the Italians have shown towards tens of thousands of refugees who have arrived on your shores in recent years.

It is deeply troubling that refugees and migrants continue to die as they cross seas and deserts. We must do everything we can to prevent it, by taking action in countries of origin, transit countries and countries of destination.

Above all, we need collective responses, including development programmes that target young people with opportunities and jobs in regions of origin. We must investigate and prosecute the human traffickers and criminal networks that profit from people's misery.

We must strengthen regular pathways for migration and the resettlement of refugees.

And honour the integrity of the international refugee protection regime, not just in words, but in deeds.

European Mediterranean countries that receive refugees and migrants like Greece and Italy are entitled to solidarity and support from their European partners. Unfortunately, until now, we have not seen that solidarity and support fully materialized.

It is unacceptable that people who fear for their lives are being blamed for societies' problems. We must all support each other.

We are seeing a troubling pushback against human rights around the world, including rising misogyny, xenophobia, discrimination, racism and hate speech of all kinds.

Populists try to exploit discontent and division to win and keep power.

We must challenge them with leadership and political courage, based on reason and facts. That is why I have initiated two new strategies at the United Nations: to safeguard religious sites, and to combat hate speech in all its forms.

Diversity is not a threat but an asset. But it requires investment in social cohesion, so that every community feels that its identity is respected, and every person can participate fully in society as a whole.

The second troubling disconnect is between people and planet.

The climate crisis is no longer a long-term problem. It is here. And it is now.

It is a dangerous reality for many people, especially those living in some of the poorest and most vulnerable countries in the world. While they contribute the least to greenhouse gas emissions, they are suffering most.

I saw this myself last year when I visited the Caribbean and Mozambique in the aftermath of devastating storms. And I have to say, you madame president have spoken about that. My first trip when I got married was to Italy.

And I was so deeply shocked when seeing on television the dramatic impact of climate change and that wonderful pearl of European civilization. I want to express my deep solidarity with Venice and with Italy.

We have fooled ourselves into thinking we can fool nature. But nature is fighting back, with a vengeance.

The last few years have been the hottest ever recorded. Sea levels are the highest in human history. Icecaps are receding and deserts are expanding. Our ecosystems are facing unprecedented threats.

Climate-related natural disasters are becoming more frequent, more deadly and more destructive, with growing human and financial costs.

Drought in some parts of the world is progressing at alarming rates, endangering food security, triggering conflicts, and forcing people from their homes.

Every year, air pollution associated with climate change kills seven million people. The climate crisis is a dramatic threat to human health and human security. And this is just the beginning.

If we fail to act now, history will record that we had all the tools needed to change - but we chose not to. Our children and grandchildren will not forgive us if we sacrifice their future for fake short-term profit.

The emperor Nero is still remembered, rightly or wrongly, for fiddling while Rome burned. Do we want to be remembered as the generation that fiddled while our planet burned?

I am disappointed, as I said in the aftermath of the meeting, with the results of the climate talks, COP25, in Madrid.

The international community missed an opportunity to show increased ambition in mitigation, adaptation and finance in order to be able to tackle the climate crisis.

But as I also said, we will not give up. It was clear at the talks that most countries are still determined to advance more ambitious climate action, and that businesses and financial institutions are moving ahead.

The science is clear: we must reduce greenhouse emissions by 45 per cent by 2030; achieve carbon neutrality by 2050; and limit the global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century.

Even if the Paris commitments are fully respected, they will not be enough to set us on that path. But many countries are not even meeting those commitments. Greenhouse gas emissions are still growing at an alarming rate.

We are currently on target to produce nearly three times as much coal as is safe for our planet and for our future. But having said so, my message remains one of hope, not of despair.

The scientific community tells us that the roadmap to stay below 1.5 degrees is still within reach - if we act now.

The technologies needed are already available. And the signs of hope are multiplying. More and more cities, financial institutions and businesses, civil societies entities are committing to the 1.5 degree pathway.

The most important sign of hope is that young people are mobilizing and taking the lead everywhere - including in Europe. But we need more political will.

It is time to put a price on carbon and stop subsidizing fossil fuels with taxpayers' money. We must stop rewarding pollution that is killing people and tax carbon rather than income. The polluters - not the people - must pay.

We must stop building coal power plants in the world from 2020 onwards. And stop digging and drilling and take advantage of the vast possibilities offered by renewable energy and nature-based solutions.

The world's largest emitters must pull their weight. Without them, our goal is unreachable. I welcome the EU's recent commitment to become carbon neutral by 2050 and to work on a European Green Deal, including a more ambitious mitigation target for 2030, and funds for a just transition to a green economy.

Next year's conference, COP26, hosted by the United Kingdom in partnership with Italy, will be a defining moment. In the 12 months ahead, we must keep climate ambition at the top of the international agenda.

We must secure more ambitious national commitments - particularly from the countries with the highest emissions - to start reducing greenhouse gas emissions immediately, consistent with reaching carbon neutrality by 2050.

We must also meet the expectations of developing countries for resources and support towards adaptation and mitigation, disaster response and recovery.

We cannot ignore the social dimensions of the transition in energy. National commitments must include a just transition for people whose jobs and livelihoods are affected.

We have no time to waste and we fully trust italy's leadership in the preparations of COP26. The global solidarity gap and the climate crisis are linked with three other widening fault lines that should concern us all.

First is the risk of an economic, technological and geostrategic fault line dividing the world in two.

The two largest economies, the U.S. and China, could create two separate and competing areas of influence, each with its own dominant currency, trade and financial rules, and military strategies. Each would have its own internet and its own forms of artificial intelligence.

This would dramatically increase the risk of confrontation. We must do everything possible to avert this Great Fracture and preserve a global system: a universal economy with respect for international law; a multipolar world with solid multilateral institutions.

For this, we need a strong Europe, as a fundamental pillar of a multilateral order based on the rule of law and respect for fundamental freedoms. This is not always easy. But successful multilateralism depends on a united and ambitious European Union.

At the national level, we see another widening fault line in the social contract. People feel that economies are not working for them.

We are witnessing a wave of protests across the world. Each situation is unique, but they have two features in common: a growing deficit of trust between people and political establishments, coupled with the negative effects of globalisation and technological progress.

People are suffering and want to be heard. They want equality, social and economic systems that work for everybody. They want their human rights and fundamental freedoms to be respected. And they want to have a say in the decisions that affect their lives.

Governments have a duty to listen to their people, and to respect freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. Everyone must exercise restraint and prioritize dialogue in some of the dramatic crises we are facing today in different parts of the world.

Many of these protests are being led by young people, in particular young women. They are making the links between climate injustice, inequalities and insecurity; and calling for new ways of organizing our political, economic and social systems.

The response to this deep and widespread discontent should be based on a new social contract that is inclusive and fair, for our new age of globalization and hyper-connectivity.

All people should be able to live in dignity. Women should have the same prospects for success as men. People with disabilities should have equal opportunities to realise their potential. The sick and the vulnerable should be protected.

The 2030 Agenda adopted by the General Assembly, with its 17 Sustainable Development Goals, offers exactly that kind of social contract: sustainable, equitable and inclusive development that works for people and planet.

The 2030 Agenda should be at the heart of our thinking on new models for governance. A peaceful and stable society is only possible when there are equal opportunities for all and respect for the rights and freedoms of all.

Finally, these inequalities and fault lines are exacerbated by a growing technological divide.

New technologies hold enormous promise. They are opening up a new world as tools for peace and sustainable development. But at the same time, they pose risks, and they can be misused for nefarious purposes.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution could eradicate entire sectors of the labour market. And while it will also create new opportunities, they might require completely different skills.

This could increase divisions and add to exclusion and inequality. Let's not forget that half the world is not even connected to the internet.

We must therefore put in place long-term education strategies that integrate lifelong learning of new technologies. It is no longer enough to learn; everyone must learn how to learn to enable people to train for the jobs of the future and that no one is left behind.

At the same time, we need a new generation of social protection with innovative safety nets for those facing the bigger risks.

Technology must be a tool for peace, for social progress and reducing inequalities. And we must also address the misuse of technology to commit crimes, spread hate speech, manipulate information, oppress people or invade their privacy.

We already know the results of these activities. Disinformation campaigns based on lies reach the furthest parts of the globe. Many countries have access to sophisticated cyber capabilities that can paralyze entire nations or companies - but what about those countries and people that cannot defend themselves in cyberspace?

Traditional, rigid regulation, it is true, are no longer possible. Digital technology requires new, multi-stakeholder regulation frameworks that are faster and more flexible. And we must also come together to decide on some limits.

I believe one of these limits should be a total ban on lethal autonomous weapons with the power and discretion to kill without human intervention. They are politically unacceptable and morally despicable.

The United Nations can play the role of a convening platform here. It should be the place where governments, companies, researchers, civil society and others meet, to establish protocols to define red lines and best practices together.

Last year, I convened a High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation co-chaired by Melinda Gates and Jack Ma. Its recommendations show how this multi-stakeholder vision can guide our joint efforts to accelerate global internet connectivity, build capacity, and improve digital governance.

I am encouraged that this report has won support from technology companies, governments and civil society. The European Union has already set an example through the General Data Protection Regulation, inspiring similar measures elsewhere. I urge the EU and its Member States to continue to lead to shape the digital age and to be at the forefront of technological innovation and regulation.

I have set out our response to these five fault lines and gaps, based on strong multilateral institutions, solidarity and mutual respect.

But multilateralism itself needs to adapt to the challenges of today and tomorrow. Governments alone cannot achieve the 2030 Agenda or the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. They call for social and economic transformations that will only be brought about with the inclusion and full participation of all those involved: civil society, including young people, the private sector, academia and more.

Women must be at the forefront. We cannot reduce poverty and inequality without addressing the world's most pervasive form of discrimination that affects half of humanity: women and girls.

Gender inequality is first and foremost a question of power, and let's be frank, we still live in a male-dominated world with a male-dominated culture. We will shift the balance when we truly see women's rights as our common goal.

And this is why immediately after assuming the leadership of the United Nations, I put a strategy in place to achieve gender parity well before 2030.

That goal has already been reached in the areas directly under my control: the Senior Management Group and the leaders of our teams around the world have full parity.

I will not rest until we have reached gender parity at all levels of the United Nations - and full equality for women and girls around the world.

Today's multilateralism must be networked and inclusive, closer to the people we serve. We need to work hand in hand with regional organisations, international financial institutions, development banks and specialised agencies.

And our cooperation cannot be limited to inter-governmental approaches and official institutions; I am happy to see members of civil society and young people here today.

Legislators have a crucial role to play. As a former parliamentarian, first of all, I feel very much at home here. But I also know very much that your contribution is critical in advancing shared progress.

Parliaments can be defenders of democracy and agents of accountability, bringing the concerns of ordinary people into the international arena.

Today, we need you more than ever as a link between local actions and urgent global priorities. The challenges we face are interlinked and long-term; so must be our response.

Fighting the climate crisis means advancing peace and social cohesion. Expanding access to technology means taking action for gender equality.

Preventing crises means investing in inclusive and sustainable development. Next year, 2020, we will mark the 75th anniversary of the United Nations by convening a global conversation about the future we want and the UN we need. It will be open to all, to gather ideas and encourage collective action.

The results will be presented to world leaders at the seventy-fifth session of the General Assembly next September. I invite all to participate in this dialogue. We want to use this anniversary to shape our future.

As we look ahead, let's remember that just as all our challenges have been created by humankind, they can be solved by us.

We have proven in the past that we are able to come together. Let's rise to the occasion and build a better future for all.

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