United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres painted an apocalyptic picture of global relations Wednesday and warned of modern-day versions of the “four horsemen” in a wide-ranging speech to diplomats.
Addressing the UN General Assembly, Guterres said the world’s 7.7 billion people face existential dangers from geopolitical tensions, the climate crisis, global mistrust and the dark side of technology.
“I see four horsemen in our midst -- four looming threats that endanger 21st-century progress and imperil 21st-century possibilities,” Guterres told the 193-nation body in what amounts to his New Year message. The four horsemen of the Apocalypse in the Bible represent pestilence, war, famine and death.
“Devastating conflicts continue to cause widespread misery. Terrorist attacks take a merciless toll. The nuclear menace is growing. More people have been forced from their homes by war and persecution than at any time since the Second World War.”
Guterres spoke as his UN colleagues warned about the safety of more than 3 million civilians in rebel-held Idlib, in northwestern Syria, where a government military offensive is aimed at clawing back territory in the country’s brutal civil war.
In recent days, the UN chief has also been working with Germany and other powers to hammer out a peace plan to stop governments arming Libya’s militias and bring an end to the violence that has plagued the north African oil exporter.
Guterres told of an “existential climate crisis” and rising temperatures melting polar ice caps, threatening life and pushing the planet “closer to the point of no return,” while policymakers are sitting on their hands.
“Scientists tell us that ocean temperatures are now rising at the equivalent of five Hiroshima bombs a second,” said Guterres, a former head of the UN refugee agency and ex-prime minister of Portugal.
“One million species are in near-term danger of extinction. Our planet is burning.”
To answer these threats, Guterres called on leaders to throw their weight behind the UN system and announced a “decade of action” through the 2020s to focus on brainstorming new ways to promote “fair globalization.”
At the same meeting, Norway’s Ambassador to the UN Mona Juul urged nations to rally behind the world body to achieve its anti-poverty and sustainability targets in what is known as the 2030 Agenda.
“Without effective multilateralism, we will not achieve Agenda 2030 or solve challenges like climate change, marine pollution, biodiversity, irregular migration or new security threats,” she said on behalf of Nordic countries.
Reporting by James Reinl in United Nations
Writing by Corey Blackman