“If I have to select one sentence to describe the state of the world, I would say we are in a world in which global challenges are more integrated, and the responses are more and more fragmented. And, if these are not reversed, it is a recipe for disaster,” warned UN Secretary-General António Guterres in a special address at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting.
Outlining the prevailing risk landscape, one characterized by the megatrends of climate change, migration, digitalization and protracted conflict, the UN Secretary-General identified climate change as the most important systemic threat in the near future and one, he said, “we are losing the race on.”
“Climate change is running faster than we are and we have this paradox,” Guterres observed, “The reality is proving to be worse than what scientists foresaw, and all the large indicators show that, and we are moving dramatically into runaway climate change if we are not able to stop it.”
Pointing to a growing complexity in the international community and global trade, Guterres argued that, geopolitically, the world is in a state of tumultuous flux. “We no longer live in a bipolar or unipolar world but we are not yet in a multipolar world; we are in a kind of chaotic situation of transition,” he told political and business leaders gathered in Davos. “The relationship between the three most important powers, Russia, the US and China, has never been as dysfunctional as it is today and this is true for the economy, and also true in the paralysis of the UN Security Council.”
To address the complexity and interconnectedness of the myriad risks ahead, the real frustrations of the “rust belts of the world” and a trend of “illiberal democracies”, the UN head advocated only one approach. “I am a multilateralist; I am deeply convinced there is no other way to deal with global problems but with global responses. It is also not enough to vilify those that disagree and call them nationalists or populists,” he stressed: “We need to understand the root causes of why large sectors of the population in different parts of the world today disagree with us – and we need to address those root causes and show these people that we care for them.”
Tackling global crises – from combating climate change to developing a set of rules on the “weaponization of AI” – cannot be achieved by any one country, but should be addressed collectively by governments, the private sector, civil society and academia, urged Guterres.
Representing an organization of 100 million people, operating in 40 countries and mobilizing some $15 billion, Guterres said that, in 2019, the UN will be pushing for a surge in diplomacy for peace in some of the world’s hotspots – including Yemen, Syria and South Sudan – and greater spending on mitigating climate change. As part of bureaucratic reform, he added that the UN expects to achieve internal gender parity by 2028.
Turning to the disruptive and transformative impacts of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, Guterres suggested engaging more financial institutions to invest in developing countries and promote social and green bonds, dealing with the massive restructuring of the labour force and redesigning our education systems.
“We need to mobilize governments, the business community and civil society to understand what kind of impact the Fourth Industrial Revolution is going to have in the next decade and what kind of measures can we start taking, such as in education,” he mused. “It doesn’t matter how many things you learn but how you learn to learn, because you will be doing many different things.”