Secretary-General’s address to the 76th Session of the UN General Assembly

Milestones :: Perspectives :: Research


Editor’s Note:
We include this extended excerpt from the Secretary General’s address to the UN General Assembly earlier this week, noting his characterization of current state of COVID vaccine equity: “…This is a moral indictment of the state of our world. It is an obscenity…”

Secretary-General’s address to the 76th Session of the UN General Assembly
António Guterres, UN Secretary General
21 September 2021
[Editor’s text bolding]
Mr. President of the General Assembly, Excellencies,
I am here to sound the alarm:  The world must wake up. We are on the edge of an abyss — and moving in the wrong direction.

Our world has never been more threatened. Or more divided. We face the greatest cascade of crises in our lifetimes.

The COVID-19 pandemic has supersized glaring inequalities. The climate crisis is pummeling the planet. Upheaval from Afghanistan to Ethiopia to Yemen and beyond has thwarted peace.


A surge of mistrust and misinformation is polarizing people and paralyzing societies. Human rights are under fire. Science is under assault. And economic lifelines for the most vulnerable are coming too little and too late — if they come at all.

Solidarity is missing in action — just when we need it most.

Perhaps one image tells the tale of our times. The picture we have seen from some parts of the world of COVID-19 vaccines … in the garbage.  Expired and unused.

On the one hand, we see the vaccines developed in record time — a victory of science and human ingenuity. On the other hand, we see that triumph undone by the tragedy of a lack of political will, selfishness and mistrust. A surplus in some countries.  Empty shelves in others. A majority of the wealthier world vaccinated.  Over 90 percent of Africans still waiting for their first dose.


This is a moral indictment of the state of our world. It is an obscenity. We passed the science test. But we are getting an “F” in ethics…

COVID and the climate crisis have exposed profound fragilities as societies and as a planet.
Yet instead of humility in the face of these epic challenges, we see hubris. Instead of the path of solidarity, we are on a dead end to destruction.


At the same time, another disease is spreading in our world today:  a malady of mistrust.

When people see promises of progress denied by the realities of their harsh daily lives…
When they see their fundamental rights and freedoms curtailed…
When they see petty — as well as grand — corruption around them…
When they see billionaires joyriding to space while millions go hungry on earth…
When parents see a future for their children that looks even bleaker than the struggles of today…And when young people see no future at all…


The people we serve and represent may lose faith not only in their governments and institutions — but in the values that have animated the work of the United Nations for over 75 years.
Peace.  Human rights.  Dignity for all.  Equality.  Justice.  Solidarity.

Like never before, core values are in the crosshairs. A breakdown in trust is leading to a breakdown in values. 

Promises, after all, are worthless if people do not see results in their daily lives. Failure to deliver creates space for some of the darkest impulses of humanity. It provides oxygen for easy fixes, pseudo-solutions and conspiracy theories. It is kindling to stoke ancient grievances.  Cultural supremacy.  Ideological dominance.  Violent misogyny.  The targeting of the most vulnerable including refugees and migrants.

We face a moment of truth. Now is the time to deliver. Now is the time to restore trust. Now is the time to inspire hope.

And I do have hope.

The problems we have created are problems we can solve. Humanity has shown that we are capable of great things when we work together. That is the raison d’être of our United Nations.

But let’s be frank.  Today’s multilateral system is too limited in its instruments and capacities, in relation to what is needed for effective governance of managing global public goods. It is too fixed on the short-term.

We need to strengthen global governance.  We need to focus on the future.  We need to renew the social contract.  We need to ensure a United Nations fit for a new era.

That is why I presented my report on Our Common Agenda in the way I did. It provides a 360 degree analysis of the state of our world, with 90 specific recommendations that take on the challenges of today and strengthen multilateralism for tomorrow.

Our Common Agenda builds on the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and the Paris Climate Agreement. It is in line with the mandate I was given by the UN75 Declaration to seek a pathway to a better world.
But to reach that land of our promises, we must bridge Great Divides…

I see 6 Great Divides — 6 Grand Canyons — that we must bridge now.

First, we must bridge the peace divide…
Second, we must bridge the climate divide…
Third, we must bridge the gap between rich and poor, within and among countries…
Fourth, we must bridge the gender divide…
Fifth, restoring trust and inspiring hope means bridging the digital divide…
Sixth, and finally, we need to bridge the divide among generations…

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