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UN chief warns of impending ‘winter of global discontent’ amid searing divisions

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‘We have a duty to act. And yet we are gridlocked in colossal global dysfunction,’ warns Antonio Guterres

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned Tuesday of a worrying escalation in geopolitical divides that he said risks severe “dysfunction” at a time when international cooperation is essential to meet global challenges.

“We need action across the board. Let’s have no illusions. We are in rough seas. A winter of global discontent is on the horizon,” Guterres said as he opened the 77th UN General Assembly debate.

“A cost-of-living crisis is raging. Trust is crumbling. Inequalities are exploding. Our planet is burning. People are hurting – with the most vulnerable suffering the most. The United Nations Charter and the ideals it represents are in jeopardy. We have a duty to act. And yet we are gridlocked in colossal global dysfunction,” he added.

At present, Guterres said, the international community “is not ready or willing” to tackle the challenges before it due to blistering geopolitical divides that are undermining the UN Security Council, international law and more fundamentally “trust and people’s faith in democratic institutions.”

“We cannot go on like this,” he said.

Global divides are being exacerbated by social media companies that are “based on a business model that monetizes outrage, anger, and negativity,” he said, which has resulted in “untold damage to communities and societies.”

The UN chief’s appeal comes amid Russia’s ongoing war against Ukraine, which has exacerbated global tension as the West, led by the US, seeks to push back on the offensive by exerting diplomatic and economic pressure on the Kremlin, including at the UN.

In return, Moscow has sought to blunt several western-backed initiatives at the UN Security Council where it wields veto power, including stymying new sanctions on North Korea as Pyongyang carries out waves of ballistic missile tests in violation of existing council resolutions.

It has also thwarted council action condemning Russia’s assault on Ukraine.

But Guterres held out the deal to protect grain exports from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports, which was brokered with the UN’s and Türkiye’s support, as a sign that global division need not be the status quo.

The deal was reached “despite the enormous complexities, the naysayers and even the hell of wars,” said Guterres.

“The Black Sea Grain Initiative has opened the pathway for the safe navigation of dozens of ships filled with much-needed food supplies. But each ship is also carrying one of today’s rarest commodities: Hope,” he said. “We need hope, and more, we need action.”

The deal has been viewed as a major boon for global food markets destabilized by conflict and increasingly disastrous weather events caused by climate change.

To further ease the global food crisis, Guterres said attention must now be turned to global fertilizer markets.

“This year, the world has enough food, the problem is distribution. If the fertilizer market is not stabilized, next year’s problem might be food supply itself,” he said, emphasizing the need to ensure US and allied sanctions on Russia do not impede the export of Moscow’s fertilizers and component parts, such as ammonia.

“These products are not subject to sanctions, and we will keep up our efforts to eliminate indirect effects” from sanctions, he said, warning that globally-high gas prices have also affected the production of nitrogen fertilizers.

“Without action now, the global fertilizer shortage will quickly morph into a global food shortage,” he said.

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