‘We need to wake up’: UN chief fears entry into ‘wider war’ over invasion of Ukraine

Guterres notes that top scientists and security experts have moved Doomsday Clock to just 90 seconds to midnight, the closest it has ever been to signaling annihilation of humanity

Illustrative: A man helps a woman to walk out from a residential building which was hit by a Russian rocket, in the city center of Kharkiv, Ukraine, February 5, 2023. (AP Photo/Andrii Marienko)
Illustrative: A man helps a woman to walk out from a residential building which was hit by a Russian rocket, in the city center of Kharkiv, Ukraine, February 5, 2023. (AP Photo/Andrii Marienko)

UNITED NATIONS, New York (AFP) — United Nations chief Antonio Guterres warned Monday that he fears the likelihood of further escalation in the Russia-Ukraine conflict means the world is heading toward a “wider war.”

The secretary-general laid out his priorities for the year in a gloomy speech to the United Nations General Assembly that focused on Russia’s invasion, the climate crisis, and extreme poverty.

“We have started 2023 staring down the barrel of a confluence of challenges unlike any in our lifetimes,” he told diplomats in New York.

Guterres noted that top scientists and security experts had moved the “Doomsday Clock” to just 90 seconds to midnight last month, the closest it has ever been to signaling the annihilation of humanity.

The secretary-general said he was taking it as a warning sign.

“We need to wake up — and get to work,” he implored, as he listed the urgent issues.

Ukrainian policemen stand in front of a damaged residential building after a Russian shelling in Kherson, southern Ukraine, on January 29, 2023. (Genya SAVILOV / AFP)

Top of the list was Russia’s war in Ukraine, which is approaching its one-year anniversary.

“The prospects for peace keep diminishing. The chances of further escalation and bloodshed keep growing,” he said.

“I fear the world is not sleepwalking into a wider war. I fear it is doing so with its eyes wide open.”

Guterres referenced other threats to peace, from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to Afghanistan, Myanmar, the Sahel and Haiti.

“If every country fulfilled its obligations under the (UN) Charter, the right to peace would be guaranteed,” he said.

He added it is “time to transform our approach to peace by recommitting to the Charter — putting human rights and dignity first, with prevention at the heart.”

Relatives stand by the coffin of Eduard Strauss, a Ukrainian serviceman who died in combat on January 17, in Bakhmut, during his funeral in Irpin, Ukraine, on February 6, 2023. (AP Photo/Daniel Cole)

More broadly, Guterres denounced a lack of “strategic vision” and a “bias” of political and business decision-makers towards the short term.

“The next poll. The next tactical political maneuver to cling to power. But also the next business cycle — or even the next day’s stock price.

“This near-term thinking is not only deeply irresponsible — it is immoral,” he added.

Stressing the need to act with future generations in mind, the secretary-general repeated his call for a “radical transformation” of global finance.

Climate ‘ambition’

“Something is fundamentally wrong with our economic and financial system,” Guterres said, blaming it for the increase in poverty and hunger, the growing gap between rich and poor, and the debt burden of developing countries.

“Without fundamental reforms, the richest countries and individuals will continue to pile up wealth, leaving crumbs for the communities and countries of the Global South,” he added.

The UN Development Program estimates that the world has gone back five years in terms of human development, including health, education, and living standards.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres addresses the 77th session of the General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York, September 20, 2022. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

The UN’s sustainable development goals are “disappearing in the rearview mirror,” Guterres lamented.

The 17 goals set in 2015 aim to eliminate poverty, provided food security for all, and access to clean and affordable energy by 2030.

“We have opportunities before us to rescue (them),” said Guterres, who is organizing a summit on the subject in New York in September.

The fight against global warming and “climate ambition” will be at the heart of another summit in September where he invited world leaders, but “with a condition.”

“Show us accelerated action in this decade and renewed ambitious net zero plans — or please don’t show up,” he said, before again attacking fossil fuel producers.

“If you cannot set a credible course for net-zero, with 2025 and 2030 targets covering all your operations, you should not be in business.”

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