In what The Guardian newspaper called “his most stinging speeches to date”, UN Secretary-General António Guterres highlighted the global crisis of inequality as “a growing threat to our future” that should be addressed with a “New Global Deal” before it “destroys our economies and societies”.
The UN chief used this year’s Nelson Mandela lecture on Saturday, July 18, to point out that the coronavirus pandemic is exposing “fallacies and falsehoods everywhere”: “While we are all floating on the same sea, it’s clear that some of us are in superyachts while others are clinging to the floating debris”, he said.
According to Guterres, the pandemic is causing a massive setback in the implementation of the UN’s sustainable development goals. “Entire regions that were making progress on eradicating poverty and narrowing inequality have been set back years, in a matter of months”, he said, adding that “one hundred million more people could be pushed into extreme poverty. We could see famines of historic proportions.”
Addressing inequality must start by reforming global institutions
Guterres emphasized the long-term nature of the crisis of inequality, saying that between 1980 and 2016, “the world’s richest 1 percent captured 27 percent of the total cumulative growth in income”. In the 21st century, the climate crisis and digital transformation “could widen inequalities even further”. He argued that growing inequality undermines trust between people, institutions, and leaders.
The UN chief stated that addressing inequality must start by reforming global institutions at the top.
With an indirect reference to the five permanent members of the Security Council he lamented that this was not happening: “The nations that came out on top more than seven decades ago have refused to contemplate the reforms needed to change power relations in international institutions. The composition and voting rights in the United Nations Security Council and the boards of the Bretton Woods system are a case in point.”
According to the UN Secretary-General, “the global political and economic system are not delivering on critical global public goods: public health, climate action, sustainable development, peace.” He called for a “New Social Contract” and a “New Global Deal” that “create equal opportunities for all, and respect the rights and freedoms of all” and bring about “a redistribution of power, wealth and opportunities.”
In his speech Guterres advocated a “new model for global governance” that “must be based on full, inclusive and equal participation in global institutions.” He did not provide specifics on how exactly this model should look like, though.
A new model for global governance
On Monday, the Executive Director of Democracy Without Borders, Andreas Bummel, welcomed Guterres “clear words” on the crisis of inequality and the failure of the global system to meet people’s expectations and deliver critical global public goods. He added that the UN Secretary-General needs to take action to improve representation and participation of the world’s citizens at the UN. “If he does not move forward on this front, his vision of inclusive global governance is not credible. Not all changes at the UN depend on the initiative of the permanent members of the Security Council”, Bummel said.
According to Democracy Without Borders, there are two key proposals that would improve the UN’s inclusive character and could be implemented by the UN General Assembly: the establishment of a UN Parliamentary Assembly and the instrument of a UN World Citizens’ Initiative. The former would allow elected representatives to participate in the UN’s work whereas the latter would enable citizens to put proposals on the UN’s agenda.
Both proposals are included in the “UN75 People’s Declaration and Plan for Action” that was adopted by civil society organizations on the occasion of the UN’s 75 anniversary this year and presented to the President of the current UN General Assembly, Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, in May.
A UN Parliamentary Assembly has been called for by more than 1,600 current and former members of parliament, among others, and a campaign for a World Citizens’ Initiative is endorsed by over 200 civil society groups and networks from across the world.
“Eventually, a new global social contract needs to be based on a democratic world parliament,” Bummel said.