Guterres anticipates “a winter of discontent” in UN General Assembly opening speech

Advocates taxing windfall profits of energy companies

UN Secretary General António Guterres has launched at the start of the General Assembly a call for the mobilization of the international community to tackle from all fronts the cascade of current challenges, in anticipation of “a winter of discontent on a global scale”.

“We need action across the board,” said Guterres, who fears the effects of rising living costs and inequality, as well as climate change. “People are suffering and the most vulnerable are bearing the brunt,” he said from the lectern.

The top UN official has lamented that, faced with “enormous and momentous” challenges, the international community is “unprepared or unwilling.” He considers that this is not the time for individualities, since “there is no power or group that can, on its own, dominate the situation”.

In his opinion, conflicts and humanitarian emergencies are spreading “without any attention being paid to them”, as would be demonstrated by the fact that the UN appeal for humanitarian emergencies is dragging a deficit of 32 billion dollars, “the largest in history”.

Guterres reviewed in his speech some of the current crises, among which he alluded to Ukraine. In this area, he highlighted the importance of the agreement for the export of cereals signed between Kiev and Moscow, in which the UN acted as mediator. It was not a “miracle”, but an example of diplomacy.

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“The war (in Ukraine) has unleashed widespread destruction, with large-scale violations of international humanitarian law and human rights,” said Guterres, who sees “extremely disturbing” reports pointing to the discovery of mass graves in the Ukrainian town of Izium after the departure of Russian forces.

The collateral effects of the conflict also extend beyond Ukraine, as it has exacerbated the “global cost-of-living crisis,” according to the former Portuguese prime minister.

In this regard, he recalled that some 94 countries in which 1.6 billion people live are facing “a perfect storm” in which rising food and energy prices, the “crushing” debt burden and the lack of access to new funds are intertwined.

ENERGY TAXES

In the energy field, he has established as a premise that “those who pollute must pay”. “The time has come to intervene”, which for Guterres means “demanding accountability” from fossil fuel companies and all those that revolve around their orbit, in particular financial institutions.

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“Just as they did with the tobacco companies a few decades ago, lobbyists and professional manipulators of information have sown harmful disinformation,” he said, alluding to the “huge public relations machine” that somehow protects the entire industry.

“Fossil fuel interests need to spend less time avoiding a public relations disaster and more time avoiding a planetary disaster,” he said.

Although Guterres admitted that non-renewable energies “cannot be phased out overnight”, he does believe that it is time to “put companies and their investors on notice”. He has therefore called directly on all developed economies to tax windfall profits.

The funds raised, he said, should be redirected to the countries that are paying the most for the ravages of the global climate crisis and to the people who are now experiencing “difficulties” due to the rise in both energy and food prices.

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