“I have a special message for fossil-fuel producers and their enablers scrambling to expand production and raking in monster profits: 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.

Your core product is our core problem.”

— UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres’s words are often visionary and hard-hitting. He lays out problems clearly and in-depth and moves into the call for pragmatic solutions.

At Davos, he called for more business engagement while recognizing the crisis of trust and laying out some ground rules for that engagement. His thoughtfulness brings more transparency to the problems and the solutions. In addressing the Davos World Economic Forum, he called out:

We need cooperation, yet we face fragmentation.

I am not here to sugar-coat the scale of that challenge – or the sorry state of our world.

We can’t confront problems unless we look them squarely in the eye.

And we are looking into the eye of a Category 5 hurricane.

Our world is plagued by a perfect storm on a number of fronts….

Start with the short-term, a global economic crisis.

The outlook, as we all know, is bleak.

Many parts of the world face recession and the entire world faces a slowdown.

We see deepening inequalities and a rapidly unfolding cost-of-living crisis – affecting women and girls the most.

Supply chain disruptions and an energy crunch.

Soaring prices.

Rising interest rates along with inflation.

And debt levels pounding vulnerable countries.

Add to all of that the lingering effects of the pandemic.

COVID-19 is still straining economies – with the world’s failure to prepare for future pandemics, that failure is straining our credulity.

Somehow – after all we have endured – we have not learned the global public health lessons of the pandemic.  We are nowhere near ready for the pandemics to come.

Add to all that another major and, indeed, existential challenge.

We are flirting with climate disaster.

Every week brings a new climate horror story.

Greenhouse gas emissions are at record levels and growing.

The commitment to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees is nearly going up in smoke. …..

And there is so much understandable anger:

Frustration and anger about a climate crisis that is crippling countries that contributed least to global heating. And the lack of the financial resources to respond to the challenge.

Frustration and anger over a morally bankrupt financial system in which systemic inequalities are amplifying societal inequalities.

A system that is still routinely denying debt relief and concessional funding to vulnerable middle-income countries that are in desperate need. Because the rules are not made to allow it.

A system in which most of the world’s poorest countries saw their debt service payments skyrocket by 35% in the last year alone. …

In short, we need a new debt architecture.

And Multilateral Development Banks must change their business model….

Here at Davos, I call on all corporate leaders to act based on these guidelines.

To put forward credible and transparent transition plans on how to achieve net zero – and to submit those plans before the end of this year.

Now, the transition to net zero must be grounded in real emissions cuts – and not relying essentially on carbon credits or shadow markets.

In laying out priorities for 2023, a most pivotal year, he calls for peace:

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

The Secretary-General called for “a holistic view of the peace continuum” that identifies root causes of conflict and focuses on prevention, mediation, reconciliation, peacebuilding and greater participation of women and young people.

These are among the UN’s proposed New Agenda for Peace, aimed at addressing both old and new threats, and maximizing coalitions for diplomacy, as evidenced by the Black Sea Grain Initiative which is operating even amid the war in Ukraine.

In the aftermath of the climate COP 27 (conference of the parties) with its lack of forward momentum or urgency, the Temple of Understanding has joined other NGOs expressing outrage that the next COP 28 will be headed up by the CEO of a fossil fuel company.

The role of corporate influence in the deliberations has continued to expand while the space for civil society voices continues to contract. Recently, colleagues have shared the news that the rent for a ‘pavilion’ to have a public presence for the expression of values-based inputs at the next COP has gone up to $300,000.

In the wake of this, it’s refreshing to hear the Secretary General call for an alternative summit in September, with the aim of holding governments accountable and demanding tangible plans for improvement.

“The invitation is open, but there is a price of entry, and the price of entry is non-negotiable: credible, serious, and new climate action,” Guterres said. “It will be a no-nonsense summit, no exceptions, no compromises. And there will be no room for greenwashers, backsliders, blame-shifters.”

In the face of corporate capture of the multilateral process, Guterres is setting up a ‘no-nonsense summit’, clearly implying that there is much nonsense elsewhere.

This will create a forum for member states more aligned with the urgent changes needed. Will it be capable of guiding the world away from the brink of insanity? It’s not clear how to judge his leadership when the calls he put forth are clear and not compromising, yet his power is limited. At the very least, he is a clear thinker and a secular preacher of the United Nations’ founding values: the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

While the Temple of Understanding has limited power in this vast UN arena, we, too, attempt to hold the UN to its founding principles and to the recent declaration of the Right to a Healthy Environment.

In all the UN spaces, with their different cultures and political dynamics, we have the right and the duty to call out this recently affirmed right and push for consistency across the diverse UN processes.

– Grove Harris, M.Div.

Photo credit: Flickr

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