'Climate crisis among 4 horsemen threatening progress'

Geopolitical tensions, climate crisis among 4 'horsemen' threatening global progress: UN chief

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. (Reuters Photo)

Warning that the world is facing looming threats of epic geopolitical tensions, climate crisis, global mistrust and downsides of technology, the UN chief on Wednesday said the "four horsemen" endanger the 21st-century progress and can jeopardise every aspect of a shared future.

Addressing an informal briefing of the General Assembly, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said, "We must continue to make the United Nations fit for the challenges of our new age."

This is the reason, the UN chief said, he has pursued wide-ranging reforms rooted in flexibility, transparency and accountability in the world body.

"I see four horsemen in our midst — four looming threats that endanger 21st-century progress and imperil 21st-century possibilities," he said.

Guterres said the first horseman comes in the form of the highest global geostrategic tensions the world has witnessed in years.

"Devastating conflicts continue to cause widespread misery. Terrorist attacks take a merciless toll. The nuclear menace is growing. More people have been forced from their homes by war and persecution than at any time since the Second World War. Tensions over trade and technology remain unresolved. The risk of a Great Fracture is real," he said.

Guterres warned that the world faces an existential climate crisis as rising temperatures continue to melt records.

"The past decade was the hottest on record. Scientists tell us that ocean temperatures are now rising at the equivalent of five Hiroshima bombs a second," he said, adding that one million species are in near-term danger of extinction.

"Our planet is burning," he said.

Guterres said the third horseman is deep and growing global mistrust as disquiet and discontent are churning societies from north to south.

"More and more people are convinced globalisation is not working for them. With inequality growing, confidence in political establishments is going down and young people are rising up.

"Women are rightly demanding equality and freedom from violence and discrimination. At the same time, fears and anxieties are spreading. Hostility against refugees and migrants is building. Hatred is growing," the Secretary-General said.

Guterres termed the dark side of the digital world as the fourth horseman.

"Technological advances are moving faster than our ability to respond to – or even comprehend – them. Despite enormous benefits, new technologies are being abused to commit crimes, incite hate, fake information, oppress and exploit people and invade privacy," he said.

Interestingly, his comment on the dangers of digital technology came the same day UN human rights experts expressed grave concern that a WhatsApp account belonging to the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman "deployed digital spyware enabling surveillance" of The Washington Post owner and Amazon CEO Jeffery Bezos.

Guterres said the world is not prepared for the profound impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution on the labour market and the very structure of society.

"Artificial intelligence is generating breathtaking capacities and alarming possibilities. Lethal autonomous weapons — machines with the power to kill on their own, without human judgement and accountability — are bringing us into unacceptable moral and political territory," he said.

He said the four horsemen can jeopardise every aspect of the world's shared future.

With the UN set to mark its 75th anniversary, Guterres said there is a need of not nice speeches but 21st-century solutions.

The UN Chief called on the international community to make the 2020s the Decade of Action and the year 2020 the year of urgency.

"I make a special appeal to all Member States: Listen to people. Open new channels for all to be heard and find common ground. Respect freedom of peaceful assembly and expression. Protect civic space and freedom of the press," he said.

Guterres said to address the dark side of the digital world, technology must be steered for positive change. With automation threatening to displace tens of millions of jobs by 2030, there is a need to redesign education systems.

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