United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was blunt with his observations in his opening address to the UN General Assembly last week. The picture he painted was that of a world greatly divided, focused on the short term and far from being united on what should be the common agenda for the world body, one that will ensure that it is not only able to address the challenges at hand - and there are numerous - but also that the UN is fit for purpose for the future. There are many who have been critical of the UN, labelling it a talk shop where calls to action are made ritually, and where the collective will of the many is beaten by exercise of power of a few.
The coronavirus pandemic has made it difficult and amplified the challenges that the UN needs to address. These include war and conflict; climate change; inequalities, whether in wealth or access to vaccinations; the gender divide and imbalances in access and opportunities for women; disparities in the digital sphere; and generational divides. The need for peace has been at the forefront of international consciousness because of concerns about the threat from nuclear weapons, terrorism, militancy and civil unrest, which could retard the gains made by nations since the end of the Cold War. To say that climate change and global warming are an existential threat to humanity is passe: What remains worrying is the refusal, inability or perhaps foot-dragging by countries to meet even minimal goals to avoid environmental degradation in time to come. The wealth gap that exists among and within nations is alarming. The gulf is magnified, even celebrated in instances where the uber-rich spend millions on joy rides to the edge of space - the cost of which could have been channelled to mitigate hunger, homelessness, healthcare and support for millions living in poverty.