United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Antiono Guterres has warned that the world is in "big trouble," as he opened the largest annual gathering of global leaders at the UN headquarters in New York for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
After two years of pandemic restrictions and video addresses, more than 150 heads of state and government are attending the meeting in person at the UN headquarters in New York City.
Delivering an address to the leaders gathered for the opening day of the assembly's high-level debate, Guterres said that "divides are growing deeper; inequalities are growing wider; challenges are spreading father... we need hope... we need action across the board."
Guterres warned of a "winter of global discontent," and said, “Let’s have no illusions. We are in rough seas."
"A cost-of-living crisis is raging. Trust is crumbling. Our planet is burning. People are hurting — with the most vulnerable suffering the most. The United Nations Charter and the ideals it represents are in jeopardy," he said.
Taxes on fossil fuels to save planet?
With global temperatures rising, Guterres lashed out at fossil fuel companies and the "suicidal war against nature."
The UN chief urged wealthy nations to tax fossil fuel companies and use the proceeds to compensate for damage from climate change and provide relief over rising prices.
"Let's tell it like it is — our world is addicted to fossil fuels. It's time for an intervention. We need to hold fossil fuel companies and their enablers to account," he said.
Earlier in the day, Guterres cited the "immense" task not only of saving the planet, "which is literally on fire," but of dealing with the persisting COVID-19 pandemic.
He also said that the UN gathering was happening as the world was in "a great peril and paralyzed" by political divides, urging global leaders to "work as one, as a coalition of the world, as united nations."
He said that cooperation and dialog were the only path forward, warning that "no power or group alone can call the shots.''
"Let's work as one, as a coalition of the world, as united nations,'' he urged leaders gathered in the vast General Assembly hall.
The war in Ukraine, climate change, and nuclear disarmament are likely to dominate speeches and discussions during the annual gathering.
The UN made a special exemption for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to prerecord his speech because of what it described as the "ongoing foreign invasion'' and military hostilities that require him to carry out his "national defense and security duties.''
The US president, representing the host country for the UN, is traditionally the second speaker. But Joe Biden was attending the queen's funeral, and his speech was pushed to Wednesday morning.
Senegalese President Macky Sall is expected to take Biden's slot.