United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has been doing his best to push forward dramatic changes on two critical fronts, but he has been facing highly controversial opposition.
After personally appealing for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in the Israeli-Gaza war, Guterres agreed to a request to have the matter put to a vote in the UN Security Council.
Thirteen members of the council voted in favor of the draft resolution demanding an immediate ceasefire. The United Kingdom abstained. The United States used its veto, the only member to block the draft. Guterres said he would continue to do everything possible to bring about an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.
In the UN General Assembly, an emergency motion calling for an immediate ceasefire was passed by an overwhelming majority. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was dismissive of the UN as a whole. President Joe Biden warned Israel it was losing support in the US, Europe, and elsewhere for the war in Gaza.
The United States deputy to UN Ambassador, Jeffrey Prescott, said that while the US hoped for a durable two-state solution in which Israel and Palestine could live in peace and security, but described the draft resolution as a rushed text “divorced from reality.”
The United Kingdom UN Ambassador Barbara Woodward said her country had abstained in the UN Security Council vote because the draft resolution contained no mention of Hamas’ involvement in the war.
The US has isolated itself by refusing to condemn the devastating actions of Israel, an ally it is strongly supporting with weapons and funding. Days before the original vote, Guterres warned the 15-member council that continuing the war could have global consequences.
He warned that with the war in Gaza “we are at a breaking point. The situation is simply becoming untenable.” He has emphasized that “the people of Gaza are looking into the abyss. The international community must do everything possible to end their ordeal.”
That is not going to happen until Israel stops killing thousands of Palestinians with its relentless bombing campaign and through starvation and spreading diseases because it has blocked sufficient essential supplies from getting into Gaza.
United Nations COP28 Climate Summit
In another development, Guterres and most political leaders and scientists around the world were deeply concerned that the draft agreement near the end of the United Nations COP28 Climate Summit did not include any mention of phasing out fossil fuels.
On day one of the two-week conference in Dubai, capital of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Guterres pleaded with leaders from the more than 160 countries taking part to reach an agreement to take immediate action to stop temperatures rising above the critical 1.5C limit. Instead of unanimity, there was a fundamental division of opinion between the fossil fuel producing countries and most of the others, including Portugal.
This was partially put to rest by a last minute deal in which there was an overall agreement to make “a transition” from fossil fuels but with no specific timeline.
Global warming is caused by the billions of tonnes of man-made CO2 greenhouse gases being emitted into the atmosphere, most of it from the use of coal, oil and natural gas.
The countries causing the highest levels of CO2 emissions – China, the United States, and India – have not been keeping their promises to reduce the use of fossil fuels that are causing the emissions. Worse, the countries producing the most fossil fuels, especially Saudi Arabia, do not want to phase out fossil fuel production and export.
The president of COP28, the chief executive of the UAE’s oil industry, said there is “no science” behind claims that a phase-out of fossil fuels would restrict global heating to 1.5C.
António Guterres, along with most climate scientists in the world, as well as most participants in the summit, were shocked by this opinion, but it had the full backing of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
As Guterres has made abundantly clear, the deal is far from perfect, but it could be a historic turning point in the future of human existence.
António Guterres, 74, who was Portugal’s prime minister from 1995 to 2002, has served as the UN secretary-general since 2017 and is in his second term. As he was elected by the UN General Assembly in 2005, to become the high commissioner for refugees, a position he held for a decade until December 2015, he has a special insight into what he repeatedly calls the “humanitarian catastrophe” now being faced by Palestinians in Gaza.
Len Port, born in Northern Ireland, worked as a news reporter and correspondent, mainly in Hong Kong and South Africa, before moving to Portugal many years ago.