In his opening speech, Antonio Guterres calls for debt relief for developing countries n Warns of ‘winter of global discontent’ n Urges new taxes on fossil fuel companies ‘feasting’ on profits as ‘planet burns’ and power bills soar n Negative propaganda on digital platforms creating problems in society: Antonio Guterres.

UNITED NATION (NEW YORK)    -   The United Nations’ annual summit re­turned in person for the first time in three years on Tuesday, with UN chief Antonio Guterres warning in his opening speech of an upcoming “winter of global dis­content” from rising prices, a warming plan­et and deadly conflicts.

The 77th Gener­al Assembly meeting of world leaders con­venes under the shad­ow of Europe’s first ma­jor conflict since World War II – Russia’s inva­sion of Ukraine, which has unleashed a global food crisis and opened fissures among major powers in a way not seen since the Cold War.

Antonio Guterres while inau­gurating the High-Level Gener­al Debate of the 77th Session of UN General Assembly in New York urged the developed coun­tries, international financial in­stitutions and fossil fuel com­panies to come forward to help the developing nations, facing the worst climate change dev­astations, especially in Pakistan. The UN Secretary General said that around 80 percent of the carbon emissions are contribut­ed by G-20 countries, whereas the developing countries make a minor contribution in this re­gard, but bear the brutal impact of the climate change.

UN Secretary-General An­tonio Guterres Tuesday high­lighted the huge destruction wrought by climate change, say­ing he himself saw it in Paki­stan, where, he said, one-third of the country was submerged by a “monsoon on steroids”.

“We have a rendezvous with climate disaster,” the UN chief said as he opened the General Assembly high-level debate in the iconic hall of the 193-mem­ber body. Arrayed in front of him were world leaders, including Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.

“Planet earth is a victim of scorched earth policies,” he said, noting that Europe saw the worst heatwave since the Mid­dle-Ages, mega-drought in Chi­na, the United States and be­yond. “Famine stalking the Horn of Africa,” Guterres said, expos­ing one million species at risk of extinction.

“No region is untouched. And we ain’t seen nothing yet. The hottest summers of today may be the coolest summers of to­morrow,” the UN chief said.

“Once-in-a-lifetime climate shocks may soon become once a year events,” he told delegates from around the world. “And with every climate disaster, we know that women and girls are the most affected.” Referring to the acute economic situation of the developing countries, in­cluding that of Pakistan, the UN chief called for debt relief.

“The Debt Service Suspen­sion Initiative should be ex­tended – and enhanced. We also need an effective mechanism of debt relief for developing coun­tries – including middle income countries – in debt distress. Creditors should consider debt reduction mechanisms such as debt-climate adaptation swaps.

“These could have saved lives and livelihoods in Pakistan, which is drowning not only in floodwater, but in debt,” he told the General Assembly.

“Lending criteria should go beyond Gross Domestic Product and include all the dimensions of vulnerability that affect de­veloping countries,” he said.

Antonio Guterres said he him­self witnessed the devasta­tion caused by recent rains and floods in Pakistan.

He said the climate change cri­sis is a case study for moral and economic injustice, being done to the developing world.

The UN Secretary General said the present-day world is facing multiple crises, including food security, climate change, and higher prices of agri inputs. Talking about geo-political di­vide in the world, Antonio Gu­terres said, dialogue is the only option to resolve conflicts in the world, which needs collected efforts as no single power can call the shots. The UN Secretary General said negative propa­ganda on the digital platforms is also creating problems in the society.

“Rich economies should hit oil and gas companies with new windfall taxes to provide help for countries suffering from cli­mate change, and people strug­gling with soaring energy and food bills,” UN Secretary General António Guterres said Tuesday. 

The UN chief accused energy giants of “feasting on hundreds of billions of dollars in subsi­dies and windfall profits while household budgets shrink and our planet burns.” 

Guterres’ comments, at the UN General Assembly in New York, come on the heels of a Europe­an Union proposal to introduce a windfall tax on oil, gas and coal companies, many of which have reported record-high profits as Russia’s war in Ukraine and an energy crunch send prices soar­ing. The European Commis­sion is proposing that EU states take a 33% share of the compa­nies’ surplus profits. The Unit­ed Kingdom introduced a 25% windfall tax earlier this year to provide relief for people strug­gling with their energy bills but newly installed Prime Minister Liz Truss has said she won’t ex­tend it to pay for a much bigger program of subsidies this win­ter and next. US President Joe Biden’s administration mulled the idea in the summer but it gained little momentum. 

“Today, I am calling on all de­veloped economies to tax the windfall profits of fossil fuel com­panies,” Guterres told the As­sembly. “Those funds should be redirected in two ways: to coun­tries suffering loss and damage caused by the climate crisis, and to people struggling with rising food and energy prices.” 

His comments also come as parts of the world are battered by extreme weather events su­percharged by the human-in­duced climate crisis. More than 1,500 people died in Pakistan over three months of extreme monsoonal rain that scientists have linked to climate change. More than 300 people have died in floods in Nigeria this year, di­saster management authorities there say. 

Typhoons and hurricanes have brought floods to Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Japan this week. Drought is impacting vast swathes of the United States, China and Europe. 

Guterres warned that a “win­ter of global discontent is on the horizon,” with inequality “exploding” and the cost-of-living crisis “raging” while the planet burns. 

“We need to hold fossil fuel companies and their enablers to account,” he added. “That in­cludes the banks, private equity, asset managers and other finan­cial institutions that continue to invest and underwrite carbon pollution.” 

The UN General Assembly is likely to be dominated by Rus­sia’s war in Ukraine. The cli­mate crisis, nonetheless, will be unavoidable, intersecting with several issues on the agenda, including energy and food se­curity. “The climate crisis is the defining issue of our time,” Gu­terres said. “And it must be the first priority of every govern­ment and multilateral organi­zation. And yet climate action is being put on the back burner – despite overwhelming public support around the world.

Warning that education was in”deep crisis”, UN Secre­tary-General Antonio Guterres called on countries to protect education budgets and funnel education spending into learn­ing resources.