Keynote Speech by Dr. Babatunde Ahonsi at International Seminar - Beijing, 1 September 2020

Your Excellency Mr. Wang Chao,

Distinguished members of the panel,

Ladies and gentlemen, dear colleagues,


Let me begin by thanking the United Nations Association of China and the Chinese People’s Institute of Foreign Affairs, and personally His Excellency Mr. Wang Chao, for convening this important discussion in this unique way at this unique time. It is indeed a great honor for me to join you today at this session on multilateralism to discuss the importance of international cooperation in addressing the challenges our world is facing today.  


This year we celebrate a very special anniversary. 75 years ago, after emerging from the devastating World War II, humankind made a strong commitment to peace and international cooperation by signing the United Nations Charter based on guiding principles that led to the culture of multilateralism. And the United Nations, as we know it, was born.


Today, in the uncertain times we are currently living in, the UN Charter and its spirit are more valid than ever. The pandemic, acting as a catalyst for existing economic, social and medical ills, has exposed the vulnerabilities and inequalities within and among countries and exacerbated the already existing global challenges we face today. It has become clear that no country will be able to exit this crisis on its own, let alone effectively address the increasing number of global challenges such as climate change, extreme poverty and food security.


Further efforts to ensure progress in implementing the Agenda 2030 and its Sustainable Development Goals could have enabled us to better tackle this pandemic now – with robust health systems, fewer people living in extreme poverty, less gender discrimination, a healthier environment and more resilient and just societies. This is well illustrated in China, whose impressive development achievements over the past four decades have enabled it to contain the public health impact of COVID-19, flatten the curve of caseloads relatively early, with a substantial positive impact on the number of saved lives.


Ladies and gentlemen,


Fortunately, there is always an opportunity with crisis. In 1945, soon after the end of the World War II, nations worldwide decided to change the course of history and made the commitment to work towards a better future together. We too, can use the current calamity to herald a new era of global solidarity.


Solidarity, which would lay the foundation for a networked multilateralism, bringing the UN system, regional organizations, international financial institutions, civil society and the private sector together. We also need inclusive multilateralism, drawing on the indispensable contributions of civil society, business, cities, regions, with greater weight given to the voices of youth.  


To this effect, the UN system has mobilized early and comprehensively, leading on the global health response, continuing and expanding the provision of lifesaving humanitarian assistance, establishing instruments for rapid responses to the socio-economic impact and laying out a broad policy agenda for action on all fronts.


The UN Secretary-General has launched the UN Comprehensive Response to COVID-19 to save lives, protect societies, recover better. The Response sets out what we can and must do to: (1) deliver a global response that leaves no-one behind; (2) reduce our vulnerability to future pandemics; (3) build resilience to future shocks – above all climate change, and (4) overcome the severe and systemic inequalities exposed by the pandemic. The Response promotes three pillars of operation: delivery of a large-scale, coordinated and comprehensive health response; adoption of policies that address the devastating socioeconomic, humanitarian and human rights aspects of the crisis; and a recovery process that builds back better. The UN has also launched a COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund for low and middle-income countries.


As part of the response, the UN Secretary-General is issuing policy briefs to provide ideas to governments on how to address the consequences of this crisis. Bringing together latest achievements in policy making, innovation, and catalytic impact, these analytical documents focus on issues ranging from socio-economic impact, debt, and jobs to mental health, human rights and inequality, and target various population groups to include women, children, older persons and persons with disabilities.


In the area of peace and security, the Secretary General’s call for global ceasefire has been supported by nearly 180 Member States, over 20 armed movements and various other entities.


The Secretary-General has called for all governments to make the prevention and redress of violence against women and girls a key part of their national response plans for COVID-19. UN Women has just launched a global campaign named Shadow Pandemic to tackle this issue.


These few examples remind us of why international institutions were created, and why we need to give multilateralism renewed capacities to confront our challenges, not only to meet immediate needs, but to enable future generations to meet theirs.


Here, in China, we have coordinated closely with the Government to understand the needs of the government and expected standards. In the early weeks of the pandemic, the UN Country Team in China mobilized resources to support procurement of emergency supplies and medical equipment, conducted socio-economic impact assessments, and analyzed the impact on businesses. With the generous support of the Government of China, we have also established a Global Humanitarian Hub in Guangzhou, which will facilitate the movement of life-saving humanitarian cargo to countries responding to the outbreak.


Ladies and gentlemen,


We already know what we need to do. It is laid out in the global road map for the future - the Agenda 2030 and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. These frameworks must shape our response and recovery, laying the foundations for resilient people and resilient societies. Everything we do during and after this crisis must be with a strong focus on building more equal and inclusive societies that are more resilient towards unprecedented global challenges.


Future generations will look back at this time as a defining moment for modern society. They will judge the efficacy of our response not by the isolated actions of individual countries, but by the degree to which we manage to coordinate our actions across all regions, countries and communities to the benefit of all people living on this planet.


The occasion of the UN’s 75th anniversary, now more than ever, reminds us that multilateralism, consensus and cooperation must be instrumental in maintaining and safeguarding the principles enshrined in the United Nations Charter.


Thank you.

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