U.N. chief urges business to take the lead on COVID-19, climate and global recovery

Michelle Nichols
·2-min read
FILE PHOTO: U.N. Secretary-General Guterres speaks at Bundestag in Berlin

By Michelle Nichols

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday urged businesses to lead the way to a fair and sustainable recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic while tackling the climate crisis, adding the world had reached "a moment of truth."

Addressing a virtual meeting of the World Economic Forum - a gathering usually held in the Swiss ski resort Davos - Guterres spoke of global "fragilities" in climate, geopolitical divides, cyberspace and disarmament with growing risks of nuclear and chemical proliferation.

"We have reached a moment of truth. In 2021 we must address these fragilities and put the world on track," Guterres said.

"We count on businesses to play an important role by themselves and to put pressure on governments to do the right thing," he said. "We need you more than ever to help us change course, end fragility, avert climate catastrophe and build the equitable and sustainable future we want and we need."

Guterres reiterated his concerns about a "great fracture" with the United States and China split by different dominant currencies, trade and financial rules, internet, and geopolitical and military strategies.

"We must do everything possible to avert such a division," he said.

Guterres said the fastest way to reopen the global economy was equitable distribution of coronavirus vaccines, warning that "if developed countries think they will be safe if they vaccinate their own people while neglecting the developing world, they are wrong."

He again called for debt relief for all countries that need it, "so that no one is forced to choose between providing basic services for their people or servicing their debts."

Guterres said a central objective for 2021 is building a global coalition for carbon neutrality.

"We must end perverse subsidies for fossil fuels ... We must put a price on carbon," he said. "We must commit to no new coal-fired power plants and massively invest in renewable energy ... We need to flick the 'green switch.'"

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Howard Goller)