The UN General Assembly on Friday appointed Antonio Guterres, to a second term as the Secretary-General to lead the world body through the crisis of the Covid-19 pandemic and the fight against global warming.
After being sworn into his second term, Guterres said that he would work for a “breakthrough” for a world at “a critical moment in history”. The world is “at the cusp of a new era”, he said. “We are truly at a crossroads, with consequential choices before us. Paradigms are shifting. Old orthodoxies are being flipped.”
The 193-member General Assembly’s resolution adopted by acclamation said that in “appreciation for the effective and dedicated service rendered to the United Nations”, it approved the Security Council recommendation to give the former Portuguese Prime Minister another five years starting in January as the world’s top diplomat.
Security Council President Sven Jurgenson said that Guterres conformed to the highest standards of competence and integrity.
The Assembly’s endorsement of the Council’s recommendation was only a formality because, in reality, the five permanent members of the Council through their veto powers control the selection and reappointment of the Secretary-General. Guterres ran unopposed because none of the self-nominated candidates was sponsored by a member nation.
India, which is a non-permanent member of the Security Council, supported Guterres’s re-election there and in the Assembly. After a meeting with Guterres last month, India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar tweeted that New Delhi “values” his leadership and would back his re-election.
Guterres said on Friday: “We are writing our own history with the choices we make right now.” But he warned, “It can go either way: breakdown and perpetual crisis or breakthrough and prospect of a greener, safer and better future for all.”
However, he said that there were hopeful signs and “we feel a new momentum everywhere for an unequivocal commitment to come together to chart a course towards a better future” because of the pandemic’s lessons of “our shared vulnerability, our inter-connectedness and the absolute need for collective action”.
He said that the world was beset by “geostrategic divides and dysfunctional power relations” that are manifest in “too many asymmetries and paradoxes”.
Guterres displayed masterful diplomacy in navigating a deeply polarised Council without antagonizing the permanent members while managing the reflexive opposition of former US President Donald Trump to the UN and China’s aggressive diplomacy.
Seven of Guterres’s predecessors were re-elected and only Boutros Boutros Ghali, an Egyptian, was limited to a single term because of Washington’s opposition.
During the Covid-19 crisis, Guterres pursued the equitable distribution of vaccines and other resources while fighting misinformation, and set an agenda for post-pandemic rebuilding to put the world back on track in pursuit of the UN’s sustainable development goals.
His first term was marked by his passionate advocacy of fighting global warming, which he has called an existential threat to humanity and a top agenda item.