UN Secretary General tells WEF that world leaders need to ignore citizens' present wants to shape public opinion in the future

"It is better to take today decisions that will eventually be not popular, but it will be essential, to be able to shape the public opinion itself," Gutteres said.

Libby Emmons Brooklyn NY
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres spoke at the World Economic Forum's Annual Meeting in Davos, who told the assembled leaders that the current "outlook is bleak," as the world faces a "category 5 hurricane" of looming catastrophes. In light of this, he suggested that leaders make decisions that are unpopular with their constituents, because they know better than their citizenry.

Guterres told politicians to make unpopular decisions today because it will be essential in the shaping of public opinion itself in the future. He means ignore the voters, make them bend to your will. "We have a dramatic bias... which is the preference for the present," he said. 

He spoke to the need of politicians to consider present circumstances and polling, but said that they must be more future thinking as leaders. Considering short-term objectives, he said, only gets short-term results, and "we forget about the future."

"We badly need to change the mentality of decision-makers in the public sector and the private sector, but politicians need to understand... it is better to take today decisions that will eventually be not popular, but it will be essential, to be able to shape the public opinion itself," he said.

Guterres said that the world was in a "sorry state," and proceeded to detail the areas that he believes are leading the globe of nations toward catastrophe. "We are looking into the eye of a category 5 hurricane," he said, before diving into the details. 

A global economic crisis, he said, means that the "outlook is bleak." Recession looms in some areas, while slow-downs are inevitable in others. Inequality, the "rapidly unfolding cost of living crisis affecting women and girls the most," issues with supply chains, energy crunches, price increases and rising interest rates, he said, are coupled with the "lingering effects of the pandemic."

The pandemic, which kicked off in 2020, sent the world into lockdowns and restrictions on personal rights and liberties that people are still trying to recover from. In the US, businesses were closed if they were deemed "non-essential" by local governments, churches were shuttered while houses of vice, such as casinos and liquor stores remained open. While a health crisis was the cause of the pandemic, the accompanying restrictions have had lasting effects on populations.

Guterres laments that the world has not come together to sort out how to prevent and handle future pandemics. But the real concern he has, like so many at Davos, is with climate change. "Without further action, we are headed for a 2.8 degree increase," he said. This would make areas of the world uninhabitable, and he noted his frustration that UN scientists, as well as scientists in the energy industry, have known about the concerns of fossil fuel pollution.

He likened fossil fuel companies to tobacco companies, who knew about the harms caused by their product, but pushed them anyways. In this way, he completely ignored the fact that fossil fuel usage, and its global rise, reduced poverty and hunger, and gave rise to global industry and globalism. Guterres calls those who back fossil fuels "enablers," saying that they know their business model "is inconsistent with human survival."

"Some in big oil peddled the big lie," he said.

Addressing war, Guterres focused on the impact of the war in Ukraine, which is entering its second year, and has been disruptive to European energy supply. 

"These are far from being the best of times, and the world is far from being united," he said. "Instead, we face the gravest level of political division and mistrust in generations, and it is undermining everything."

Guterres is concerned about the split between east and west, where China leads one economy and the US leads the other, and the two economies and eco-systems run along separate tracks, but could potentially lead to a crash as they both vie for power and dominance.

"It is essential for the two countries to have meaningful engagement on climate, trade and technnology, to avoid the decoupling of economies and even the possibilities of future confrontations... We must avoid a 21st-century sequel of the so-called Thucydides Trap." This concept has often been used to describe a potential, coming conflict between the US and China.

Guterres also spoke of a divide between the global north and south, saying that the south has incredible anger at the north over climate, the pandemic, economic concerns, and other issues that have arisen between the wealthy northern nations and the poorer southern countries. Guterres blamed "the system" for many of these problems, and the "rules" that are not working for southern hemisphere countries.

As a solution, he suggests remaking the economic systems to "build fairness into the global financial system." 

He has asked for a "global stimulus plan" for middle-income countries so that they can meet goals, and that the wealthier nations must change the way they handle debt for these nations to ensure their ability to prosper. 

But his main goal is to increase "climate action," saying that the battle is being lost on emissions, and to phase out coal and "supercharge the renewable revolution, to end the addiction to fossil fuels, and to stop our self-defeating war on nature." 

Guterres pressed compliance to the UN guidelines to "achieve net zero" by cutting emissions, and other global measures by the end of 2023, and this must be undertaken, he said, by a collaboration between the private sector and government. Governments, he said, must make regulatory climates that facilitate private companies to tackle climate change in developing nations, and should not "undermine the efforts of the private sector to move forward" with climate change mitigation efforts.

The UN goal, and much of the goal of the WEF, is to create a global coalition of multi-national corporations and governments to entirely transform the energy and economy sectors to reject fossil fuels and to embrace battery-powered electric energy sourced from wind and solar. 

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