UN Secretary-General’s Press Briefing (New York, 30 April 2020)

THE SECRETARY-GENERAL 

 

FULL TRANSCRIPT OF PRESS BRIEFING 

New York, 30 April 2020 

 

Dear journalists, good afternoon. It is a pleasure to be back with you, if only virtually, to be able to update you on what we have been doing.

COVID-19 continues its path of worsening destruction.

We mourn the lives lost – more than 200,000.

We despair that many more will follow, particularly in places least able to cope.

I am particularly worried about the lack of sufficient solidarity with developing countries — both in equipping them to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, which risks spreading like wildfire, and to address the dramatic economic and social impacts

As the virus rages, the United Nations has mobilized fully to save lives, stave off famine, ease the pain and plan for recovery.

Our voice has been clear, calling for solidarity, unity and hope.

We appealed for a global ceasefire so that the world can face together our common enemy: COVID-19.

We set out a U.S.$2 billion Global Humanitarian Response Plan for the most vulnerable populations, including refugees and internally displaced persons. Donors have generously pledged $1 billion. The plan must be fully funded.

With the World Health Organization, we participated in the launch of the ACT Accelerator – a global collaboration to speed up the development, production and equitable access to new COVID-19 diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines. These must be available to everyone, everywhere, and they must be affordable as a quintessential global public good.

I call on donors to help kick-start this effort with generous contributions at Monday’s pledging summit in Brussels.

We placed the UN system network of supply chains at the disposal of developing countries – and millions of test kits, respirators and surgical masks have now reached more than 100 countries. Our solidarity flights have now delivered almost 1,200 metric tons of test kits and other essential medical supplies to 52 countries in Africa.

We appealed for compassion and mutual respect in response to COVID-related stigma and hate speech.

And since the beginning, mobilizing contributions from the entire UN family, a series of reports and policy briefs have provided analysis and advice for an effective, coordinated response by the international community.

Our first report documented the socio-economic consequences of COVID-19, and was followed by a framework to guide our country teams in their support of government action in response and recovery.

We highlighted the disproportionate impacts on women, including a horrifying rise in domestic violence. One hundred and forty-six governments have voiced their support for my call, and for the proposals I made.

We underscored the dangers facing children, including the approximately 1.6 billion children and young people who are out of school.

UN agencies raised the alert about the risk of rising food insecurity. An additional 130 million people could be suffering acute hunger by the end of the year.

We provided guidance on how to address the increasingly urgent human rights dimensions of COVID-19, and how to fight the spread of lies and misinformation.

Tomorrow, we will issue a report on the particular vulnerability of older persons, to be followed by our analysis of the consequences of COVID-19 for persons with disabilities and the impacts on mental health.

The United Nations is also fully engaged on the ground.

Our country teams are working in coordination with Governments to mobilize funding, to assist health ministries on preparedness and response to stay ahead of the curve, and to support economic and social measures, from food security and home schooling to cash transfers and many others.

Our peace operations continue to carry out their important protection mandates, and to support peace and political processes.

Our humanitarian agencies, despite access challenges, are making sure that humanitarian assistance does not stop. They are reaching more than 110 million people in 57 countries.

I also welcome the two resolutions adopted by the General Assembly, reflecting the determination of Member States to cooperate in addressing the pandemic and enhancing access to medicines and vaccines.

Today I would like to highlight three key dimensions of our efforts.

First, achieving a global cease-fire.

The cease-fire call has resonated widely, with endorsements from 114 Governments, diverse regional organizations, religious leaders and more than 200 civil society groups spanning all regions. Among all those, there were 16 armed groups.

But we know that mistrust remains high, and that it is difficult to move to implementation.

My special representatives and envoys are working tirelessly, with my own direct involvement when necessary, to turn expressed intentions into effective cease-fires.

In Syria, the Idlib cease-fire is holding but we are still hopeful for a country-wide end to hostilities.

In Libya, regrettably, we have seen an escalation despite all our efforts and those of many others in the international community. Yesterday’s declarations give us a glimpse of hope that a cessation of hostilities remains possible.

In Afghanistan, we are pushing hard for a humanitarian cease-fire between the Government and the Taliban.

I believe that there is an opportunity for peace in Yemen. All parties have expressed support for my appeal, Saudi Arabia has declared a temporary unilateral cease-fire, and we are actively engaging with all the parties and key regional and global actors, aiming at a permanent cease-fire, a set of confidence building measures and the possibility of opening a political process. With the first two COVID-19 deaths registered in the country just yesterday, it is time for all to recognize that the Yemeni people have suffered too much.

All our efforts depend on strong political backing.

It is my hope the Security Council will be able to find unity and adopt decisions that can help to make cease-fires meaningful and real.

Second, we are addressing the immediate needs of people facing the most dire economic plight.

The International Labour Organization reported this week that the global workforce will be hit with the equivalent of the loss of more than 300 million jobs.

Millions of children are in danger of missing life-saving vaccines.

Remittances are in sharp decline, as are flows of foreign direct investment.

Poverty could rise by 500 million people – the first increase in three decades.

I continue to advocate a global relief package amounting to a double-digit percentage of the global economy – which means at least 10 per cent.

Most developed countries can do this with their own resources, and some are doing it. But developing countries need massive and urgent support.

The International Monetary Fund has already approved $12.3 billion in emergency financing to a first group of 36 developing countries of the more than 100 that requested it.

The World Bank has indicated that with new and existing resources, it can provide $160 billion of financing over the next 15 months.

The G20 has endorsed the suspension of debt service payments for the poorest countries.

I fully appreciate these steps, which can protect people, jobs and development gains.

But even this is not enough.

I have been consistently urging the issuance of new Special Drawing Rights to increase the financial firepower of the Fund.

The debt moratorium must be extended to all developing countries that are unable to service their debt, including several middle-income countries.

That initial debt moratorium must be followed by targeted debt relief, and by a comprehensive approach to structural issues in the international debt architecture, to prevent defaults leading to prolonged financial and economic crises.

Third, planning for a better recovery must start now — for we will recover.

Recovery from COVID-19 can help to steer the world onto a safer, healthier, more sustainable and inclusive path.

It will be critical to address the fragilities, inequalities and gaps in social protection that have been so painfully exposed, and place women and gender equality front and centre if we are to build resilience to future shocks.

And recovery needs to go hand-in-hand with climate action.

I am calling on Governments to ensure that spending to revitalize economies should accelerate the decarbonization of all aspects of our economy and privilege the creation of green jobs.

Taxpayers’ money should not be used to subsidize fossil fuels or bail out polluting, carbon-intensive industries. Now is the time to put a price on carbon and for polluters to pay for their pollution. Public funds should invest in the future, not the past. Financial institutions and investors must take climate risks fully into account.

I am also asking all countries, especially the big emitters, to present enhanced Nationally Determined Contributions and strategies to reach net zero emissions by 2050. This year’s international climate conference has rightly been postponed until 2021. But our ambition cannot be deferred—ambition on mitigation, adaptation and finance.

Our template remains the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Let me recall Jean Monnet’s famous words. This is not a time for blind optimism or paralyzing pessimism. Now is the time to be determined. Determined to defeat COVID-19 and to emerge from the crisis by building a better world for all.

Thank you. And I’m at your disposal for some questions.

Spokesman:  Thank you very much, Sir.

And the first question will go to Michelle Nichols from Reuters. Michelle, if you can open up your mic.

Michelle? Michelle?

Correspondent:  You can hear me?

Spokesman:  Yes, go ahead. We can hear you.

Question:  Okay. Oh, great. Hi. Thank you, Secretary‑General, for doing this briefing, and happy birthday.

A couple of questions for you. How concerned are you that a growing war of words between the United States and China… which President [Donald] Trump appeared to sort of reignite in an interview with Reuters last night. How concerned are you that this is harming international cooperation to combat COVID‑19?

And on North Korea, have any UN officials spoken to any North Korean officials about the health and whereabouts of Kim Jong‑un? What do you know? Thank you.

Secretary-General:  Well, first of all, it is clear for me that the US and China are two extremely important elements in the international community, both from the economic dimension, from the political dimension, from the military dimension. These are two absolutely vital countries.

The contribution of China and the United States, both to fight COVID‑19 but to all other aspects in the development of international relations is, in my opinion, absolutely essential, and I hope that it will become possible in the future.

We have no information about the situation of Chairman Kim Jong‑un.

Spokesman:  Thank you. Edie Lederer, Associated Press.

Question:  Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary‑General, and we certainly hope you’re staying safe and well.

My question goes to several things that you have talked about. The humanitarian appeal that you launched has gotten about half of what it wants. The UN Humanitarian Chief, Mark Lowcock, says $90 billion is needed to offset the costs of the impact of COVID‑19 on the poorest countries.

We haven’t seen much from the Group of 20 major industrialised countries. Who is in the lead or who should be in the lead of the international response to this crisis? I know that you yourself have actually been taking the only leadership… global leadership position that, I think, many of us have seen.

Secretary-General:  Well, I believe the leadership has different aspects that are essential. There is a leadership in relation to the response to the pandemic itself. And there, I must confess, I was hopeful that the G20 would be able to agree with my proposal of a mechanism of coordination of the actions of a group of countries that represents 80 per cent of the global economy and 90 per cent of the number of cases at the time to be able to make sure that countries would be doing things in a coordinated way, would be doing things in a complementary way, instead of each country with a different strategy, which, of course, creates a risk for the pandemic not to disappear, because it can spread from one area to another and then come back.

And, so, it is unfortunate that it was not possible for the international community to find a mechanism of solid leadership in relation to the fight of the pandemic.

Now, in relation to the economic response, I think it’s important to underline that IMF and the World Bank are doing a very important job, but I think it’s also important to recognise that their resources are limited and that we need, as I mentioned, a double‑digit, which means more than 10 per cent, package to support the global economy.

Now, if you look at a country like the United States, the Congress already approved more than… about U.S.$2.5 trillion, which corresponds to a little bit more than 10 per cent of the US economy.

The problem is, we need to mobilise these resources for the developing countries. And, for that, we need to boost the capacity of the IMF and World Bank, and that’s why I’ve been appealing for the issuance of new Special Drawing Rights, which is the modern way to print money, and to allow… even without direct impact on taxpayers, to allow for support to the developing world to be much bigger.

And then I think it is absolutely essential that countries come together and that the big powers are able to overcome their difficulties in order to allow for the Security Council to be more active and more effective in relation to the aspects related to peace and security that are linked to COVID‑19 and, namely, to help push for ceasefires in a number of situations where we know that there are many spoilers; there are many forms of mistrust. It’s very difficult to overcome those difficulties, and we need unity and strength from the international community.

Spokesman:  Thank you. Betul, Anadolu Agency.

Question:  Thank you, Mr. Secretary‑General, for doing this. You expressed hope that the Security Council will be able to find unity to address COVID‑19. My question is, the Security Council hasn’t been able to find unity and hasn’t been able to adopt a resolution. Are you disappointed, in one of the most strong bodies of the United Nations, that it hasn’t been able to find

what you describe as the common enemy of humanity? Thank you.

Secretary-General:  I think we need to be realistic. The Security Council is not an abstract thing. The Security Council is a group of countries, and we know that the relation between the major powers in the world today is very dysfunctional, and that makes it difficult for the Security Council to decide, as it makes it difficult, in many other areas, for international cooperation to work.

So, what we need is to make sure that we have the capacity of especially the biggest countries in this world to come together and to find ways to reach a consensus allowing for effective action, both fighting the pandemic and addressing the huge security and peace challenges that we are facing and, at the same time, helping to create the conditions for an effective recovery and for an effective support to the developing countries.

Spokesman:  James Bays, Al Jazeera.

Question:  Secretary‑General, thank you for doing this for us. Hello from the floor above you.

You’ve talked about the G20. We’ve had meetings of the G7. We’ve had the P5 talking about a meeting that they’ve been unable to arrange. We’ve had the Security Council, weeks trying to come up with a ceasefire resolution, as you’ve already discussed. Given the scale of this pandemic, has global leadership been adequate?

Secretary-General:  It is obvious that there is a lack of leadership. It is obvious the international community is divided in a moment where it would be more important than ever to be united. There is, indeed, a problem of leadership or, if you want, a disconnect between leadership and power.

We see remarkable examples of leadership, but they are usually not associated with power. And where we see power, we sometimes do not see the necessary leadership. I hope this will be overcome sooner rather than later.

Spokesman:  Toby, NHK.

Question:  Hi, Mr. Secretary‑General, and thank you very much for speaking with us.My question is on climate change. Specifically, we’ve seen a drop… an improvement in emissions during… in many places around the world, during the period of the pandemic. And I’m wondering how specifically is COVID‑19 making the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) and making improvements on climate change more difficult.

And my second question to you is, how does the UN, going forward, plan to address both climate change and COVID‑19? Is there a way to combine these efforts in the work of the UN? Thank you very much.

Secretary-General:  Well, thank you very much. First of all, indeed, emissions are coming down, but that doesn’t mean that the solution for climate change is a pandemic. Obviously, when the pandemic will go, will disappear ‑‑ and we hope it will be sooner rather than later ‑‑ if nothing is done, emissions will go up as they were going up in the past.

So, what we need is to make sure, as you mentioned, that we combine the response to COVID‑19 with the climate change concerns. And there the key is in acting, and the UN will be totally committed to it, and I believe we will be mobilising many other actors, and I’m very happy to see many countries already expressing it clearly. I’m very happy to see international financial institutions saying it. I’m very happy to see different international organizations of different kinds saying it. I’m happy to see companies saying it. I’m happy to see banks saying it.

It’s clear that, when we do the recovery, this recovery must not be to replicate exactly what we had in relation to the gaps in social security systems, in relation to inequality, but also in related to climate change, which means we need to recover for a more green economy and a more green society.

We need to invest in the recovery, using the funds that will be applied to make sure that we move from a grey economy to a green economy, and that is why I’ve been saying it’s very important that the recovery is not done by bailing out pollution industries, that subsidies to fossil fuels be paid with taxpayers’ money, that it is essential that the public money that will be invested will be invested in renewable energies instead of enhancing the capacity in coal or other fossil fuel forms of producing electric energy and so on and so forth. And we could talk about transportation. We could talk about industry. We could talk about agriculture.

This is a fantastic chance we have to organise a recovery for a more sustainable and inclusive economy and society, and we will put the whole UN system, our UN agencies in the development, in the humanitarian side, our cooperation with international financial institutions, with other [inaudible] institutions, and our dialogue with Member States, we will put all of our capacity in order to make sense that we move in this direction.

And there will be an opportunity with the British and supported by Italy presidency of the COP (Conference of Parties). The COP has been postponed, but this is a moment in which we are acting together. We had just a meeting in… the Petersberg meeting just a few days ago. And we are acting together to push countries to prepare the so‑called Nationally Determined Contributions, which means their commitments in relation to the Paris Agreement that will be renewed now to make sure that they are renewed in line with the objective of reaching carbon neutrality in 2050.

Spokesman:  Thank you. Ibtisam Azem. Ibtisam…

Correspondent:  Can you hear me?

Spokesman:  Perfectly.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane. Thank you, Secretary‑General, for the press briefing. My first question is a follow‑up on your… COVID‑19 and the Security Council answer. You said that you need… we need to… that the countries reach… need to reach consensus and work together.

So, if they’re not able to work together through the Security Council, how do we want them to work together? Do you have a specific point there whether to the General Assembly or not?

And then my question is on Syria and the cross‑border aid delivery. How important it is to re‑open Al Yarubiyah crossing from Iraq? And what is your comment to countries who claim it is unnecessary?

And the last one on Yemen, you praised… or you said that the Saudi‑led Coalition and their… declared a ceasefire, but since the Coalition air… declared a ceasefire, there are continuous air strikes, as well as shelling and fighting by all parties on the ground. Why are you praising… or why are you optimistic that you will reach an agreement there, considering what’s happening on the ground? And thank you again for the press briefing.

Secretary-General:  Well, thank you very much. In relation to what I said when I expressed hope, I think hope is the last thing that ends. And I think we need to go on hoping and go on promoting the forms of dialogue that are necessary for understanding to be established and for countries to be able to come together. Of course, it’s not in my hands, but I’ll do everything I can to support that.

In relation to Syria, we have already presented to the Security Council our proposal with a number of different alternatives to allow for cross‑border operations. We still believe that cross‑border operations are needed, and we have presented the Security Council with a number of options to allow it to reach the whole territory, combined with the forms of cross-line that are also possible.

So, this is a matter of great interest to us related to the need to be able to have COVID‑19 humanitarian supplies reaching the entirety of the territory.

In relation to Yemen, what I believe is very important is that we have been engaging very actively with the parties to the conflict, and those discussions have been quite constructive. And we also have found, in all the regional and global actors, a lot of goodwill to support the effort for an agreement – an agreement for a permanent ceasefire and, hopefully, an agreement for the confidence‑building measures that are necessary related to the airport, the ports, and other aspects of access, the question of the public service payments and also about political dialogue for peace. And we hope that all the actors will understand that the suffering of the Yemeni people really now deserves the end of this conflict.

I went to Yemen many times in the past as High Commissioner for Refugees, and I always find the Yemenis extremely generous. I remember that they were granting prima facie refugee status, which means refugee status to everybody, to all Somalians coming to the shores of Yemen even when they were already in conflict inside the country.

So, this generosity that the Yemenis have always shown deserves peace, and we must do everything possible to overcome the mistrust, to overcome the difficulties, to overcome the problems, and to bring all the actors together for peace in Yemen. This is our objective, and we’ll do everything we can to reach this objective.

Spokesman:  Thank you. Pam Falk, CBS News. Pam

Question:  Thank you very much. Thank you… thank you, Steph. Thank you, Secretary‑General, for the briefing.

You mentioned the taxpayers’ money should not be used to subsidize fossil fuels, and you also asked countries, especially big emitters, to present enhanced NDCs, the Nationally Determined Contribution under the Paris accord. You have… do you believe the United States should comply with this? Do you have a message for the US since the actual formal withdrawal doesn’t take place until November of this year? Thank you.

Secretary-General:  Well, as matter of fact, the emissions in the west were decreasing already before the COVID‑19, and there has been an enormous movement of the US civil society, the US business community, in order to reduce emissions and to make the US comply also with the Paris Agreement. So, I’m always hopeful that the dynamics of the US society will prevail.

But I would like to give an example that I think is a remarkable example today and that shows how the two things can be put together, the COVID‑19 and the fight of climate change. And it is the Republic of Korea. The Republic of Korea has been extremely successful in addressing COVID‑19. It was announced today that, for the first time, there was no new case in the Republic of Korea.

At the same time, the Republic of Korea has presented plans for a Green Deal in the recovery and, namely, in relation to no more coal‑fired power plants, reduction of coal‑fired power plants, reduction of emissions and a very ambitious Green Deal.

This is an example that should be followed everywhere, a very determined capacity to really eradicate the COVID‑19, putting in place the mechanisms that are necessary to do it and, at the same time, prepare a green recovery and a recovery aiming at society that is simultaneously inclusive and sustainable

I hope that this example of the Republic of Korea will be followed by many other countries in the world.

Spokesman:  Alan, RIA Novosti?

Correspondent:  Thank you, Mr. Secretary‑General. Do you hear me? Can you hear me?

Secretary-General:  Yes.

Question:  In your appeal, you’ve urged for a global ceasefire, but since that time, it seemed that, in Libya, the hostilities are ongoing. So, the situation is really getting worse. So, don’t you think that there’s… the time has come to appoint a new… I mean, to appoint a Special Envoy to this country? Can you uncover, please, who are the candidates for this position?

And if it’s possible, may I ask a second question, please? Could you please unveil, are there any scenarios being explored regarding the UNGA high‑level week, given the situation with COVID‑19? I mean, are there any chances that the high‑level week will be postponed? Thank you

Secretary-General:  Yes, indeed, it is time. And it was already time, and we have had some difficulties in having someone that can have the consensus of everybody that is necessary. We hope that this will be possible in the near future. We are very actively engaged… I will not go… going to give names, but we are very actively engaging in consultations with some names, and I hope that this will allow us to solve this problem very quickly.

In relation to the General Assembly, it is still early. We are making a research of the different technical possibilities that exist. I will be in contact with the President of the General Assembly on this very soon. But, of course, for us, the role is to provide alternatives. Decisions must be made by Member States. And, of course, it is important to follow the policies or the rules that are established in relation to gatherings by the host country and, in this case, also by the state of New York.

So, I believe that, when the time comes ‑‑ and we are approaching that moment ‑‑ consultations will have to be made to see which of the different alternatives is the most realistic and the best, but this will be a decision by Member States in consultation with the host country.

Spokesman:  Great. Thank you very much, and we have to leave it here unfortunately. But we hope to have the Secretary‑General back here with us very soon. Thank you.

Secretary-General:  Thank you very much. All the best. And stay safe.

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