Almost all alarms are triggered. Governing the world seems like a task beyond the reach of a humanity divided, fragmented and in constant conflict. The latest display of impotence is being provided by the unequal distribution of covid vaccines, an expression of the indifference of the rich regarding the health of the poorest, but also of the general frivolity of those who believe that saving themselves will put an end to a pandemic with enormous and dangerous mutant capacity.
The alarming diagnoses of the inability of governments to limit emissions into the atmosphere and ensure that the planet’s temperature does not rise beyond two degrees in 2050 mark the second failure of global governance. Not even the catastrophes produced by extreme meteorological phenomena that affect rich and poor countries alike are sufficient for the rectification that António Guterres has requested at the opening of the United Nations General Assembly. The only thing missing was the growing polarization between the United States and China, in a climate of incipient cold war, to draw a state of the world worthy of the most severe “moral condemnation”, according to the secretary general of the international organization.
The annual meeting in New York of the representatives of its 193 member countries is a showcase and a diplomatic forum, where problems are reflected, but also bilateral contacts are made to solve them. This year’s is the first with the pandemic partially controlled, so that a mixed mode of communication has been imposed that includes prerecorded interventions by heads of State and Government. Thanks to this system, which threatens to remain, Chinese President Xi Jinping has participated without moving, like Nicolás Maduro, who has thus evaded the danger of his arrest on charges of terrorism and drug trafficking.
It was also the first assembly in which a US president committed to multilateralism, such as Joe Biden, has again intervened, after four chaotic years of destruction of institutions and international agreements led by Donald Trump. Washington’s return to its international commitments, expressed by the speech at the United Nations, has been clouded by the catastrophic exit from Afghanistan, the tension with France and NATO over the new alliance in the Indo-Pacific region with Australia and the United Kingdom, and, above all, by the unbearable images of US guards on horseback whipping Haitian migrants at the border with Texas.
Biden, like so many other presidents, Pedro Sánchez among them, has tried to send hopeful messages, accompanied by promises regarding the distribution of vaccines, new efforts against climate change or the will to avoid a new cold war. Xi Jinping has pledged to shut down China’s coal plants abroad. But credibility is not on his side, but on the Secretary General of the United Nations with his words of alarm. Verbal multilateralism is fine after so much unilateralist immersion, but it will hardly change anything in the government of the world if those good words do not come true and slow the path to the abyss that Guterres’ speech predicted.