The General Debate of the 77th session of the UN General Assembly opened on Tuesday with the theme of "A watershed moment: transformative solutions to interlocking challenges."
Csaba Korosi, president of the 77th session of the UN General Assembly, presided over the opening of the debate.
The world needs solutions through solidarity, sustainability and science, said Korosi in his opening speech.
"(We need) solutions because we have drafted many treaties, set excellent goals, yet have taken too little action. We need solidarity because inequalities have reached record heights. We need sustainability because we owe it to our children to leave behind a liveable world. We need science because it offers us neutral evidence for our actions," he said.
"We gather today at the most consequential moment of the last four decades. Climate change has left us reeling under heat waves, floods, and droughts. Unsustainable consumption and production have left scars across our environment, from our skies to our seas," said Korosi.
"We live, it seems, in a permanent state of humanitarian emergency. Over 300 million people are in urgent need of humanitarian aid and protection -- a 10 percent rise since January," he added.
Driven by climate change, COVID-19 and conflict, global hunger has reached alarming levels. In the last six months, food and energy price hikes have pushed at least 70 million people into poverty. Meanwhile, inflation rates are at 40-year highs, he said.
One-quarter of humanity lives in conflict areas, caught amid fighting and political instability. The violence across the world has rarely been so fierce, he added.
The challenges are great, and they are interconnected. But they are not insurmountable, he said. "Our opportunity is here and now. Let us act."
In his "state-of-the world" report to the General Assembly right before the opening of the General Debate, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that the world is "in big trouble" and needs collective action across the board.
"Our world is in big trouble. Divides are growing deeper. Inequalities are growing wider. And challenges are spreading farther," he said. "We need action across the board."
However, he warned that the international community is gridlocked in colossal global dysfunction, saying it is "not ready or willing to tackle the big dramatic challenges of our age."
He said crises like the conflict in Ukraine, climate emergency and biodiversity loss, and the dire financial situation of developing countries threaten the very future of humanity and the fate of the planet. But progress on all these issues and more is being held hostage to geopolitical tensions.
"Geopolitical divides are undermining the work of the Security Council, undermining international law, undermining trust and people's faith in democratic institutions, undermining all forms of international cooperation," he said. "We cannot go on like this."
Even the various groupings set up outside the multilateral system by some members of the international community have fallen into the trap of geopolitical divides, like the Group of 20 (G20), he said.
"At one stage, international relations seemed to be moving toward a G2 world; now we risk ending up with G-nothing. No cooperation. No dialogue. No collective problem-solving," said Guterres. "But the reality is that we live in a world where the logic of cooperation and dialogue is the only path forward. No power or group alone can call the shots. No major global challenge can be solved by a coalition of the willing. We need a coalition of the world."
This coalition of the world must urgently overcome divisions and act together. It starts with the core mission of the United Nations -- achieving and sustaining peace, said Guterres.
"We need much more concerted action everywhere anchored in respect for international law and the protection of human rights. In a splintering world, we need to create mechanisms of dialogue and mediation to heal divides," said Guterres. "We are committed to make the most of every diplomatic tool for the pacific settlement of disputes, as set out in the United Nations Charter: negotiation, inquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration and judicial settlement."
"There is another battle we must end: our suicidal war against nature," he said.
The climate crisis is the defining issue of our time. It must be the first priority of every government and multilateral organization. And yet climate action is being put on the back burner, despite overwhelming public support around the world, he said. "We have a rendezvous with climate disaster."
He asked for a transition to renewable energy, which generates three times more jobs, is already cheaper than fossil fuels and is the pathway to energy security, stable prices and new industries.
Developing countries need help to make this shift, including through international coalitions to support just energy transitions in key emerging economies, he said.
Guterres warned that a once-in-a-generation global cost-of-living crisis is fuelling social unrest.
Some 94 countries, home to 1.6 billion people -- many in Africa -- face a perfect storm: economic and social fallout from the pandemic, soaring food and energy prices, crushing debt burdens, spiraling inflation, and a lack of access to finance. These cascading crises are feeding on each other, compounding inequalities, creating devastating hardship, delaying the energy transition, and threatening a global financial meltdown, he said.
"Social unrest is inevitable -- with conflict not far behind," he warned.
The Sustainable Development Goals are issuing an SOS. Even the most fundamental goals -- on poverty, hunger and education -- are going into reverse. More people are poor. More people are hungry. More people are being denied health care and education. Gender equality is going backward and women's lives are getting worse, he noted.
Guterres called for concerted action to help developing countries, which are getting hit from all sides.
The divergence between developed and developing countries -- between North and South, between the privileged and the rest -- is becoming more dangerous by the day. It is at the root of the geopolitical tensions and lack of trust that poison every area of global cooperation, from vaccines to sanctions to trade, he said.
"But by acting as one, we can nurture fragile shoots of hope," he said. "So let's develop common solutions to common problems -- grounded in goodwill, trust, and the rights shared by every human being. Let's work as one, as a coalition of the world, as united nations."
This year's General Debate is the first time since the start of the pandemic that world leaders are asked to make their statements in person in the General Assembly Hall.
The General Assembly on Friday adopted a rare decision to exclusively allow the Ukrainian head of state to submit a pre-recorded speech to the General Debate, instead of physical presence. The decision triggered concerns that such a move would jeopardize sovereign equality among member states and politicize a procedural issue of the General Assembly.
This year's General Debate was also impacted by Monday's funeral of British Queen Elizabeth II. As numerous world leaders traveled to London on Monday, the original list of speakers for the debate had to be extensively modified to accommodate the late arrivals of dignitaries.
Traditionally, the United States, as the host country, speaks only after Brazil on the first day of the General Debate. This year, U.S. President Joe Biden is scheduled to speak on Wednesday, the second day of the debate.
This year's General Debate is expected to be overshadowed by the conflict in Ukraine.
On Monday, Guterres' chief spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the secretary-general is concerned that other important issues might be sidelined as the Ukraine issue "does occupy a lot of the space."