UN chief speaks about possibility of UNSC expansion


Amid continuing deadlock in the talks to reform the UN Security Council, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said that the possibility of expanding the 15-member body was now seriously on the table. “I think that the possibility of enlarging the Security Council is now seriously on the table. I’m still not optimistic about [reforming] the right of veto,” the UN chief said in response to a question about making the Council more effective to deal with crises, such as the Ukraine war, at his year-end press conference at UN Headquarters in New York on Monday. Full-scale negotiations to reform the Security Council began in the General Assembly in February 2009 on five key areas – the categories of membership, the question of veto, regional representation, size of an enlarged Security Council, and working methods of the council and its relationship with the General Assembly.

Progress towards restructuring the Council remains blocked as G-4 countries continue pushing for permanent seats on the Council, while the Italy/Pakistan-led Uniting for Consensus (UfC) group firmly opposes any additional permanent members. As a compromise, UfC has proposed a new category of members – not permanent members – with longer duration in terms and a possibility to get re-elected.

The Security Council is currently composed of five permanent members – Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States – and 10 non-permanent members elected to two-year terms On Monday, the secretary-general said the central questions about reforms are related to the composition of the Security Council and to the right of veto. Now this is a matter for member states, the UN Secretariat has no influence in these negotiations, he said. “I think that during our General Assembly session in September, for the first time I heard from the United States and from Russia clearly the indication that they were in favour of an enlargement of the number of permanent members of the Security Council, the UN chief said.

In this regard, Guterres said that there was a proposal from France and UK some time ago for some restrictions in the use of the right of veto. “But I remain pessimistic about the possibility of the right of veto to be seriously put into question,” he said. The UN chief added that reform of the Security Council needs two-thirds of the votes of the General Assembly plus the five positive votes of the permanent members of the Security Council. “So I think that there is now space for a much more serious discussion in relation to the Security Council reform,” he added.

At last round of Inter-Governmental Negotiations (IGN) last month, Pakistan’s Ambassador Munir Akram made a strong case against creating new permanent seats on the Security Council, saying an increase in the number of non-permanent members would make it more representative, democratic and effective. “The only criteria for Security Council membership set out in the UN Charter is for the election of non-permanent members,” he told delegates. On other subjects on Monday, The UN chief said he was determined to make 2023 “a year for peace” and a “year for action”, highlighting the need for practical solutions to a raft of pressing problems facing all regions of the world. “We owe it to people to find solutions, to fight back, and to act”, he said. “At times, discreetly but always with determination, we will fight back.” Building on his general call to action, Guterres announced that he would convene a Climate Ambition Summit next September, and called on every leader to “step up – from governments, business, cities and regions, civil society and finance.”

Nothing less than tangible and credible climate action would do, but dispensing with diplomatic niceties, he made it clear that the price of entry for every nation, was “non-negotiable credible, serious and new climate action and nature-based solutions that will move the needle forward and respond to the urgency of the climate crisis.” He said it would be “a no-nonsense summit. No exceptions. No compromises. There will be no room for back-sliders, greenwashers, blame-shifters or repackaging of announcements of previous years.”

The UN chief said it would be convened alongside a General Assembly opening-week summit already in the calendar, designed to accelerate action at the halfway point towards the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). He began his end of year press conference at UN Headquarters by looking back at 2022, saying that although there may be “plenty of reasons for despair”, amid the Ukraine war, and associated cost-of-living crisis leaving the poorest nations on “debt row”, that was not an option.

“This is not a time to sit on the sidelines, it is a time for resolve, determination, and – yes – even hope. “Because despite the limitations and long odds, we are working to push back against despair, to fight back against disillusion and to find real solutions. Not perfect solutions – not even always pretty solutions – but practical solutions that are making a meaningful difference to people’s lives. “Solutions that must put us on a pathway to a better, and more peaceful future.”

He highlighted the deal just hours earlier, to halt the destruction of ecosystems worldwide, at the UN’s Biodiversity Conference, COP15. “We are finally starting to form a peace pact, with nature”, he said, urging all countries to deliver on their promises. Progress has been made on ending conflict in some of the world’s war zones, he said, pointing to the cessation of hostilities in northern Ethiopia, as another “reason for hope”, a by-product of “a rebirth of diplomacy.”

There’s been progress in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo too, where armed groups have intensified the fight against Government troops, drawing in UN peacekeeping forces, and “a truce in Yemen has delivered real dividends for people”. Even in the brutal theatre of war that is Ukraine, “we have seen the power of determined, discreet diplomacy to help people and tackle unprecedented levels of global food insecurity”, he said, citing his Black Sea Grain initiative to facilitate exports of food and fertilizers from Ukraine, and the Memorandum of Understanding for unimpeded exports of Russian food and fertilizers. More than 14 million metric tons of grain and other foodstuffs have now been shipped from Black Sea ports, while Russian wheat exports have tripled under the Initiative. “But much work remains to be done”, he cautioned. “Food prices are still too high and access to fertilizers still too limited.” Despite pledges made at COP27 in Egypt and the biodiversity deal, it is clear that overall, the battle to limit emissions to just a 1.5 degree increase above pre-industrial levels, is still “moving in the wrong direction”, with the global emissions gap is growing.__Daily Times