Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Greetings from New York!
I am pleased to address all of you, participants at the 2022 Asahi World Forum.
We live at a critical time, when our world is facing unprecedented crises, upending people’s lives.
But hope is what keeps us going. It is the driver of change and concrete action.
Hope – paired with solutions – can pave the way forward, towards a more peaceful and sustainable world.
This is why the theme of this year’s Asahi World Forum, ‘Hope with Action Can Change the World’ – is more important than ever.
Ladies and gentlemen,
At present, our world is facing countless dangers.
The United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres sounded an alarm about the survival of humanity and the planet, during the annual UN General Assembly in September. He warned us that “Our world is in peril – and paralyzed.”
From the suffering caused by inequality to the devastating climate catastrophe; and from the continuing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic to the immense pain caused by old and new conflicts.
These conflicts – like the senseless war in Ukraine and the multiplication of hostilities around the globe – threaten the very future of humanity. Geopolitical divides are undermining all forms of international cooperation.
The climate crisis is causing enormous damage. The world’s top scientists have confirmed that nearly half of humanity is living in the climate danger zone – being 15 times more likely to die from climate impacts.
Meanwhile, COVID-19 is not over, and recovery from the pandemic is uneven.
The rising inequalities, soaring food and energy prices, and spiraling inflation are wrecking lives and livelihoods. The 2021/22 Human Development report, launched in September, shows that, for the first time ever, the world’s total human development has declined for two years in a row.
Each peril is pushing the Sustainable Development Goals further out of our reach. But the SDGs remain vital and remain also our roadmap to a better world. However, as we get closer to the 2030 deadline, the Goals seem to be in trouble. Progress has stalled — and in some cases, even reversed.
All these issues create a bleak picture of the state of our world. They couldn’t be more true, but they also make us feel discouraged and defeated.
Apocalyptic headlines capture public attention and create a sense of urgency. But as they’re barely letting up, many people are finding it hard to stay hopeful.
Studies are showing increasing numbers of people turn away from such news and messages. When it all gets too much, some people may be tempted to simply switch off.
This news avoidance is a growing problem also for journalists around the world. The latest Digital News Report by the Reuters Institute shows that interest in news and overall news consumption has declined considerably in many countries – while trust in news has fallen back almost everywhere compared to last year.
So, given these challenges, the question is: How can we use communications to create hope and guide people towards solutions?
From my perspective, if we want to motivate people to pay attention and take action, we should provide them with a reason to stay engaged with hopeful messages, rather than hiding from the dark realities of the world.
We have to show them that there is no problem without a solution and get them gripped on hope, rather than gripped on fear.
We need to give to our audience access to information and activities that can help them clearly envisage how to build a more equitable and sustainable future.
This way, we can capture their imagination and get them excited to be part of a movement that will make the world a better place.
In this effort, we’ve already seen encouraging results.
For example, the United Nations presence at Expo 2020 in Dubai aimed to galvanize collective action for the Sustainable Development Goals. The pavilion which hosted the UN Hub saw 1.2 million visitors searching for avenues to create positive change. At the UN, we look forward to also engaging with large audiences at the Expo 2025 in Osaka.
Moreover, at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, SDG Media Zones were held and streamed globally, thanks to a collaboration between the UN Information Centre in Tokyo and Asahi Shimbun. By bringing leaders, innovators and media together, this initiative successfully showed that sport is an important enabler of sustainable development, as it promotes the values of diversity, tolerance, and respect.
Ladies and gentlemen,
In the effort to create hope and pave the way towards solutions, the UN and the world at large are facing a formidable foe.
The reason is that we live in an increasingly polluted information environment. Bad actors are sowing mis- and disinformation online, which causes real harm to communities. This phenomenon spread like a wildfire when the COVID-19 pandemic shocked our world.
At the UN, we realized we had to act. We came up with a response, a way to fight back. Together with communications agency Purpose, we developed the Verified initiative. It aimed to drown out and debunk the lies by getting reliable health guidance onto social media feeds.
The sharable content created through Verified managed to reach millions of people. But mis- and disinformation exist on a much broader scale than COVID-19, putting peace, human rights and even the future of the planet at stake.
Take the climate emergency, for example. False or misleading content is warping public understanding, undermining climate science and ultimately delaying urgent climate action.
We see disinformation’s impact in conflict situations, too. In recent survey of UN peacekeepers, 44 percent said mis- and disinformation was having a critical negative impact on their work.
Disinformation is also spreading in former flash points around the world, where a spike in genocide denial and the glorification of war criminals is undermining efforts to build social cohesion.
The United Nations cannot face this problem alone. We need Governments, the media, the private sector, civil society and the public at large to work together with us, to advance hope and solutions. It is not a matter of improving the state of our world. It is a matter of survival.
As the UN Secretary-General underlined in his General Assembly’s speech, “by acting as one, we can nurture fragile shoots of hope.”
Before I conclude, I would like to thank Asahi Shimbun [for inviting me to this Forum. I would also like to take this opportunity to appreciate the engagement and commitment of all you toward creating positive change.
Let us continue the joint effort to build a better world filled with peace, dignity and prosperity on a healthy planet.
Together, as one human family. Thank you.