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09/18/2021 | Press release | Archived content

Though Temporary Guests on Planet, Human Activities Causing Permanent Damage, Secretary-General Notes, in Remarks at Presentation of Artwork

Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres' remarks at the presentation of the artwork "World in Progress II", in New York today:

Monsieur Legros - ou si je peux me permettre, Saype,

C'est un grand plaisir de me joindre à vous aujourd'hui pour l'inauguration de cette fantastique œuvre d'art. Je remercie sincèrement Saype et le gouvernement de la Confédération suisse pour ce cadeau unique.

"World in Progress II" is perfectly suited to our time and place. First, it is, in all senses, a big picture. Both its execution and its subject are monumental and ambitious. We have to take several steps back, just to view it in its entirety. Then we understand that it shows two children, designing their ideal world together.

Our mission at the United Nations also extends far beyond what we see around us. Most of it lies out of view. Our work is multilateral, and multigenerational. And each of us plays an essential part in creating the whole.

Second, "World in Progress II" is ephemeral and biodegradable. In just a few weeks, it will disappear without a trace. In this age of consumer waste, it should make us think about what we are leaving to future generations.

We are all temporary guests on our planet. But many of our activities are causing permanent damage. Saype's work makes a virtue of impermanence. Its value lies in the impression it creates in our imaginations, and the memories it leaves behind. The children depicted in "World in Progress II" are designing our shared future. This year's General Debate will take up this theme, focusing on the world we are building together. My recent report on Our Common Agenda recommends new ways for today's decision-makers to better serve both young people, and future generations.

I hope leaders will take inspiration from Saype's art to consider how we can look beyond our immediate surroundings, while respecting nature and our planet. Children and young people are showing the way. We must listen to them and be guided by their priorities.

I thank Saype and the Government of the Swiss Confederation once again, for inviting us to step back and think, rather than acting in short‑term self‑interest. And I hope our memories of this artwork will inform our efforts long after "World in Progress II" has faded from view.