TOKYO (AP) — U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday urged nuclear-armed countries to uphold their no-first-use pledge, warning that the nuclear arms race is back amid rising international tension.
“This is the moment … to ask nuclear-weapon countries to commit to the no-first-use principle and to commit not to use or threaten non-nuclear-weapon countries,” Guterres told a news conference in Tokyo, two days after visited Hiroshima to commemorate the victims of August 6, 1945, of atomic bombing.
“I think nobody, nobody can accept the idea that a new nuclear war will happen. This will be the destruction of the planet,” Guterres said. “What is clear is that if no one uses a first, then there will be no nuclear war.”
Fears of a third nuclear strike have been growing amid Russian threats of nuclear attack since the war in Ukraine began in February.
On Thursday, Moscow bombed the Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia, home to Europe’s largest nuclear power plant. When asked about the attack, Guterres said: “Any attack on a nuclear plant is suicidal.”
He said he fully supports the International Atomic Energy Agency in their efforts to stabilize the plant and gain access to the facilities to exercise its mandate.
Guterres said that after decades of nuclear disarmament efforts, the world is now “moving backwards”, noting that the world already has 13,000 nuclear bombs and huge investments earmarked to modernize atomic arsenals. “So it’s time to say: Stop.”
Guterres said the billions of dollars being used in the arms race should be spent on other pressing issues.
“The billions used in this arms race should be used to fight climate change, fight poverty, address the needs of the international community,” he said.
He said he would also travel to Mongolia and South Korea to discuss ways to counter North Korea’s nuclear development.
At a time when geopolitical tensions are rising and the nuclear threat is back in focus, Japan’s strong and consistent voice for peace is more important than ever, Guterres said, calling on Japan to use its unique position as the only country in the world that has suffered atomic attacks to act as a “bridge-builder and peacemaker to strengthen global cooperation and trust and solidarity”.
Guterres said he counted on Japan’s ability to take a leading role in the global fight against climate change and specifically called on Tokyo to stop funding coal plants.
Japan, which has not specified a timetable for when it will completely ban coal-fired plants, is seen as reluctant to commit to banning coal power like many European countries.
Current efforts in Japan, the world’s third largest economy, are focused on developing methods for burning ammonia in conventional coal-fired plants and phasing out the use of coal possibly sometime in the 2040s. Japan also aims to promote “clean carbon” technology in Asia to achieve zero emissions.
Energy experts and critics say Japan currently has overly ambitious targets for nuclear power to provide 20%-22% of its energy mix by 2030. Until then, the country has promised to reduce emissions to 46% of 2013 levels.
“There is no such thing as clean coal,” Guterres said. “For real change, I hope that Japanese public and private capital will stop financing coal entirely.”
Guterres said he expects Japan, through multilateral development banks, to “offer direct investment and support to developing countries to expand renewable energy and build climate resilience” to find solutions that fit their needs to address of the climate emergency.
“I call on Japan to make the right choice — for Japan and for the world,” he said.