77th UNGA Session: Challenges are great, but not insurmountable

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International Crisis Group warned Biden administration over Iran
International Crisis Group warned Biden administration over Iran file photo

By Muhammad Arshad Makhan

The United Nations’ General Assembly has concluded general debate with closing remarks by the UN President Csaba Korosi.

The session, which convened on September 13 and began general debates on September 20, also served as a backdrop for summits on development in Africa and the Caribbean and transforming education.

126 heads of state and government took part in this year’s general debate. During the General Assembly, U.S. President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida a met, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky delivered a remote address.

To some experts and observers, the meeting was held when the world is severely divided. It hence should be an opportunity for all parties to strengthen communication, bridge divergences, and join hands to cope with global challenges, while being cautious of certain countries’ attempt to turn the general assembly into a tool to create division, and escalate conflicts and confrontation.

Amid the interwoven changes and chaos of the world, the UN is also undergoing a test about profound differences.

 

Will it let itself be kidnapped by some forces and turned into a tool for targeting specific countries, and promoting group politics and the so-called alliances of values? Or will it hold on to promoting democracy in international relations, adhering to comprehensive concepts of development and security, and uniting the vast number of countries to solve common problems via genuine multilateralism?

The history of the development of the UN indicates that these two forces have always had a tug-of-war. Whether the forces of solidarity and cooperation that focus on the future of mankind can overcome the forces of division and confrontation that rest on geopolitical logic will affect UN’s role and hundreds of millions of people around the world in the future.

Speeches during general debate largely reflected concerns around the knock-on effects of the war in Ukraine. Most countries reiterated their previously held objections to the invasion of Ukraine based on international law.

China, in a surprise statement, asserted the need to preserve national sovereignty, turning from their previous neutrality. This year’s general debate of the UN General Assembly concluded on Monday, after representatives of 190 member states spoke around the theme of ‘A watershed moment: transformative solutions to interlocking challenges’. UN got five messages from the member states during the general debate; the first is the growing awareness that humanity has entered a new era.

The second message is that the conflict in Ukraine should end. The third message is that climate change is gradually destroying humanity. Fourth, calls for improving the state of human rights and meeting the needs of those most vulnerable to exploitation were heard. The fifth key issue, for which there is strong support, is the need to modernize the United Nations, revitalize the General Assembly and reform the Security Council.

This is in line with own conviction that the General Assembly should be ready to respond better to the interlocking crises and that the Security Council must reflect the realities of this century.

Earlier, General Assembly President Csaba Kőrösi banged the ceremonial gavel to open the UN General Debate at what he called ‘the most consequential moment of the last four decades’,, calling for ‘solutions through solidarity, sustainability and science’ his motto for the Assembly’s 77th session.

‘Solutions, because we have drafted many treaties, set excellent goals, yet have taken too little action,’ he explained. We need solidarity because inequalities have reached record height sustainability because we owe it to our children to leave behind a livable world and science because it offers us neutral evidence for our actions.

In his opening remarks, Secretary General Antonio Guterres called for solidarity and cooperation to address a world in peril. We face a world in peril across our work to advance peace, human rights and sustainable development, Guterres said, citing conflicts and climate change, a broken global financial system, poverty, inequality, hunger and divisions. Addressing common challenges will require continued solidarity as we demonstrate the great promise and potential of this organisation, he said ahead of the start of the UNGA’s high-level event.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the solidarity envisioned in the United Nations Charter is being devoured by the acids of nationalism and self-interest. As fractures deepen and trust evaporates, we need to come together around solutions.

People need to see results in their everyday lives, or they will lose faith in their governments and institutions, and they will lose hope in the future. This year’s General Debate must be about providing hope and overcoming the divisions that are dramatically impacting the world.

“I have just returned from Pakistan, where I looked through a window into the future. A future of permanent and ubiquitous climate chaos on an unimaginable scale:  Devastating loss of life, enormous human suffering, and massive damage to infrastructure and livelihoods. It is simply heartbreaking.

No picture can convey the scope of this catastrophe. The flooded area is three times the size of my entire country, Portugal. What is happening in Pakistan demonstrates the sheer inadequacy of the global response to the climate crisis, and the betrayal and injustice at the heart of it” he maintained.

Whether it is Pakistan, the Horn of Africa, the Sahel, small islands or Least Developed Countries, he said, the world’s most vulnerable – who did nothing to cause this crisis – are paying a horrific price for decades of intransigence by big emitters. G20 countries are responsible for 80 percent of emissions.

They are also suffering the impact of record droughts, fires and floods – but climate action seems to be flat lining. If one-third of G20 countries was under water today, as it could be tomorrow, perhaps they would find it easier to agree on drastic cuts to emissions.  All countries with the G20 leading the way must boost their national emissions reduction [targets] and must limit the world’s temperature rise to 1.5 degrees.

He said that Pakistan and other climate hotspots needed flood-resilient infrastructure now. And those most responsible for emissions must step up with the funds for adaptation. At least half of all climate finance and climate resilience should go to adaptation and climate resilience, to protect people and economies.

Unless action is taken now, unless funds are disbursed now, these tragedies will simply multiply, with devastating consequences for years to come, including instability and mass migration around the world. So my message to world leaders gathering here is clear, he said, lower the temperature now, don’t flood the world today; don’t drown it tomorrow.

There is one thing that cannot be denied: Although the UN General Assembly general debates have been filled with lots of conflicts and confrontations, the UN remains the core of global governance nowadays and is in a key position to address a range of challenges, and the UN Security Council remains the core of the global system of collective security. It is for this very reason that the international community generally places high hopes on the UN system as a prioritized platform for pursuing a better vision of the world. Under such circumstances, how the UN can build consensus and promote unity requires courage and wisdom, and moreover, new ideas.

In this process, it’s significant whether the major powers choose dialogue and cooperation, or division and confrontation. It’s learned from the lessons of World War I and II that the rule of great power unanimity has become the main operating rule of the UN mechanism.

Especially in the current situation where the Russia-Ukraine conflict is escalating and humanitarian disaster is imminent, major powers should take the initiative to safeguard UN’s authority and leave an “emergency channel” for diplomatic settlement of disputes through UN mechanisms, rather than instrumentalizing and ideologizing the organization and using geopolitical interests to kidnap it, making the complicated problem even more difficult to solve. This is a moral obligation and a responsibility as well.

Global hunger began to rise before the pandemic and has never recovered. The cost-of-living crisis is hitting the poorest people and communities hardest, with dramatic effects. The rights of women and girls are going into reverse.

Most developing countries have no fiscal space, and no access to the financial resources needed to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and protect their people from the devastating impact of climate change. The solidarity envisioned in the United Nations Charter is being devoured by the acids of nationalism and self-interest.

 

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