With a full-fledged agenda topped by the Iran crisis, climate change and global development — and denuclearisation to a lesser degree — world leaders began addressing the United Nations General Assembly Tuesday during their annual gathering
It is the 74th session of the UNGA. It started Tuesday and will end 30 September. This year UNGA has attracted world leaders from 136 of the 193 UN member nations. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping did not attend as they rarely participate more than once in one decade.
The large turnout could be attributed to the perilous state of peace and security globally. Aptly, the 2019 theme is: “Galvanising multilateral efforts for poverty eradication, quality education, climate action and inclusion”.
This year, world countries have singled out climate change as a chief area of focus, convening a day-long summit on Monday to lay out their plans to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions.
Climate change is not highly important to US President Donald Trump who attended only 15 minutes of day-long environment meetings. Trump’s isolation on the climate issue was apparent: in August, Trump skipped a session devoted to climate change at the G7 Summit in France.
Placing the climate emergency centre stage and forcing states to do something are two very different things.
This was Trump’s third address to the global gathering. His 40-minute speech in which he slammed Iran for its “bloodlust”, was hotly anticipated.
Also speaking Tuesday was Emmanuel Macron, the French president, Canada’s Justin Trudeau, Turkey’s leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Like last year and the year before, the big question was who was going to meet who on the sidelines of the assembly.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel was expected to hold separate talks with Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on the sidelines, a government spokesman said.
Merkel “will today hold bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the General Assembly - one with President Trump and the other with President Rouhani,” the spokesman said.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres opened the General Assembly proceedings with a “state of the world” speech.
Guterres spoke about the importance of investing in peace through crisis prevention, mediation and diplomacy, saying that some 100,000 UN peacekeepers were currently protecting civilians and promoting peace.
And, he added, humanitarian workers ease suffering around the world. “Fully half of all international relief aid is channelled through the United Nations – ensuring that millions receive protection, food, medicine, shelter, water and other life-saving assistance”, said Guterres, noting sadly that this “year alone… we have lost at least 80 peacekeepers, humanitarians and others, all of whom gave their lives trying to better the lives of others”.
Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro made his UNGA debut, defending his policies against the near consensus view that they are destroying the Amazon. His attendance was in doubt in the wake of surgery for a hernia caused by a knife attack during the campaign a year ago. He, however, vowed to show up, even if confined to a wheelchair.
Bolsonaro opened the speeches of world leaders, calling on other South American nations to help restore democracy to Venezuela, which he criticised for its socialist government.
The far-right politician also dismissing reports that the Brazilian Amazon rainforest is being destroyed by fire, as claimed by the “lying” media.
For his part, Turkish President Erdogan on Tuesday said nuclear power should either be free for all states or banned completely, and warned that the “inequality” between states who have nuclear power and who do not undermine global balances.
“The position of nuclear power should either be forbidden for all or permissible for everyone,” Erdogan told the UN.
Erdogan also criticised Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, resulting in polite clapping from the Palestinian delegation. He had a map of Israel, showing how much of it was Palestinian territory, over time.
“Where are the borders of the state of Israel?” Erdogan asked.
Guterres vowed to continue working globally and adhere to the convention of the world body. The ever-more divided world needs “a strong United Nations” with human rights as its touchstone, he said. “Let us restore trust, rebuild hope and move ahead, together.”