UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday gave a rallying call for urgent action against the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed over four million people across the world, saying the response of the international community to fight the pandemic “has been too slow and too unequal.”
Guterres’ statement came at the 2nd SDG Moment on the eve of the high-level week of the 76th session of the UN General Assembly, where over 100 world leaders will converge to discuss issues like terrorism, climate change, equitable and affordable access to vaccines, and Afghanistan crisis. “Our world is challenged like never before. From climate change, to conflicts, to COVID-19, which is putting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) further out of reach,” he said.
Emphasising that the world has a path to recovery “if we choose to take it”, Guterres outlined his five areas for urgent action — ending the pandemic, sustainable and equitable recovery for all, equal rights for women and girls, climate action and net-zero emissions by 2050 and public collaboration for a global recovery.
Guterres also called for urgent climate action and said nations must “end the war on our planet” and commit to zero emissions by 2050.
On the same day, K-pop band BTS spoke about climate change and sustainable development amid the pandemic. They also performed their latest hit ‘Permission To Dance’ at the UN headquarters in New York.
The seven members of the band — Jimin, J-Hope, Jin, Suga, RM, Jungkook, and V — said, “Teenagers and those in the twenties are not a lost generation. They are a welcoming generation. They forge ahead with possibilities of better tomorrow.”
On the sidelines, around 40 world leaders attended a closed meeting on climate change co-chaired by Guterres and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in the run-up to November’s major climate event in Glasgow, Scotland.
Over 100 leaders to address UNGA till September 27
In a departure from last year’s UN General Assembly virtual session, where no leaders came to the headquarters, the 76th session this year will see the participation of leaders from over 100 countries.
The session, which began at the headquarters in New York on Monday and ends on September 27, will witness the General Debate, where leaders will discuss local, regional and global concerns at public or private meetings. The theme for this year’s General Debate is ‘Building Resilience through hope to recover from COVID-19, rebuild sustainably, respond to the needs of the planet, respect the rights of people and revitalise the United Nations’.
US President Joe Biden will also make his first appearance at the General Assembly after assuming office at the opening of the debate on Tuesday.
By tradition, the first speaker after the secretary-general to deliver his state of the world report is Brazil. Its president Jair Bolsonaro isn’t vaccinated and said he doesn’t plan to get a shot soon.
Chinese President Xi Jinping will address the UN General Assembly on Tuesday via video link. The Chinese president’s address will take place days after the US, Britain and Australia announced a new security alliance Aukus — widely seen as an effort to counter China’s influence in the contested South China Sea, which will see Australia being given the technology to build nuclear-powered submarines. Xi is also expected to touch upon the evolving situation in Afghanistan.
Modi to address UNGA on September 25
India will use its voice at the high-level United Nations General Assembly to forcefully take up global issues such as terrorism, climate change, equitable and affordable access to vaccines, Afghanistan crisis, and UN reforms, India’s Permanent Representative to the UN Ambassador TS Tirumurti told PTI.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will address the General Debate on September 25, a day after he participates in the Quad Leaders’ Summit in Washington DC, to be hosted by Biden.
“India has the ability to bring the discussions in the General Assembly to a more cooperative and constructive framework so that we can, together with partners, oppose any divisive agenda which may be pushed or stop existing agenda being weakened,” Tirumurti said.
Afghanistan’s diplomat is listed as the last speaker on the last day of the General Debate. Currently the Afghan envoy at the UN is Ambassador Ghulam Isaczai, who was appointed by former President Ashraf Ghani in June 2021. The interim Taliban government in power has not yet made any submission challenging Isaczai’s credentials.
The diplomats of Myanmar and Guinea are also listed to speak on behalf of their countries on the last day of the debate. However, following the coup in Myanmar, its military rulers have said the country’s Ambassador at UN, Kyaw Moe Tun, has been dismissed and they want Aung Thurein to replace him.
Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Israel’s new Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas are among the world leaders who will address the session in person.
109 leaders to give speeches from UNGA headquarters, 60 will deliver pre-recorded statements
As per the second provisional list of speakers for the General Assembly, about 109 heads of state and government will address the General Debate in person and nearly 60 will deliver speeches through pre-recorded video statements.
Among those delivering prerecorded statements this year will be the presidents of Iran, Egypt, Indonesia, South Africa and Zimbabwe. French President Emmanuel Macron was supposed to deliver a pre-recorded statement, but the government said Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian will now deliver the country’s address in person on the final day.
On the sidelines of UNGA’s 76th session
— A meeting at UN headquarters on Wednesday to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the UN conference on racism in Durban, South Africa, will be closely watched. It is being boycotted by the United States, France, Israel, the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia because of concerns about anti-Semitic statements at the 2001 meeting.
— There are also high-level meetings on energy and the nuclear test ban treaty, and a summit on the connected system of producing, processing, distributing and consuming food, which according to the UN contributes an estimated one-third of greenhouse gas emissions. The UN Security Council will hold a high-level meeting Wednesday on climate and security.
— Usually high level week has hundreds of side events but because of the COVID-19 pandemic, only a limited number are being held, mainly virtually or outside UN headquarters. These include events on vaccines, on children as invisible victims of the coronavirus and conflict, on multilateralism and democracy, and on global hotspots including Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq.
— The outcome of a meeting Wednesday of the foreign ministers of the five veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council is eagerly awaited. Afghanistan and other major global challenges are expected to be on the agenda, including the lack of progress on the United States rejoining the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Iran’s new foreign minister, Hossain Amir Abdollahian, is coming to New York and there is speculation that he may meet with the five countries that remain part of the deal — Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany.
With inputs from agencies