At UN, leaders of a warming world gather

World leaders and delegates gather at the United Nations for a summit to address climate change on September 23, 2019 in New York City. (AFP)
Updated 23 September 2019

At UN, leaders of a warming world gather

  • That large turnout reflects a growing global focus on addressing climate change

UNITED NATIONS: The planet is getting hotter, and tackling that climate peril will grab the spotlight as world leaders gather for their annual meeting at the United Nations this week facing an undeniable backdrop: Rising tensions from the Arabian Gulf to Afghanistan and increasing nationalism, inequality and intolerance.

Growing fear of military action, especially in response to recent attacks on Saudi oil installations that are key to world energy supplies, hangs over this year’s General Assembly gathering. That unease is exacerbated by global conflicts and crises from Syria and Yemen to Venezuela, from disputes between Israel and the Palestinians to the Pakistan-India standoff over Kashmir.

“Our fraying world needs international cooperation more than ever, but simply saying it will not make it happen,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said. “Let’s face it: We have no time to lose.”

This year’s General Assembly session, which starts today and ends Sept. 30, has attracted world leaders from 136 of the 193 UN member nations. 

That large turnout reflects a growing global focus on addressing climate change and the perilous state of peace and security.

Other countries will be represented by ministers and vice presidents — except Afghanistan, whose leaders are in a hotly contested presidential campaign ahead of Sept. 28 elections, and North Korea, which downgraded its representation from a minister to, likely, its UN ambassador. Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu canceled plans to attend and are sending ministers.

Last week, Guterres repeated warnings that “tensions are boiling over.” The world, he said, “is at a critical moment on several fronts — the climate emergency, rising inequality, an increase in hatred and intolerance as well as an alarming number of peace and security challenges.”

With so many monarchs, presidents and prime ministers at the UN this year, “we have a chance to advance diplomacy for peace,” Guterres said. “This is the moment to cool tensions.”

Whether that happens remains to be seen. Many diplomats aren’t optimistic.

“It’s a challenging time for the United Nations,” said China’s UN ambassador, Zhang Jun, whose nation is embroiled in a protracted dispute with the United States over tariffs. “We are faced with rising of unilateralism, protectionism, and we are faced with global challenges like climate change, like terrorism, like cybersecurity.”

“More importantly,” he said, “we are faced with a deficit of trust.”

As the world’s second-largest economy and a member of the UN Security Council, “China firmly defends multilateralism, and China firmly supports the United Nations,” Zhang said Friday.

But divisions among the five council members — the US, Russia, China, Britain and France — have paralyzed action on the eight-year conflict in Syria and other global crises. On global warming, the Trump administration remains at odds with many countries.

This year, the UN has stocked the agenda with a “Youth Climate Summit” ahead of a full-on climate summit for world leaders on Monday. That’s all happening before the leaders hold their annual meeting in the horseshoe-shaped General Assembly hall starting Tuesday morning.

Guterres will give his state-of-the-world address at the opening, immediately followed by speeches from Trump and other leaders including the presidents of Brazil, Egypt and Turkey. Iran’s Rouhani is scheduled to address the assembly Wednesday morning.


Australia’s daily coronavirus tally falls to lowest in more than 3 months

Updated 7 min 21 sec ago

Australia’s daily coronavirus tally falls to lowest in more than 3 months

  • 16 new infections are Australia’s smallest daily jump since June 14
  • Bulk of the new cases once again came from southeastern Victoria state
SYDNEY: Australia reported on Monday its smallest daily increase in new coronavirus infections in more than three months, but authorities in the nation’s virus hotspot of Victoria said they could not hasten the easing of curbs.
The 16 new infections are Australia’s smallest daily jump since June 14, while two additional deaths were reported.
“This light at the end of the tunnel is getting closer every day,” Nick Coatsworth, the chief deputy medical officer told reporters in Canberra, the capital.
The bulk of the new cases once again came from southeastern Victoria state, the epicenter of Australia’s second wave of infections, where 11 people tested positive over the last day, down from a daily record of 725 in early August.
However, it was too soon to hasten the timetable for removing curbs, the state’s premier, Daniel Andrews, said.
“If circumstances change, if we find ourselves ahead of schedule, not for one day, but in a manifest sense, common sense always guides us,” Andrews told reporters in the state capital of Melbourne.
Nightly curfews are among the measures clamped on the city in one of the world’s toughest lockdowns, but state officials have said building sites, manufacturing plants, warehouses and childcare facilities can reopen on Sept. 28 if the two-week average keeps below 50. Now it is below 35.
The bulk of Victoria’s restrictions could be lifted in late October if its two-week average stays below five, a target Prime Minister Scott Morrison has criticized as too punitive and costly to the national economy.
Australia is battling its first recession in 30 years, while unemployment in July hit a 22-year high as virus curbs paralyzed businesses.
The Victoria outbreak has also closed off prospects for travel between Australia and New Zealand to resume soon.
Australia barred international travelers in March, except for citizens and permanent residents, but had said after a dent in the first virus outbreak that it would look to resume travel to New Zealand this year.
However, the chief executive of flag carrier Air New Zealand said quarantine-free travel between the neighbors was unlikely to resume for at least six months more.
The Victoria curbs have prevented a second wave of national infection, however.
Victoria has contributed almost 75 percent of Australia’s tally of nearly 27,000 infections and roughly 90 percent of its 851 deaths.
The most populous state of New South Wales reported four new cases in the past 24 hours, three of them already in hotel quarantine after returning from overseas.
Northeastern Queensland state also reported one new infection in hotel quarantine.