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.