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Highlights from the 76th Session of the UN General Assembly General Debates (UNGA 76)

The World Leaders delivered their speeches while addressing the climate crisis as UNGA76 convened in September. The theme, "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" echoed through the speeches.

Small-Island Nations demanded immediate and more ambitious actions from developed nations, and are “accepting zero excuses”, while Biden pledged “a new era of relentless diplomacy,” Johnson told the world to “grow up,” and Xi announced the voidance of coal-fired power projects abroad.

US President Joe Biden’s speech at the UN General Assembly A “Point of No Return” or an “Inflection Point?

President Joe Biden addresses the 76th Session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York on Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021. (Eduardo Munoz/Pool Photo via AP) The United States intends to provide developing countries with $100 billion to overcome the consequences of global climate change, and will commit $10 billion to end hunger around the world.

The next decade will determine the future of the world, said US President Joe Biden during his speech at the UN General Assembly. He spoke for the first time as head of state at the UN General Assembly, in New York on Tuesday, September 21.

The President pledged to work with Congress and private companies to double the US’ assistance to developing countries in overcoming the consequences of global climate change. This would make the United States a pioneer in public funding for climate programs, as part of their historical responsibility for global warming. Mr. Biden is putting efforts towards establishing US leadership in saving the planet from an impending climate apocalypse. He stated that climate change is borderless, and the US’ “success is bound up in others succeeding as well,” and thus, “we must work together as never before.”

The American leader proclaimed “a new era of relentless diplomacy.” The President also made it clear that his Administration’s policies will be fundamentally different from Donald Trump’s “America first” style of diplomacy, shifting towards multilateralism. However, there is an impression that the Biden administration intends to use the climate crisis as an opportunity to reaffirm the primacy of US power in international politics. It is worth mentioning that the achievement of democratic values is not equal to US leadership.

One day before this speech, in the “Remarks by President Biden and United Nations Secretary-General Guterres Before Bilateral Meeting” he emphasized that: “The strong partnership between the United States and the U.N. is based on common values and principles.” Mr. Biden referred to the organization’s charter, which, according to him, he had specially re-read before the session, and to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. He recalled that the United States returned to the World Health Organization, rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement, said that next year Washington expects to restore its membership in the UN Human Rights Council, and proposed to establish a new Council on global threats to human health. “Will we meet the threat of challenging climate — the challenging climate we’re all feeling already ravaging every part of our world with extreme weather? Or will we suffer the merciless march of ever-worsening droughts and floods, more intense fires and hurricanes, longer heatwaves and rising seas? Will we affirm and uphold the human dignity and human rights under which nations in common cause, more than seven decades ago, formed this institution? Will we apply and strengthen the core tenets of the international system, including the U.N. Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as we seek to shape the emergence of new technologies and deter new threats? Or will we allow those universal principles to be trampled and twisted in the pursuit of naked political power?” References: Agarwal, Ayushi. “Full Transcript: Biden Addresses 76Th UN General Assembly”. ABC News, 2021. Friman, Mathias. “Historical Responsibility in the UNFCCC.” 2007. The White House. “Remarks By President Biden And United Nations Secretary-General Guterres Before Bilateral Meeting | The White House”. 2021.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s speech at the UN General Assembly

“It’s time to grow up. The adolescence of humanity is coming to an end.”

“The world, this precious blue sphere with its eggshell crust and wisp of an atmosphere, is not some indestructible toy, some bouncy plastic romper room against which we can hurl ourselves to our hearts content.”

At the general debate of the UN General Assembly’s 76th session, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged world leaders to take responsibility for tackling climate change. He believes that COP26 will be “the turning point for humanity” — a birthday party for humanity, “a party which we choose to grow up.”

With classic British humor, Mr. Johnson recalled Kermit the Frog, a character from a comedy television series “Muppet Show.” “'It’s not easy being green,’ you remember that one? I want you to know that he was wrong. He was wrong. It is easy. It’s not only easy, it’s lucrative and it’s right to be green.”

The Prime Minister warned that if we continue with our “selfish and so shortsighted” actions, then “we will make this beautiful planet effectively uninhabitable — not just for us, but for many other species as well.” An urgent action is needed, and that is why he believes that “the Glasgow COP26 Summit is the turning point for humanity.” Mr. Johnson also reminded of the goal of “holding and reversing the loss of trees and biodiversity by 2030,” and the upcoming UN Summit on Biodiversity in China.

We also need to work together around the world to restore the balance between humanity and nature. A balance that’s obviously been proved so hopelessly out of whack by the emergence of a zoonotic pandemic, for instance.

Boris Johnson admitted that it would hardly be possible to avoid criticism of future generations: “It’s too late to stop the rise in temperatures…and if we keep on the current track, then the temperatures will go up by 2.7 degrees or more by the end of the century.”

The future generations could face intensified droughts and heat waves, spread of wildfires, melting glaciers and rising sea levels, “desertification, drought, crop failure, and mass movements of humanity on a scale not seen before.”

And they will know that it was this generation that came center stage to speak and act on behalf of them, on behalf of posterity and that we missed our queue.

It is no longer possible to stop the rising temperature, but as the Prime Minister pointed out, we can limit the warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Thus, despite the fact that he did not directly mention the adverse effects of fossil fuel industries, Mr. Johnson supported the development of renewable energy sources, which would also create new jobs.

He pledged that coal will come out of the UK's energy production by 2024, and recalled that the UK has built a wind turbine park in the North Sea. The British Prime Minister joked that he would like to become ‘Borias Johnson’. As part of his speech, Boris Johnson admitted that he wanted to change his name in honor of the God of the North Wind; Borias is the God of the North Wind in Greek mythology.

“In fact, we produce so much offshore wind that I’m thinking of changing my name in honor of the God of the North Wind, to Borias Johnson.

In addition, the British Prime Minister recalled the ancient Greek playwright/poet Sophocles, who believes thatour species is uniquely capable of our own destruction and the destruction of everything around us,” but at the same time we are “awesome” since we also can “change things for the better.” Thus, Mr. Johnson is convinced that “…in the next 40 days, we have to choose, the world has to choose, what kind of awesome we’re going to be.

“We must show that we are capable of learning and maturing and finally taking responsibility for the destruction we are inflicting not just upon our planet, but upon ourselves,” said Johnson.

References:

Sanford, Claire. “UK Boris Johnson UN General Assembly 2021 Speech Transcript”. Rev, 2021. United Nations. “United Kingdom — Prime Minister Addresses UN General Debate, 76th Session (English) | #UNGA”. YouTube, 2021.

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Speech at the UN General Assembly China is ditching coal and fighting for climate change.

Chinese President Xi Jinping said that China would completely stop investing in the international coal industry. The President pledged that the country would achieve carbon neutrality by 2060-- in four decades. “China will strive to peak carbon dioxide emissions before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060...China will step up support for other developing countries in developing green and low-carbon energy, and will not build new coal-fired power projects abroad.

China is now the world's largest investor in coal energy, both abroad and domestically. In total, China accounts for around 27% of global greenhouse emissions. The country will reach its peak emissions by 2030, meanwhile the states of Europe have pledged to reduce their emissions by 45% by that year.

The President mentioned that China will “not build new coal-fired power projects abroad.” However, Mr. Xi did not specify if he would be cancelling the 40 gigawatts of coal-energy pipeline projects in 20 different countries or not, considering the financial damage that it could result in.

An end to Chinese finance could facilitate the cancellation of over 40 gigawatts of pipeline projects in 20 countries — equivalent to the current coal fleet of Germany,Belinda Schäpe, an EU-China climate diplomacy researcher at the E3G think tank. China is already the world's biggest emitter of fossil fuel carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, followed by the United States. The impact this is having globally is tremendous, and China is already facing intensified environmental disasters. Therefore, considering the damage that this kind of politics has done to the climate, the goal of “peaking by 2030” is not ambitious enough, and China needs to do “tremendous hard work, and make every effort” to start decreasing its emissions earlier. Significantly, other states have pledged to become net-zero by 2050, and China’s goal to become carbon-neutral instead by 2060, seems to be more promising, yet, alas, it might be too late.

Mr. Xi emphasized that economic development is also a priority; he used the word “development” around 30 times in his 15 minutes speech. He mentioned “green development” and “industrialization” in one sentence, which means that he is aiming to continue economic growth while promoting “green development.” As a reminder, it was the Industrial Revolution with its technological development that started the rapid burning of fossil fuels, which polluted the environment with millions of tons of carbon dioxide, and until now, we keep on ignoring the scientists who have established a link between industrialization and global warming.

Similarly, the President mentioned achieving “green recovery and development.” Urgent green recovery is critical in our situation, however before ‘jumping’ to development, it is important to remember regarding loss and damage that we have faced and are facing. Which means China must not only mitigate climate change but also adapt to it, address the historical responsibilities and the nationally determined contributions (NDCs), as defined by United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

The President of China suggested, “to improve global environmental governance,” stay “committed to harmony between man [sic] and nature,” and continue with the “people-centered approach.” However, if humanity wants to achieve harmony between them and nature, then we must rather shift away from the anthropocentric order of the world to a more ecocentric one.

Democracy is not a special right reserved to an individual country, but a right for the people of all countries to enjoy.”

The Chinese authoritarian leader called for "strengthening solidarity … mutual respect and win-win cooperation in conducting international relations."

The UN Biodiversity Summit will be held in October in Kunming, China.

References:

Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China. "Xi Jinping Attends The General Debate Of The 76Th Session Of The United Nations General Assembly And Delivers An Important Speech". Fmprc.Gov.Cn, 2021.

Newburger, Emma. “China’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions Exceed Those Of U.S. And Developed Countries Combined, Report Says.” CNBC, 2021.

United Nations. “China - President Addresses United Nations General Debate, 76Th Session (English) | #UNGA.” YouTube, 2021.

Small Island States Blamed Rich States for Ecocide The leaders of small island states urged the leaders of the "strong states" to take immediate action due to the threat of global warming and sea level rise.

Halving greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 in order to keep the global temperature rise "well below" 1.5°C or 2°C by the end of the century is the main goal of the Paris Agreement. “Studies show that at 1.5°C, we could expect one metre of sea-level rise in 2300, with an extra 26cm at 2°C.” The rising sea levels threaten around 14 small island states. The President of Marshall Islands, David Kabua, told the world leaders in his pre-recorded speech that we can no longer “delay climate ambition." “Climate change remains the greatest threat to the security and well-being of our region. We simply have no higher ground to cede. The Paris Agreement must be delivered in action, not in empty words,” said Mr. Kabua. According to the recent report on global emissions targets (p.6) by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) the global temperature is expected to rise 2.7C above pre-industrial levels, even if all countries meet their promised emissions cuts. Scientists say the world needs to cut global emissions in half by 2030, and achieve net-zero or carbon-neutrality by 2050. However, the report mentions that considering the current emissions and the commitments of countries in 2030 there will be a 59% increase in emissions compared to 1990 levels, and 16% increase compared to 2010 levels.

The President of Maldives, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, highlighted in his speech at the General Assembly that there is a huge difference for small island states between 1.5°C and 2°C, and that the 2°C is “a death sentence for the Maldives."The Prime Minister of Fiji, Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama, stressed the importance of considering the small island states’ opinion since the impacts of climate change could result in the disappearance of low-lying nations in the Pacific. Last year during his speech at the 75th session, The Prime Minister saw the “UN as a beacon for hope.” “If Small States are to build back greener, bluer, and better, we will need an equal voice about and vote on decisions that determine our future. Small States need our interests heard, understood, and acted upon,” said Mr. Bainimarama in during his speech.

The President of Guyana, Ali Irfaan, accused the countries that are "champions" in emissions of deception of unfulfilled promises to reduce greenhouse emissions. He warned that climate change could cause more “destruction and rumination” than COVID-19.

“We hope that the world's worst emitters of greenhouse gases, that are threatening the welfare of all mankind, will also come to the realization that in the end it will profit them little to emerge king over a world of dust,” Ali Irfaan said. He also emphasized that the small island states are the first ones to suffer from the catastrophic impacts of climate change, even though their countries are among the lowest emitters in the world. “This is not just unfair, it is unjust,” he added.

The Prime Minister of Tuvalu, Kausea Natano, reminded the world leaders that we are not able to meet the sustainable development targets, and stressed the needs of the planet and human rights.  “How strong will the next tropical cyclone be? How much longer can our islands support our livelihoods? Is there even a future for us on our islands? What will happen to us? …  What happens to our human rights? Will Tuvalu remain a member state of the UN if it is finally submerged? Who can help us, and will they help us?” asked the Prime Minister.  The Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Gaston Alfonso Browne, mentioned the need to compensate for the past environmental damage. He called this “a nonconfrontational form of climate justice." The compensation can be done through "official development assistance, debt swaps, and debt cancellation." Otherwise, the most affected states “may be forced to take legal action in the international courts to seek compensation for provable damage."

 “We do not tolerate war between our Member States. So, how can we tolerate war waged against the planet, on the life it sustains, and on future generations? That is the firm red line Pacific nations will draw in Glasgow. We are demanding net-zero emissions and accepting zero excuses,” said Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama, The Prime Minister of Fiji at this year’s UNGA debates.  

References: 

United Nations. "Marshall Islands - President Addresses UN General Debate, 76th Session (English) | #UNGA". Youtube, 2021. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). "Nationally determined contributions under the Paris Agreement: Synthesis report by the secretariat," 2021. United Nations. "Maldives - President Addresses General Debate, 76th Session." United Nations. “Fiji - Prime Minister Addresses General Debate, 75th Session,” YouTube, 2020. 

United Nations. “Fiji - Prime Minister Addresses United Nations General Debate, 76th Session (English) | #UNGA,” YouTube, 2021. Fiji Prime Minister. “PM BAINIMARAMA'S NATIONAL STATEMENT TO UNGA76,” 2021. United Nations. “Guyana - President Addresses United Nations General Debate, 76th Session (English) | #UNGA.” YouTube, 2021. Prime Minister of Tuvalu. National Statement Honourable Mr. Kausea Natano," 2021. United Nations. “Antigua & Barbuda - Prime Minister Addresses UN General Debate, 76th Session (English) | #UNGA”. Youtube, 2021.  “The Honourable Gaston A. Browne Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda Address Seventy-Sixth Session of the UN General Assembly," 2021. Goodwin, P., Brown, S., Haigh, I. D., Nicholls, R. J., & Matter, J. M. “Adjusting Mitigation Pathways to Stabilize Climate at 1.5°C and 2.0°C Rise in Global Temperatures to Year 2300.” Earth's Future, 6, 601– 615.

United Nations. “Ahead of Climate Conference, Small Island Developing States Call Out Rich Countries in General Assembly for Lacking Political Will to Stop Global Warming,”  2021. Warren R., Brown S. "Not convinced on the need for urgent climate action? Here’s what happens to our planet between 1.5°C and 2°C of global warming." The Conversation, 2019.

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