Racism, the climate crisis and worsening divisions in the world will take center stage at the United Nations on Wednesday, a day after the UN chief issued a grim warning that “we are on the brink of an abyss.” .
For the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began, more than two dozen world leaders appeared in person at the UN General Assembly on the opening day of its annual high-level meeting. The atmosphere was bleak, angry, and hideous.
Chinese President Xi Jinping warned that “the world has entered a period of new turmoil and transformation.” Finnish President Sauli Niinistö said: “Indeed, we are at a critical juncture.” And the president of Costa Rica, Carlos Alvarado Quesada, declared: “The future raises its voice to us: less military weapons, more investment in peace!”
Speaker after speaker at Tuesday’s opening of the nearly week-long gathering condemned the inequalities and deep divisions that have prevented a united global action to end the COVID-19 pandemic, which has claimed nearly 4.6 million lives and still continues, and the failure to address the climate crisis that threatens the planet.
COVID-19 and the weather will surely continue to be the main problems for heads of state and government. But Wednesday’s UN agenda will first focus on the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the controversial UN World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, which was dominated by fighting in the Middle East and the legacy of slavery.
The United States and Israel withdrew during the meeting over a draft resolution that singled out Israel for criticism and compared Zionism to racism, a provision that was eventually dropped. Twenty countries are boycotting Wednesday’s commemoration, according to the Conference of Presidents of major American Jewish organizations, which urged more countries to join them “to continue fighting racism, intolerance and anti-Semitism.”
After the commemoration, the heads of state will begin to deliver their annual speeches again in the spacious General Assembly hall. Speakers include King Abdullah II of Jordan, Indonesian President Joko Widodo and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta.
Perhaps the harshest assessment of the current global crisis came from UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who opened his state of the world address by sounding an “alarm” that “the world must wake up.”
“Our world has never been more threatened or more divided,” he said. “We are faced with the greatest cascade of crises of our lives.”
“We are on the edge of an abyss and we are moving in the wrong direction,” warned the secretary general.
Guterres pointed to the “glaring glaring inequalities” in addressing COVID-19, the “climate alarm bells … ringing at a fever pitch,” the disruptions in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Yemen and beyond that frustrate the peace, and “a wave of mistrust and misinformation (which) is polarizing people and paralyzing societies. “
Racism, climate and divisions top the UN agenda as leaders meet. #ClimateChange ClimateCrisis
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the pandemic was a reminder “that the whole world is part of one big family.”
“But the solidarity test they put us on failed us miserably,” he said. “It is a shame for humanity that vaccine nationalism is still carried out through different methods,” and underdeveloped countries and poor segments of societies have been “literally left to fend for themselves in the face of the pandemic.”
Regarding the climate crisis, Erdogan said that whoever has caused the greatest damage to nature, the atmosphere and water, “and who has savagely exploited natural resources” should make the greatest contribution to the fight against global warming.
“Unlike in the past, this time no one can afford to say, ‘I am powerful, so I will not pay the bill’ because climate change will treat humanity fairly fairly,” said the Turkish leader. “It is the duty of all of us to take action against this enormous threat, with a fair share of the burden.”
Romanian President Klaus Iohannis found something positive in the COVID-19 crisis.
“While the pandemic affected almost every aspect of our lives,” he said, “it also provided us with opportunities to learn, adapt, and do better.”
Two of the most followed speeches on Tuesday were delivered by US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
In an interview with the Associated Press on Saturday, Guterres warned that the world could plunge into a new and probably more dangerous Cold War if China and the United States do not repair their “completely dysfunctional” relationship. “Unfortunately, today we only have a confrontation,” he said.
The secretary general maintained that theme in his speech Tuesday saying: “I fear that our world is sliding towards two different sets of economic, commercial, financial and technological rules, two divergent approaches in the development of artificial intelligence and, ultimately instance, two military and geopolitical strategies. This is a recipe for trouble. “
Biden said in his speech to the UN that the United States was not trying to be divisive or confrontational.
“We are not looking for a new Cold War or a world divided into rigid blocks,” he said. “The United States is ready to work with any nation that steps forward and seeks a peaceful solution to shared challenges, even if we have intense disagreements in other areas.”
Speaking later, Xi said disputes between countries “must be handled through dialogue and cooperation.”
“The success of one country does not have to mean the failure of another,” Xi said. “The world is big enough to accommodate the common development and progress of all countries.”
By tradition, the first country to speak was Brazil, whose president, Jair Bolsonaro, rejected criticism of his handling of the pandemic and promoted recent data indicating less deforestation in the Amazon. He said he was looking to counter the image of Brazil featured in the media, promoting it as a great place to invest and praising its pandemic welfare program, which helped prevent a worse recession last year.
Bolsonaro said his government has successfully distributed the first doses to most adults, but does not support vaccine passports or force anyone to inject. He has said several times in the past week that he is still not vaccinated.
“By November, everyone who chooses to get vaccinated in Brazil will be taken care of,” Bolsonaro told the General Assembly.
Brazil’s Health Minister Marcelo Quiroga, who was with Bolsonaro, later tested positive for the coronavirus and will remain isolated in the United States, the government said. Quiroga received his first injection of the coronavirus vaccine in January.
Bolsonaro had COVID-19 last year and has said multiple times in the past week that he remains unvaccinated. He said that getting an injection is a personal medical decision.