by William M. Reilly
UNITED NATIONS, Sept. 22 (Xinhua) — This year’s UN General Assembly General Debate comes as the world faces a losing battle with climate change, a threat to timely attaining the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the spread of hate speech, trade wars and deadly conflicts.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres painted such a picture Wednesday when he listed challenges the world organization is encountering and the challenges expected to be among topics during this year’s General Debate that begins on Tuesday.
“We have no time to lose,” the secretary-general said. “We are losing the race against climate change. Our world is off-track in meeting the SDGs. We see trade wars and real wars, and the spread of hateful words and deadly weapons.”
The number of heads of state who had signed up to speak as of last week is 91, Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for Guterres, said Friday. Also expected to speak are six vice presidents, 45 heads of government, five deputy prime ministers as well as dozens of ministers.
The placement of speakers is determined by the ranking of the speaker when the country signed up and includes consideration for a geopolitical balance. By convention, however, Brazil speaks first, followed by the United States, the host country of the world body.
This year’s General Debate attracted close to 4,000 members of the media, in addition to the resident press corps at the UN headquarters in New York, Dujarric told a press briefing.
With so many leaders gathered in New York, the spokesman said the world organization has been asked to facilitate 630 meetings. A section of the vast Visitors Lobby of the General Assembly building has been subdivided by temporary partitions into a maze of small rooms for bilateral meetings among nations.
Topping the secretary-general’s concerns in the short term is the Middle East, specifically the Gulf, and for the long term is climate change, but that needs short term attention too.
After all, Guterres described global warming as a “climate emergency…which threatens everyone and everything.”
The General Debate — not really a debate but more an airing of grievances and other concerns — lasts from Sept. 24 to Sept. 30, with only Sunday free of speeches.
The United Nations has requested speakers to limit themselves to 15 minutes each. But, that request is widely ignored, especially by representatives of the larger and more powerful nations, and in the past, quite a few of the smaller countries too.
From behind the dark green podium in front of the vast General Assembly hall speakers have been known to go on for hours, but, not in the most recent sessions.
While the range of topics is great — from global to regional and even local concerns — Guterres said the biggest single challenge for the world organization is to demonstrate the “fraying world” needs cooperation and to “show people we care and to mobilize solutions that respond to people’s anxieties and answers.”
In a run-up to the General Debate, the Youth Climate Summit was held Saturday with about 600 youth activists, innovators and entrepreneurs filling the Trusteeship Council chamber for a day-long, fast-moving, sometimes raucous, program.
The secretary-general will host the Climate Action Summit on Monday, on the eve of the General Debate. He has asked world leaders to come to the gathering with bold and concrete plans to accelerate ways to meet goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.
The White House said U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday will host a meeting on the Global Call to Protect Religious Freedom and is not scheduled to attend the climate summit.
Trump has announced that the United States was ending participation in the Paris Agreement. However, many U.S. states, municipalities and businesses are continuing to abide by the Paris accord.
On Tuesday, Guterres and the president of the 74th session of the General Assembly, Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, will deliver opening remarks at the General Debate, followed by a probably eye-catching speech by Trump.