The United Nations General Assembly is about to begin. Here’s what to watch out for

By Caitlin Hu, CNN

To hell with the coronavirus, the world’s diplomats are back.

New Yorkers who enjoyed the peace and quiet of the virtual United Nations General Assembly last year will again face the traffic jam of diplomatic processions next week, as world leaders and those around them alight at the headquarters of the international organization in Manhattan.

The 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) is about to kick off its high-level week, during which member states will be invited to deliberate on two parallel challenges: ending the pandemic and redefining the post-pandemic global economy to make it healthier. for the planet.

The United Nations sees the present moment as a potential pivot point. “The choices we make will ensure human, economic and environmental health for generations to come, or reinforce old patterns that destroy nature and lead to societal divide,” reads the official agenda preview. of the week. “An inclusive, sustainable and resilient COVID-19 recovery is essential to put the world on the right track towards a just transition to a 1.5 ° C trajectory.”

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who is about to begin a second five-year term, said it more bluntly on Tuesday: “The war on our planet must end. “

But first, the pandemic must end, and the issue of access to vaccines will be high on the UNGA agenda. Health experts have repeatedly warned that the world would not go through Covid-19 without widespread vaccination – and World Health Organization (WHO) has strongly criticized the storage of vaccines and the distribution of booster vaccines by richer countries while poor countries face shortages.

More than 70% of global doses of Covid-19 have been administered in just 10 countries, the WHO said on Thursday.

Covid-19: A stake for the UNGA in more than one respect

The General Assembly did not really start in a unified way.

Despite a letter from the United States encouraging member states to virtually call and avoid creating a “super-broadcast event,” the speakers’ schedule for the general debate – which begins on Tuesday – shows more than 100 heads of state and government. government coming in person, including British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Joe Biden.

Even Korean pop icons BTS are flaunting the advice to stay home, with the boy group booked to make an appearance at UN headquarters on Monday.

New York City demands proof of Covid-19 vaccination for indoor gatherings – a rule that the local authorities have asked the UN to follow. To facilitate compliance, a single vaccination post will even be set up on site. But visiting dignitaries are not entirely cooperative.

Brazil and Russia are already nudging their local hosts, vocally rejecting the health requirement. “We strongly oppose that only people with proof of vaccination are allowed into the General Assembly Hall,” Russian representative to the UN Vassily Nebenzia wrote in a letter to the organization. , according to TASS state news agency. Nebenzia also noted that not all countries use the vaccines approved in New York.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro threw the gauntlet on social media, saying on Thursday at close range that he would not be vaccinated before the general debate. He is due to address the assembly in person on Tuesday morning, in Brazil’s traditional role as first speaker.

The UN has said it trusts an “honor system” of immunization.

Geopolitics in the Great Hall

The general debate is still the centerpiece of the week, with delegates taking turns bragging about their country and weighing in on global issues – this year, possibly including Covid-19, the chaotic Western withdrawal from Afghanistan, the tensions with Iran and North Korea, and a growing rivalry between the United States and China.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi will not be visiting New York, but his recorded statement will be worth listening to closely amid stalled nuclear talks. Harsh words from China and France are also to be expected following the surprise deal between the US and UK last week to supply Australia nuclear powered submarines patrolling the Pacific – which upset Beijing and undermined a prior agreement with Paris. Signaling the depth of its fury, France on Friday recalled its ambassadors from the United States and Australia.

UN observers have anticipated a conflict this year over at least two seats in the General Assembly Hall – those in Myanmar and Afghanistan, where undemocratic regimes have recently come to power but where diplomats representing previous governments still hold UN accreditation. So far, the UN Credentials Committee has indicated no intention of changing the status quo.

Permanent Representative of Myanmar to the UN, Kyaw Moe Tun, is a remnant of the democratically elected government of the country, which was overthrown by military coup in February. A virulent critic of the junta murderous repression of protests, he now represents a movement to restore democratic leadership, known as the Government of National Unity. The junta has already tried unsuccessfully to replace him.

Afghanistan’s permanent representative to the UN Ghulam M. Isaczai was stranded a month ago after the government that appointed him collapsed and its president fled the country under the advance of the Taliban. But Isaczai has continued to defend for Afghanistan, meeting with foreign emissaries and even ask the UN Security Council pressure the Taliban to form a more democratic government. The militant Islamist organization has not applied for accreditation for an UNGA envoy this year, and Isaczai is seeking to retain control of Afghanistan’s headquarters for the time being, the deputy spokesperson for the UNGA told CNN. UN Secretary General Farhan Haq.

The future of democracy under the Taliban – and in particular the rights of women and girls – will be recurring topics throughout the week of high level meetings. The UN Security Council voted unanimously on Friday to extend its UN assistance mission to the country for six months.

“I expect a lot of talk about Afghanistan,” US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield told reporters on Friday, adding that the US would urge the Taliban to respect human rights . In general, the US delegation will focus on tackling the “corrosive” autocratic influences around the world, she said.

A leaders’ meeting on racism will also reflect social upheaval in the West. The meeting, entitled “Reparations, racial justice and equality for people of African descent“, follows a wave of racial reckoning in the United States and other Western countries, and comes amid a conservative reaction against the teaching of painful historical truths.


The deadly consequences of global warming, after a year of historic heat, forest fires and floods, are just as significant as the political tragedies.

According to a new report released by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change on Friday, the planet is heading for 2.7 degrees Celsius warming above pre-industrial levels – well above the 1.5 degree Celsius limit according to scientists, necessary to avoid the worst consequences of the climate crisis.

Hijacking this ‘catastrophic’ path means integrating climate action into global recovery from a pandemic, and the General Assembly is seen as the last opportunity to lock in global commitments ahead of next month’s G20 in Rome and the conference on the global pandemic. COP26 climate change from November in Glasgow.

On Monday, UK Prime Minister Johnson – a co-organizer of COP26 – will sit down with the Secretary General and dozens of other leaders for one of the few in-person meetings to discuss the environment, focusing on the responsibilities of the G20. On the same day, UN climate chief Patricia Espinosa, former US Vice President Al Gore and COP26 President Alok Sharma will speak at a large-scale event on how to achieve the targets set in the 2015 Paris Agreement.

A special Security Council public debate on climate and security will follow on Thursday, and a virtual event on sustainable energy will take place the next day – the first such high-level event. since 1981.

The week will also be an opportunity for some countries and companies that have not yet decided ambitious carbon neutrality objectives to finally do it and capitalize on global attention.

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Reporting by Richard Roth and Laura Ly of CNN in New York and Angela Dewan in London.

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