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Monday April 15th

World leaders discuss critical issues at UN General Assembly meeting

<p><em>More than 140 world leaders and state representatives gathered in New York City to address the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/“</em><a href="" target=""><em>UNGA 2023 - Monday - 53198182539</em></a><em>” by Ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken. September 18, 2023). </em></p>

More than 140 world leaders and state representatives gathered in New York City to address the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/“UNGA 2023 - Monday - 53198182539” by Ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken. September 18, 2023). 

By Gauri Patel
Staff Writer

More than 140 world leaders and state representatives gathered in New York City to address the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). This high-level meeting provides leaders and representatives of member states with the opportunity to lay out their priorities for the coming year and encourage cooperation on critical issues. 

Representatives of each member state discuss pressing international matters in the General Debate and smaller summits. The theme of this year’s General Debate was “Rebuilding trust and reigniting global solidarity: Accelerating action on the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals towards peace, prosperity, progress and sustainability for all,” according to AP News. The 2030 agenda refers to the Sustainable Development Goals adopted in 2015 aimed at addressing poverty, hunger and other global issues by the year 2030. The list includes 17 goals, including ensuring quality education, providing clean water and sanitation and taking urgent action to tackle the climate crisis. 

Contrary to what its name suggests, the General Debate segment of the Assembly’s annual session is not an actual debate. Member states take turns delivering speeches on topics of importance to their country and can exercise their right of reply, which allows them to rebut criticism voiced during other speeches. 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy attended the UNGA in person for the first time since Russia began its invasion of his country in 2022. In his speech, he urged member states to come together to oppose Russian aggression and warned that Russia was attempting to turn Ukraine into a weapon against the world. He added that Russia is weaponizing everything from food to energy to abducted children in the war, and he warned world leaders that the same could happen to them, according to The Washington Post

“The goal of the present war against Ukraine is to turn our land, our people, our lives, our resources into weapons against you, against the international rules-based order,” Zelenskyy said. 

After more than a year and a half of war, many Western leaders are frustrated that the effort to support Ukraine is drawing them away from addressing issues affecting their own countries, like poverty or climate change. In Washington, a growing number of members of the Republican party have expressed their opposition to further military spending for Ukraine and have questioned whether it should be a priority to the United States. 

Zelenskyy urged wavering leaders to continue to support Ukraine in the war, echoing remarks made earlier by U.S. President Joe Biden, who called on world leaders to remain steadfast in supporting the war-torn nation, according to CNN 

“Russia believes that the world will grow weary and allow it to brutalize Ukraine without consequence," Biden said in his speech. “If we allow Ukraine to be carved up, is the independence of any nation secure?" 

Biden said Russian President Vladimir Putin and his armed forces are counting on the world growing weary of supporting Ukraine, therefore it is necessary that the countries in the United Nations stand firm against Russian aggression. In light of the diminishing support of Republican members of Congress, Biden is set to meet with Zelenksyy at the White House for talks later this week. 

In his address, Biden also spoke about the economic and security advancements achieved from the partnerships that the U.S. has fostered around the world, from Africa to the Indo-Pacific, according to AP News. He stressed that these relationships were not about “containing any country,” which appeared to be a reference to Chinese aggression in the South China Sea, where competing territorial claims have caused tension in the region. 

Regarding the economic conflict between China and the U.S., Biden went on to say that the U.S. is in support of responsibly managing the competition between the countries to prevent conflict and wants to 'de-risk' rather than 'decouple' with China. He also emphasized the need for cooperation between Beijing and Washington on a climate agenda, referencing recent natural disasters in the world, such as heatwaves, droughts and flooding.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres also issued a stark warning to world leaders in his speech at the opening of the Climate Ambition Summit, according to CNN. 

“Humanity has opened the gates to hell,” he said. “Horrendous heat is having horrendous effects. Distraught farmers watching crops carried away by floods. Sweltering temperatures spawning disease. And thousands fleeing in fear as historic fires rage.” 

Guterres held the summit with the idea that only leaders deemed to have clear and effective climate plans would be given time to speak in order to inspire action from countries that were not chosen. Notably absent from the summit were the heads of state of countries that produce the most heat-trapping gasses, including China, the U.S., India, Russia, the United Kingdom and France. The U.S., which has put the most carbon dioxide into the atmosphere over the decades, sent its climate envoy, John Kerry, to the summit, but he was not given the chance to speak. 

As the General Assembly High-Level week winds down, the world awaits the outcomes of these diplomatic discussions, which will shape the direction of international affairs in the coming year.


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