UN 75 General Assembly: What the World Leaders Said

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The 75th session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA 75) opened on Tuesday, 15 September 2020. The first day of the high-level General Debate was on Tuesday, 22 September 2020.

The UN marked its 75th anniversary with a one-day high-level meeting at the opening of the 75th session of the UN General Assembly. This special event took place on 21 September 2020. The theme for this event:

'The Future We Want, the UN We Need: Reaffirming our Collective Commitment to Multilateralism'

Additional events expected to take place during the opening weeks of the 75th session of the UNGA include: Biodiversity Summit; and a high-level meeting to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women (FWCW), which took place in Beijing, China in September 1995 (Beijing+25).

The UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, introduced the annual report on the activities of the Organization at the opening of the general debate; saying:

“For 75 years, we have forged productive cooperative relationships for global problem-solving and the common good. We have put in place vital norms and agreements that codify and protect human rights, set ambitious goals for sustainable development and charted a path towards a more balanced relationship with the climate and the natural world. Billions of people have emerged from the yoke of colonialism. Millions have been lifted out of poverty.”

He further says: “Today, day in and day out, around the clock, around the world, the United Nations is helping to save millions of lives every year. Women and men of the United Nations are assisting 80 million refugees and displaced people and enabling more than 2 million women and girls to overcome complications from pregnancy and childbirth. Over 40 political missions and peacekeeping operations comprising 95,000 troops, police and civilian personnel strive to bring and keep the peace and to protect civilians.”

He calls for more action that’s needed to cover the various dimensions of crisis in the world. He says: “Some 7,500 monitoring missions every year seek to protect human rights, make violations known and hold perpetrators accountable. Yet these efforts have not been enough to hold back the tides of fear, hatred, inequality, poverty and injustice. Moreover, early in 2020, we were brought to our knees by a microscopic virus: the virus responsible for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has taken a horrific toll on individuals, communities and societies, with the most vulnerable disproportionately affected. The pandemic has demonstrated the fragility of our world. It has laid bare risks ignored for decades: inadequate health systems; gaps in social protection; structural inequalities; environmental degradation; the climate crisis.”

The Climate Week NYC 2020 took place virtually in parallel to the opening week of the UNGA.

World leaders have addressed an increasingly divided United Nations at its 75th General Assembly.

The annual meeting in New York was moved online this year because of the coronavirus, with the pandemic high on the agenda, among other issues of global concern.

Here is a summary of what the world leaders said:

Donald Trump

In his speech as host nation, US President Donald Trump accused Beijing of spreading what he called “the China virus” and demanded the UN hold it accountable.

He defended his own handling of COVID-19 in the United States where the death toll has passed 200,000.

“We have waged a fierce battle against the invisible enemy which has claimed countless lives in 188 countries,” Trump said in a pre-recorded address to the UNGA that lasted less than seven minutes.

“As we pursue this bright future, we must hold accountable the nation which unleashed this plague onto the world: China.”

Xi Jinping

By contrast, China’s President Xi Jinping struck a conciliatory tone, calling for enhanced cooperation over the pandemic and stressing that China had no intention of fighting “either a Cold War or a hot one” with any other country.

Xi said attempts to politicise the pandemic should be rejected.

“China is the largest developing country in the world, a country that is committed to peaceful, open, cooperative and common development,” he added.

Jair Bolsonaro

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro defended his administration’s record protecting the Amazon rainforest, telling the virtual meeting his country has been wrongly portrayed as an environmental villain.

“We are victims of one of the most brutal disinformation campaigns about the Amazon and the Pantanal wetlands,” Bolsonaro said.

“The Brazilian Amazon is well known to be very rich. That explains why international institutions support such campaigns based on ulterior interests, joined by self-serving and unpatriotic Brazilian associations, with the objective of harming the government and Brazil itself.”

Tayyip Erdogan

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for “sincere” dialogue to settle the growing dispute with Greece over Ankara’s energy search in the eastern Mediterranean, rejecting any “harassment” by the West over the issue.

“Our priority is to settle disputes with sincere dialogue, based on international law and on an equitable basis,” Erdogan said. “However, I would like to clearly state that we will never tolerate any imposition, harassment, or attack in the opposite direction.”

NATO allies Turkey and Greece are embroiled in a maritime gas drilling dispute that has pitted Ankara against other EU member states.

Sheikh Tamim

Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani reiterated his call for an unconditional dialogue and the lifting of the “illegal blockade” imposed by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Egypt.

“More than three years have passed since the start of the unjust and illegal blockade on the state of Qatar. Nevertheless we kept to the path towards progress and development in various fields,” Sheikh Tamim said.

He also called out the international community for failing to confront Israel for its illegal occupation of the Palestinian land.

Hassan Rouhani

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani promised the next US leader must accept Tehran’s demands, ruling out compromise as Trump vies for re-election.

“We are not a bargaining chip in US elections and domestic policy,” Rouhani said. “Any US administration after the upcoming elections will have no choice but to surrender to the resilience of the Iranian nation.”

Rouhani said the US can impose ‘neither negotiations, nor war’ on Tehran.

Vladimir Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin called for an international treaty to prohibit weapons in space and offered Russia’s coronavirus vaccine to UN employees for free.

“Russia is ready to provide the UN with all the necessary qualified assistance. In particular, we are offering to provide our vaccine, free of charge, for the voluntary vaccination of the staff of the UN and its offices,” Putin said.

He also said the global economic downturn caused by the pandemic renews the need for removing trade sanctions.

Putin said the WHO should be strengthened to coordinate the global coronavirus response.

Emmanuel Macron

French President Emmanuel Macron said Europe would not compromise with the US over Washington’s move to reactivate sanctions on Iran, warning the so-called snapback could undermine the UN Security Council (UNSC) and increase Middle East tensions.

“We will not compromise on the activation of a mechanism that the United States is not in a position to activate on its own after leaving the agreement,” Macron said.

“This would undermine the unity of the Security Council and the integrity of its decisions, and it would run the risk of further aggravating tensions in the region.”

Moon Jae-in

South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in called for a regional infectious disease control and public health initiative involving China, Japan, Mongolia, and North Korea to tackle health crises and lay the foundation for peace with Pyongyang.

“In the face of the COVID-19 crisis that poses a greater threat to humanity than a war, we came to be acutely reminded that the safety of neighbouring countries is directly linked to that of our own,” Moon said.

COVID-19 has not stopped the climate crisis. Carbon emissions are quickly returning to pre-COVID levels, and greenhouse gas concentrations have reached new record highs, according to the latest United in Science report, released on 9 September.  The damage inflicted by climate change continues to mount, from worsening wildfires, floods and storms, to rising food insecurity and economic loss.

As the world confronts the pandemic and embarks on recovery, we are at a crucial juncture in the fight against climate change. The vast scale of COVID-19 fighting and recovery spending can either help drive climate action forward and help keep the goals of the Paris Agreement within reach, or set us back years, which the science dictates we cannot afford if we are to reach the 1.5°C goal.

At the same time, the vast benefits of taking climate action are becoming increasingly clear: more jobs, better health, more equal and resilient societies, and stronger economies. For example, opportunities in renewable energy, building efficiency and other low-carbon industries can create 24 million decent jobs by 2030.

The UN Secretary-General has said that this event convened by the UN Secretary-General aims to showcase high-impact solutions by governments and real economy leaders and demonstrate the vast social and economic benefits of a sustainable recovery and of action to limit global warming to 1.5°C by achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

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