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Ukraine, Climate Once Again Focus of U.N. General Assembly

Julian Glickman

New York City, New York

United Nation Headquarters - stock photo (Joseph Sohm / Getty Images)

The war in Ukraine and the climate crisis were once again the focus of the United Nations General Assembly where world leaders and diplomats, from U.S. President Joe Biden to Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelenskyy, gathered in Midtown Manhattan this week.

The annual summit was another opportunity for President Zelenskyy to make his plea on the global stage for why Ukraine should receive more support in the face of continued Russian aggression. It has been one of the few moments throughout the invasion where Zelenskyy has been able to face Russian officials directly. “We must act united – to defeat the aggressor and focus all our capabilities and energy on addressing these challenges. As nukes are restrained, likewise the aggressor must be restrained and all its tools and methods of war,” Zelenskyy said.

Staunch supporters of Ukraine, including the United States, and Eastern European nations, also directed their remarks at Russia and asked their fellow supporters not to tire in their assistance of Ukraine. President Biden said, “Russia believes that the world will grow weary and allow it to brutalize Ukraine without consequence. But I ask you this: If we abandon the core principles of the UN Charter to appease an aggressor, can any member state feel confident that they are protected? If we allow Ukraine to be carved up, is the independence of any nation secure?”

Zelensky’s main goal has been to remove Russia’s veto power in the Security Council, a non-starter given Russia’s ability to veto any resolution presented by a permanent member. The leaders of four out of the five permanent members of the Security Council were absent this week: President Xi Jinping of China, who has never attended; President Emmanuel Macron of France, who is hosting King Charles III in Paris; President Vladimir Putin of Russia, who risks being arrested by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on war crimes by leaving his country; and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who noted a busy autumn schedule as a reason for his absence.

The notable absences drew the ire of Helen Clark, former prime minister of New Zealand and former chair of the United Nations Development Programme. “I personally think that it is disgraceful that, of the permanent five members of the Security Council, four of the leaders aren't here. Doesn't being a member of the permanent five carry with it a responsibility to front up and pull your weight at a leadership level?” she told POLITICO.

Leaders did not hold back when referring to the dangers of climate inaction. In his opening remarks, Secretary-General António Guterres said “Humanity has opened the gates to hell … 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.”

Some island nations, including Saint Lucia, Barbados, and the Marshall Islands, blamed wealthy countries for climate inaction and the resulting effects smaller nations face. "The problem is that those whose actions we most need may be so confident in their survival that they do not act early enough for us," Prime Minister Mia Mottley of Barbados said in her address.

Some climate agreements were made at the assembly, though, including Brazil’s announcement that it would ramp up its cutting of emissions, Colombia and Panama’s commitment to phasing out coal, and Denmark’s increasing of funds to combat climate change.

President Biden and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel met during the assembly drawing large protests against Netanyahu and his judicial overhaul outside of the U.N. headquarters. The leaders discussed several pertinent issues relating to the Middle East including the threat of Iran obtaining a nuclear arsenal and the ongoing Israel–Palestine conflict, according to the White House.


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