World leaders return to U.N. with focus on the pandemic, climate

    20 Sep 2021

    On Sept 19 world leaders are returning to the United Nations in New York this week with a focus on boosting efforts to fight both climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic, which last year forced them to send video statements for the annual gathering.

    As the coronavirus still rages amid an inequitable vaccine rollout, about a third of the 193 U.N. states are planning to again send videos, but presidents, prime ministers and foreign ministers for the remainder are due to travel to the United States, Reuters states.

    The United States tried to dissuade leaders from coming to New York in a bid to stop the U.N. General Assembly from becoming a “super-spreader event,” although President Joe Biden will address the assembly in person, his first U.N. visit since taking office. A so-called U.N. honor system means that anyone entering the assembly hall effectively declares they are vaccinated, but they do not have to show proof.

    This system will be broken when the first country speaks – Brazil. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is a vaccine skeptic, who last week declared that he does not need the shot because he is already immune after being infected with COVID-19.

    Should he change his mind, New York City has set up a van outside the United Nations for the week to supply free testing and free shots of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson (JNJ.N) vaccine.

    U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told Reuters that the discussions around how many traveling diplomats might have been immunized illustrated “how dramatic the inequality is today in relation to vaccination.” He is pushing for a global plan to vaccinate 70% of the world by the first half of next year.

    Out of 5.7 billion doses of coronavirus vaccines administered around the world, only 2% have been in Africa. Biden will host a virtual meeting from Washington with leaders and chief executives on Wednesday that aims to boost the distribution of vaccines globally.

    Demonstrating U.S. COVID-19 concerns about the U.N. gathering, Biden will be in New York only for about 24 hours, meeting with Guterres on Monday and making his first U.N. address on Tuesday, directly after Bolsonaro.

    His U.N. envoy, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said Biden would “speak to our top priorities: ending the COVID-19 pandemic; combating climate change… and defending human rights, democracy, and the international rules-based order.”

    Due to the pandemic, U.N. delegations are restricted to much smaller numbers and most events on the sidelines will be virtual or a hybrid of virtual and in-person. Among other topics that ministers are expected to discuss during the week are Afghanistan and Iran.

    But before the annual speeches begin, Guterres and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will start the week with a summit on Monday to try and save a U.N. summit – that kicks off in Glasgow, Scotland, on Oct. 31 – from failure.

    As scientists warn that global warming is dangerously close to spiraling out of control, the U.N. COP26 conference aims to wring much more ambitious climate action and the money to go with it from participants around the globe.

    “It’s time to read the alarm bell,” Guterres told Reuters last week. “We are on the verge of the abyss.” 

    Environmental threats ‘greatest challenge to human rights’: UN

    UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet warns of the worsening ecological situation across the globe that must be urgently addressed. Environmental threats are worsening conflicts worldwide and will soon constitute the biggest challenge to human rights, the United Nations has warned.

    Bachelet said on September 13 that climate change, pollution, and nature loss are severely affecting human rights, while countries across the globe fail to take the necessary action.

    “The interlinked crises of pollution, climate change and biodiversity act as threat multipliers, amplifying conflicts, tensions and structural inequalities, and forcing people into increasingly vulnerable situations,” Bachelet said.

    “As these environmental threats intensify, they will constitute the single greatest challenge to human rights of our era.”

    The comments came as part of a global update delivered by Bachelet at the opening session of the 48th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

    The former Chilean president said environmental threats were already “directly and severely impacting a broad range of rights, including the rights to adequate food, water, education, housing, health, development, and even life itself”, hurting the poorest nations the hardest.

    The UN rights chief cited “murderous climate events”, including the fires in Siberia and California, and floods in China, Germany and Turkey. Bachelet warned severe droughts could additionally force millions of people into misery, hunger and displacement.

    Addressing the environmental crisis is therefore “a humanitarian imperative, a human rights imperative, a peace-building imperative and a development imperative”.

    “It is also doable,” she added.

    Bachelet’s office is pushing for more ambitious climate commitments at the 12-day COP26 climate talks in Glasgow, set to begin on October 31.

    Despite the COVID-19 pandemic offering an opportunity to focus on environment-friendly projects, “this is a shift that unfortunately is not being consistently and robustly undertaken” because of the failure on the part of member states to fund and implement commitments made under the Paris climate accords.

    “We must set the bar higher – indeed our common future depends on it,” the UN rights chief said.

    Rich nations “must consign coal power to history,” said UK COP26 president. You may read more here.

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