Famine, climate crisis – and a war that overshadows everything: The general debate of the United Nations begins
The Russian war of aggression against Ukraine will take up a lot of space in the UN general debate that begins today. But this is by no means the only crisis that will cause tension at the major diplomatic event in New York.
For a week starting today, more than 140 heads of state and government will be presenting their views on the global situation in New York. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is likely to be the ubiquitous topic of the 77th meeting at the UN headquarters on New York’s East River for the general debate will.
After all, the biggest conflict in Europe since the Second World War extends far beyond the continent – “the geostrategic rifts” are larger than they have been since at least the Cold War, said UN Secretary-General António Guterres, who will open the debate.
hope for movement
However, the presidents of the two parties to the conflict will not appear in person. In the absence of Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin, Russia will be represented by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, whose speech is scheduled for Saturday. According to the UN, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy speaks for Ukraine on Wednesday with a special permit via video.
US President Joe Biden is scheduled to speak beforehand. He is expected to clearly condemn Putin. The same is expected from the speech of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. Nine months after taking office, it is Scholz’s first visit to the United Nations.
The Swiss Federal President, Ignazio Cassis, who is representing Switzerland in the general debate, is scheduled to give a speech to the two global political heavyweights on Tuesday afternoon. In his speech, he is expected to underline the importance of the UN at a challenging time.
Great progress towards peace in Ukraine is not expected at the end of this superlative diplomatic meeting. But there is at least hope for movements on individual issues – such as defusing the situation around the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant. Meanwhile, Western diplomats expect little progress in the faltering negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program. Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi is scheduled to speak on Wednesday.
Impending famine and the climate catastrophe
In addition to the nuclear danger, the threat of famine in the course of the war in Ukraine is also an issue at the UN. Because the war and blocked shipments of millions of tons of grain have further increased the risk of famine in the Horn of Africa. According to the United Nations, especially in Somalia, millions of people are at risk of starvation because of an unprecedented drought. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is therefore organizing a summit on food security, which Chancellor Scholz is also to attend.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres recently said that up to 1.7 billion people – more than a fifth of humanity – are threatened by hunger and poverty. The shortage of fertilizers, also due to a lack of exports from Russia, could lead to a further deterioration in the situation in the coming year.
In Guterres’ opinion, the topic of the century, the climate catastrophe, should actually be at the top of everyone’s agenda. Heat waves, drought, forest fires, extreme weather like in Europe and the USA or the unprecedented rainfall like recently in Pakistan have become normal. Meanwhile, the fight for lower CO2 emissions and climate neutrality is stagnating, especially in the industrialized countries of the G20. Guterres therefore wants to convene a round table on Wednesday.
Numerous other conflicts on the agenda
The turbulence in the Sahel zone will also be a topic of discussion at the 77th UNO general debate – above all in Mali and Libya, where, like in Ukraine, armed conflicts are smoldering. The situation in Syria, which has been at war for many years, and in the Congo will also be discussed. Then there is the war in Ethiopia, which began in November 2020. Military actions by the Ethiopian army and armed actors from the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and the Oromia Liberation Army (OLA) and other armed groups are currently taking place in various regions of the country.
In addition to the numerous conflicts, the USA recently also surprised with a push for a reform of the UN Security Council as the most powerful body in the organization. The US is open to expanding the current 15-member council. There should be talks with member states in the coming days.
Germany has been in favor of reform for years and is hoping for more influence in the Security Council. There, the five permanent members USA, Russia, China, France and Great Britain have the right of veto and can thus block all actions. This had recently become clear again in view of the war in Ukraine.
UN expert Richard Gowan from the Crisis Group think tank also sees this as a clever move by the USA against Moscow and Beijing. “It’s a clever way of embarrassing China and Russia because we all know that the countries most allergic to the ideas of the Council reform are Russia and China.”