Briefing

What happened at the 77th UN General Assembly?

'We are gridlocked in colossal global dysfunction'

The 77th annual U.N. General Assembly concluded last week. Here are all the important updates you might have  missed:

What state of the world did the U.N. walk into?

This year's U.N. General Assembly was the first in three years to convene in person due to the pandemic. Unfortunately, the world leaders arrived at the summit with plenty of pressing global issues on their minds — the two main ones being the climate crisis and the war on Ukraine. U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said to the assembly, "we are gridlocked in colossal global dysfunction."

Just a day into the Assembly, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that he was mobilizing more military personnel in the war, leading to condemnation from many countries, The New York Times reported. The Kremlin's actions underlined that the war continues to escalate, which has in turn increased inflation and food insecurity across the world. Europe, in particular, has been facing a detrimental energy crisis due to the war on Ukraine. At the same time, greenhouse gas emissions continue to go up, with the G20 being responsible for 75 percent of emissions. Guterres remarked in his opening statement to the assembly that emissions need to be reduced 45 percent by 2030 in order to have a chance at being net zero by 2050, reported CNN

While these were the main issues, another conflict brewed. Just prior to the start of the summit, 22-year-old Mahsa Amini was killed in Iran, sparking protests all over the country and the world. Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi was in attendance at the General Assembly while protests were ongoing.

What were some notable moments?

With many issues looming, the General Assembly had a number of interesting and pivotal moments:

  • A Brazilian call-out

The first day of the Assembly saw groups of environmental activists gather outside the U.N. headquarters in New  York in anticipation of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's speech, the first of the summit. Bolsonaro went on to highlight the achievements of Brazil under his leadership, including public health, sustainable development, and economic growth, likely an attempt to win the favor of the Brazilian people ahead of his re-election attempt in October. The problem lies in Bolsonaro's claim that about 80 percent of the Amazon rainforest remains untouched; however, evidence shows that deforestation skyrocketed under the Bolsonaro regime, inciting protestors, CNN reported. 

  • A death and a debut

British Prime Minister Liz Truss made her debut on the U.N. stage just two weeks after her appointment and only a few days after the queen's death. Truss called out Putin's actions in Ukraine, calling his escalation of forces a desperate attempt "to justify his catastrophic failures." She also talked about the late Queen Elizabeth's vision, stating that "it was vital not only to have strong ideals but also to have the political will to deliver on them." Truss continued to double down on Britain's support for Ukraine, despite the energy crisis and cost-of-living increase caused by lack of access to Russian exports, The Associated Press reported.

  • Human rights and wrongs

Activists once again made an appearance at the U.N., but this time in protest of President Raisi. Despite protests all throughout Iran, the president claimed that the nation is a model for justice and human rights, the Times said. In his speech, he made no mention of the protests. Raisi instead criticized the U.S. for the wars its waged in the Middle East, claiming the White House keeps "equivocating militarism with security." He also wanted confirmation that the U.S. would not exit the nuclear deal as it did under former President Donald Trump. 

The Iranian president also famously canceled an interview with CNN's chief international anchor, Christiane Amanpour, for refusing to wear a hijab as requested. Amanpour had interviewed previous Iranian presidents, none of whom had set such a requirement.

  • Biden weighs in

President Joe Biden called out Russia when it was his turn to take to the U.N. stage. Biden remarked that Putin's actions "shamelessly violated the core tenets of the United Nations charter," and vocalized America's support for Ukraine. He also announced that the U.S. was putting $3 billion toward tackling food insecurity, largely worsened by Russia's attacks and climate change, NPR reported. He called it "the human cost of climate change."

Along with Russia, Biden singled out Iran for its human rights violations. He stated that the U.S. "will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon," in response to the Iranian president's remarks on the nuclear deal.

  • A looming presence

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky joined the U.N. stage via video to give a strong speech, highlighting Russia's actions. In his remarks, Zelensky called for punishment, stating that a crime had been committed against Ukraine. He further explained that Russia should be the one to pay for the war as punishment. Zelensky stated, "We must protect life. The world must protect life," and he urged the U.N. to take the appropriate actions in ensuring that Russia faces repercussions.

What comes next?

In the midst of all the action, much of it revolving around Russia's invasion of Ukraine, there were steps taken to address other issues. A group of world leaders met to discuss climate change. However, Biden wasn't present in the meeting, despite touting the United State's strong actions against climate change in his speech, the Times reported. The meetings acted as a forum to discuss climate policy among world leaders, many of who agree that the crisis is a pressing issue.

President Biden also met with Truss to discuss reducing reliance on Russian energy sources. Truss also agreed to keep up military support for Ukraine despite the struggles.

Regarding the war, India and China — both of which have kept relatively neutral views on Russia's actions — may be swaying in their resolve, The Washington Post reports. Despite abstaining from taking a stand during the General Assembly, India has made some stronger statements, suggesting a push toward the west. 

However, issues still remain largely unanswered, with Guterres saying it best: "The international community is not ready or willing to tackle the big dramatic challenges of our age."

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