72nd UNGA General Debates Summary

On this occasion, the MIDPA is proud to announce the coverage of the recent developments that transpired throughout the 72nd United Nations General Assembly General Debates. In the following segment, you will find key summaries of the debates (and controversies) that occurred each day. This year’s theme was ‘Focusing on People: Striving for Peace and a Decent Life for All on a Sustainable Planet’.

Day One

– US President, Donald Trump, provided a controversial inaugural speech at the UN which justified his administration’s stand on refugees by stating that “for the cost of resettling someone in America, we can resettle ten people in their home region”.

– France’s Macron minced no words in addressing the Rohingya crisis, calling on Myanmar to cease all military operations and to reconstitute rule of law, stating: “As we know, we are dealing with ethnic cleansing here.” He also discussed the importance of fighting for gender equality, declaring that, “where the role of women is undermined, development is undermined.” He then spoke about climate change and the Paris Agreement, announcing that it can always be improved and updated, but “we will not backtrack”. He maintained that the door is always open to the United States, but threw a sly shot at them, adding that “at a time when some want to stop, we must keep going”.

– Colombia’s President, Juan Manuel Santos Calderón, praised the UN for their contribution to the countries’ peace efforts, stating: “What a time for the UN, successfully fulfilling its main goal in our country.” He also declared that 7 million people had been taken out of poverty in five years, a figure that represents 10% of their population.

– Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, the Emir of Qatar, called for a stop to the violence against the Rohingya, for their repatriation and for an end to discrimination against them. He urged all countries to provide humanitarian assistance and demanded that Myanmar ensure “that they have their full legitimate rights as full-fledged citizens.”

– Turkey’s Erdogan announced that his country had used 30 billion euros to assist Syria and its refugees, while the EU had significantly underperformed and left many promises unfulfilled. He proclaimed that Turkey is one of only six countries to meet the UN target for aid with 0.8% of its GDP. He, therefore, called on the rest of the world to step up. He then demanded that the Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq stop the upcoming independence referendum, threatening them with sanctions. He concluded by criticising the global response to the Rohingya crisis.

– Last but not least, Costa Rica’s president, Luis Guillermo Solís, called for an end of defining development by economic indexes such as GDP and stated that we need to use more multi-disciplinary indicators. He then spoke about gender equality, declaring how unacceptable it is that “women’s unpaid work makes up 30% of global GDP, and that “women make 25% less for the same job as men.”

Day Two

– In response to Trump’s ‘Axis of Evil’esque speech, Hassan Rouhani, President of Iran, spoke of his country’s enormous economic potential, including how last year it was the country with the highest global growth rate, and how sanctions against them only solidified their resolve. Rouhani stated that Iran has always been a supporter of human rights and freedom, and remarked on the hypocrisy of “those who claim to stand for freedom, but support dictators elsewhere,” a clear dig at the US.

– Italy’s representative, Paolo Gentiloni, argued that the stabilisation of Libya is a priority objective and key to the fight against terrorism. He also acknowledged the link between climate change and forced displacements, highlighting that there were “more than 200 million displaced persons between 2008 and 2015 who were forced to leave their homes because of the devastating effects of climate change phenomena.”

– Namibia’s Hage Geingob proclaimed that “development that is not led by the people and does not benefit all people is meaningless development.” He then spoke of how, as a result of a resolution from his government to increase representation of women to 50% at all levels, women now constitute 48% of parliament, which is the second-highest ratio in Africa, and in the top five in the world.

– British Prime Minister, Theresa May, spoke of how economic inequality and weaknesses in the global trading system continue to undermine the support for liberalism and free trade, which she considers to “have done so much to propel global growth.” She also praised the UN for its achievements in the past, but also added that “throughout its history, the UN has suffered from a seemingly unbridgeable gap between the nobility of its purposes, and the effectiveness of its delivery.” May then announced that Great Britain will continue to provide large amounts of funding to the UN, as its second-biggest donor but declared that this ‘generosity’ will be results-oriented, with 30% being allocated only to those parts of the UN that achieve ‘sufficient results’.

Day Three

– Bangladeshi Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasana, spoke powerfully on behalf of the Rohingya. She also denounced Myanmar for placing landmines on their stretch of the border and preventing the Rohingya from returning to their rightful homes. Hasana also called for UN safe zones to be created if necessary to ensure the safety of the Rohingya.

– The Foreign Minister of China, Wang Yi, reiterated that “we must not associate terrorism with any particular ethnic group or religion”, a statement that brings to mind Trump’s oft-repeated phrase “radical Islamic terrorism”.

– President Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi of Samoa hailed the Agenda 2030 as the framework to put the world on the right path to achieve a sustainable future and encouraged other small island developing states to pursue the Samoa Pathway. He also emphasised the need to increase international awareness of the SDGs.

– Germany’s Vice-Chancellor, Sigmar Gabriel, also had some strong words against militarisation saying how 1.7 billion US dollars are spent worldwide on arms per years, and that just 10% of that would achieve the extreme poverty SDG, and even less would be required for the education goal. He said the World Food Program receives less than 50% of the funds needed to achieve the hunger goals.

– Jordan’s Crown Prince, Al Hussein bin Abdullah II, noted that regional insecurity has affected tourism and investment, through no fault of their own, and characterised Jordan as “a resource-poor country in a conflict-rich region.” He announced that the direct cost of Syrian crisis now consumes a quarter of their budget, and remarked that Jordan is one of the world’s largest accommodators of refugees, declaring, to significant applause, that “our soldiers dodged bullets to let refugees into our country, not to keep them out.”

– The Seychelles, Kazakhstan, and Indonesia called for reform in the UN, a common theme of today’s speeches and Denmark’s Minister for Development Cooperation Ulla Tørnæs went further by stating that the “UN development system needs to be built on the basic premise that neither governments nor institutions have the capacity or resources to achieve Agenda 2030, they need to cooperate with civil society, the private sector, innovators, NGOs, and academics.” She also called on all countries to reach the 0.7% target for aid and said that Denmark, one of the world’s largest aid donors, will allocate more funds than ever before in their 2018 aid budget. She also commented on how we must effectively manage the blend of immediate relief and long-term development assistance.

Day Four

– Margot Wallström, Sweden’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, spoke at length of the significance of female empowerment, an issue close to her heart as a representative of “the world’s first feminist government.” Female empowerment was a theme shared by Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, who highlighted its importance to economic development and national prosperity, and announced that, for the second consecutive time, his country’s government is made up of 50% women.

– Kenyan representative Amina Chawahir Mohamed spoke of the impact of climate change on her country, explaining that it costs approximately 3% of Kenya’s GDP annually. Bhutan’s Prime Minister, Lyonchoen Tshering Tobgay, likewise told of the calamitous current effects of climate change and announced that they are the world’s only carbon-neutral country, and in fact, they are carbon negative. The PM called on all countries to fulfill their commitments and explained that as climate change adaptation costs money, the role of global financing institutions is crucial, especially for those who may have the will but not the resources.

– Thailand’s Don Pramudwinai, Minister for Foreign Affairs, stated that we need “less about debate and more about action”, and told of how their late King said that those living in a community know best about their needs, highlighting the importance of participatory methods. This was an idea that Macedonia’s Prime Minister, Zoran Zaev, also emphasised, along with the view that things will improve if we increase partnership and cooperation.

– Belize’s representative urged the UN to establish a participatory framework for the private sector, an idea that was shared by Cuba’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Bruno Eduardo Rodriguez Parrilla, who called for a new, participatory, equitable economic order. He highlighted the wealth gap that exists between rich individuals and poor countries, emphasising that “the wealth of 8 men is worth the same as the 3.6 billion poorest people and, of the 100 richest entities, 69 are transnational corporations, not states”. The minister further contended that neoliberal capitalism is unsustainable and irrational and will inevitably lead to the destruction of our planet. He concluded by stating that military expenditure has risen to 1.7 trillion US dollars, contradicting the claim that there are not enough resources to eradicate extreme poverty.

Day Five

– Sudan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ibrahim Ahmed Abd al-Aziz Ghandour, spoke of how his country had turned over a new leaf and begun a new era of peace and stability. The Minister said that they were hoping to “receive peace and development funds, especially the UN peacekeeping fund and the World Bank and its mechanisms, so we can implement the approach of the government which promotes peace and the outcomes of national dialogue”. He stated that this will also help his government to convince the remaining rebel groups to lay down their arms and join the peace process. Ghandour also remarked on how much the situation in Darfur has improved, announcing that it had recovered stability and peace. He also said that the UN has been impressed with their cooperation and transparency and that, as a result, existing sanctions against them should be reviewed.

– Eritrea’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Osman Mohammed Saleh, stated that the developing world will benefit most from coming together to make a better world. Mohammed Saleh heavily criticised inequality and the fractured nature of the international community, but announced that “Eritrea is confident it will meet the Sustainable Development Goals ahead of time”. He referred to his country as “a haven of stability in a turbulent neighbourhood”.

– Jamaica’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Kamina Johnson Smith, said that climate change is an existential issue and their reality, and explained how difficult it is for Caribbean countries, as reconstructions costs dwarf their economies. She argued that there is a need to improve global preparedness and response to climate change, otherwise countries will get caught in a cycle of recovering from disasters until the next one takes place. Jamaica’s representative called on the UN to a establish a mechanism to provide the requisite support to vulnerable countries affected by natural disasters and assist in issues such as providing viable compensation. Johnson Smith reported that her country was collaborating with Chile on an initiative called ‘Resilient 20’, to promote resilience in countries vulnerable to natural disasters, especially ones that belong to the lower-income index.

– India’s Minister of External Affairs, Sushma Swaraj, remarked that India had implemented the world’s largest financial inclusion scheme and that many youths had been able to get out of poverty as small-scale entrepreneurs.

Day Seven

– Norway’s Chair Tore Hattrem highlighted the four building blocks needed for a sustainable future: acting together towards common goals, peace and security, upholding international law and the principles of global governance, and an abandonment of perfectionist and isolationist practices.

– There were several calls to strengthen multilateralism and international governance including East Timor’s Maria Helena Pires who stressed the importance of the UN for ending conflict and restoring stability, and Peru’s Gustavo Meza-Cuadra who stated that the UN will be an essential institution in the future. These calls for calm and dialogue come as no surprise considering the escalating tensions between the USA and North Korea following a weekend of threats and alleged war declarations.

– New Zealand’s representative, Craig Hawke, argued that ongoing support to the state of Afghanistan is critical, but emphasised that its future lies in the hands of its government and people. Hawke also highlighted the importance of the Paris Agreement and praised global commitment to take action on climate change.

Anthony Huber
Content Editor (2017)

Saving States: Why the Future of Small Island Countries Demands Global Sustainability

Joining us today is the blog’s newest Content Editor, Anthony Huber. A fellow MIDP student, Anthony writes a powerful call to arms for a cause that is very close to his heart: ensuring a safe future for Small Island Countries.

In September 2014 Apia, the capital of Samoa, hosted the Third International Conference of Small Island Developing States (SIDS). The four day conference shone a spotlight on countries in which sustainable development is of particular importance in strategies of coping with their unique vulnerabilities. The conference produced the Samoa Pathway, which largely reaffirmed previous commitments and called for increased partnerships and collaboration between people, governments, civil society, and the private sector. A wide and diverse body of actors (including UNICEF, the IMF, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and representatives of ninety countries), released similarly strongly-worded statements that highlighted an awareness of the severity of the environmental challenges SIDS faced, and committed to assisting them in managing these issues. It is noticeable that the same purposeful, wholehearted rhetoric that has been present in official statements and declarations on combating climate change for decades is also being employed here. The world is sympathetic, but sympathy won’t stop the sea from swallowing up people’s villages. It hasn’t so far.

sids

For a number of low-lying island countries, the situation could not be more urgent. Their state, society, and the continuation of their culture as it exists today, are all under exceptionally grave threat. The intergovernmental panel on climate change has identified the following states as being distinctly at risk of ‘permanent inundation’: the Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Tuvalu, the Maldives, Tonga, the Cook Islands, Micronesia, and the islands of Antigua and Nevis, of Antigua and Barbuda and St. Kitts and Nevis respectively. The Solomon Islands have already lost five islands to the sea. Some Ni-Vanuatu villagers have been forced to evacuate their homes and flee to higher-ground islands. According to the UN Department of Public Information (1999), an 80-cm-rise in sea levels would leave two-thirds of Kiribati and the Marshall Islands immersed. States in the Global North will not suffer from these kinds of catastrophic ramifications of climate change for many years yet. As a result, the substantial changes required in order to save these states and improve global sustainability are not yet being effectively undertaken. The international community needs to work harder to reduce their contributions to rising sea levels. The people of SIDS are desperate, and their leaders have made headlines with public pleas to the international community to step up and take responsibility for solving problems that they created.

In the absence of sufficient political capital, even united as intergovernmental organisations such as the Coalition of Low-lying Atoll Nations on Climate Change and the Alliance of Small Island States, they have been forced to resort to appealing to people’s notions of justice. This has proven predictably unsuccessful. But it is indeed intolerably- unfair that the people causing the least negative impacts on the planet are the ones who are bearing the brunt of the consequences of the unsustainable habits of others.

So far, the international response has been a disconcerting litmus test of their will to act to prevent such disastrous, foreseeable, and preventable outcomes from taking place. We must face the fact that there are some development issues that, tragically, will not be realistically resolved before their worst impacts materialise. Then-president of Kiribati Anote Tong declared in 2015 before the UN General Assembly that, for the low-lying atoll islands, it was ‘already too late’. He lamented that “there’s a limit to how many times you can tell a story people are not listening to”. In Australia later that year he also issued a demand to Australians to cease their avoidance of the issue: “I challenge people, leaders in Australia to face the reality. Or let them say ‘I don’t care’ and then go to church next Sunday.“. Kiribati’s government have bought a 5,500 acre package of land in Fiji for relocation.

The future is still undetermined and the SIDS that face existential threats from rising sea levels have the ability and the ingenuity to come up with (and carry out) their own solutions to protect their islands. Many would disagree with Anote Tong’s pessimistic view. There are no boundaries to the ingenuity of humankind. Furthermore, there are many actions that can be taken by a number of different stakeholders to significantly affect the outcome; the disappearance of these islands is not inevitable.

States like China, Singapore, and the Netherlands have long engaged in successful land reclamation efforts, but the momentous scale of the task required to protect SIDS from rising sea levels would be extremely cost-intensive, well beyond the financial capabilities of most SIDS. It appears more likely that the international community will share the burden of incorporating the thousands of climate refugees, than the likelihood of every stakeholder banding together to build the infrastructural safeguards and land reclamation practices necessary to conserve the islands. Only time will tell. If the former comes to pass, it will likely signal a substantial blow to the faith that impoverished people affected by climate change have in the probability that the world will come together to prevent climate change-related calamities before they eventuate. The world is excellent at uniting for disaster relief, far less so for preventing disaster in the first place. This needs to change immediately. If the pleas of islanders desperate to prevent their homes and societies from going under are not enough to compel us to adapt our sustainable lifestyles, what will be? Make no mistake: continued procrastination will equal catastrophe.

References:
United Nations Department of Public Information (1999). Press Kit on Small Islands: Issues and Actions. New York, NY: UN.

Anthony Huber
Content Editor (2017)