What to Expect at the United Nations General Assembly
By: Yaseen Rashed/Arab America Contributing Writer
The United Nations General Assembly is taking place this week in New York City, where leaders and representatives from across the globe will gather to discuss today’s biggest issues. Amongst the most notable discussions are focused on the rising risks of climate change and how to stabilize transitional governments in the Middle East.
Both of these collective action problems will require world leaders to compromise and cooperate to create foundational change. Now, in September, world leaders have one week to talk to one another, face to face, to mesh out disagreements and discuss possible solutions.
In its 74th year, this assembly meets yet again with Brazil opening up the talks, with president Bolsonaro vowing to attend the meetings even in a wheelchair, as he recovers from a recent surgery. Beginning with one of today’s most pressing issues, the United Nations has assembled a special Climate Action Summit taking place on Monday, September 23, a day before the annual General Assembly.
UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, has told world leaders attending the summit to not come without “concrete and transformative plans” to help reduce the threatening climate crisis. One of the main concerns, however, is how OPEC participating countries will address climate change concerns.
Many Arab countries, being member states of OPEC, may be forced to address these concerns through plans and developments of more renewable resources for energy. This could entail a step away from petroleum, which in many of these countries is the main economic source for the government to function. Instead, states like Saudi Arabia, UAE, or even Kuwait may need to diversify their domestic economies to accommodate a more environmentally friendly approach to halt rising global temperatures.
However, the climate crisis goes beyond just oil for the Middle East, issues like food insecurity and war all contribute to their greater crisis at hand. One main issue is that the United States will not be in attendance which may compel other member states to not show up and take the crisis seriously, as Donald Trump has shown.
Another backdrop on the UN general assembly is the growing tensions in the Arabian Gulf with Saudi, Yemen, the US, and Iran. Although many countries are involved in this crisis playing out their proxy wars in the region, irreparable damage has been done to over a million civilians, primarily in Yemen.
As the relationship between the US and Iran worsens, the Iranian foreign minister, Javad Zarif, has been given a movement restriction from the US which confines him to only a small area around the United Nations. On top of that, the United States placed more sanctions on Iran last week, only a couple days before this monumental week. Seen as hostile by many, it’s unclear if these two states are willing to work things out during the assembly. One question on everyone’s minds, however, is if President Trump will meet with Iranian President Rouhani and if so, how would the interaction look like, as there’s a lot at stake. However, instead of a diplomatic breakthrough, it’s more likely to see a war of words between the two leaders.
In addition, there have been 630 meetings requested during the summit. For it to be coherent assembly, the UN requires at least 15 states to be present and for the meeting to last a minimum of 3 hours. Other topics concerning the Middle East will all be discussed there. Issues from Egypt’s return to autocracy and military rule, to Somalia’s civil war and Sudan’s new revolution. One of the main action points is the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, as around 400,000 children are suffering from severe acute malnutrition. Many member states are interested to take action on these issues whether through direct relief or through sanctions of aggressor states that are responsible for creating the crisis.
Other notable international leaders are canceling or deciding not to show up to the assembly, like Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu as he has apologized for not being able to attend due to post-elections muddle back home. Although controversial, this may halt any discussion of illegal settlements in the West Bank as the accused is not present, however, it will be interesting to see how the international community responds.