The United Nations General Assembly’s annual high-level debate officially kicked off in New York Wednesday with UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon urging world leaders to address problems afflicting the world today.
More than 120 leaders spent the whole day Tuesday discussing the existential threat of climate change and getting a head start on an agenda for this year that is dominated by an unprecedented number of challenges facing the world.
Mr. Ban opened the general debate, which over the next six days, will spotlight 196 leaders on major issues of international concern.
The theme of the debate this year is ‘Delivering on and Implementing a Transformative Post-2015 Development Agenda’ as well as urgent crises ranging from ongoing conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Ukraine and South Sudan.
Speaking on the global turmoil, he said across the world, the fragility of states and institutions has never been more apparent.
He said the turbulence caused by turmoil in the world is testing multilateral systems, national institutions and lives.
“This year, the horizon of hope is darkened. Our hearts are made heavy by unspeakable acts and the deaths of innocents,” he told the gathered leaders.
“Not since the end of the Second World War have there been so many refugees, displaced people and asylum seekers. Never before has the United Nations been asked to reach so many people with emergency food assistance and other life-saving supplies,” he said.
“It may seem as if the world is falling apart, as crises pile up and disease spreads. But leadership is precisely about finding the seeds of hope and nurturing them into something bigger. That is our duty. That is my call to you today.”
He, however, said it was not all doom and gloom.
“Hope may be hard to discern, but it is there,” said Mr Ban. “In clinics, classrooms and other places far from the spotlight, the development agenda is making remarkable progress.
"Global poverty, child mortality and maternal deaths have been cut in half. More remains to be done, but these and other gains show the power of the Millennium Development Goals and what we can do when we work together. Today an inspiring global conversation is taking place on an agenda for the next 15 years.”
But he did emphasize the grim situation facing the world today.
“It has been a terrible year for the principles enshrined in the United Nations Charter,” he declared. “From barrel bombs to beheadings, from the deliberate starvation of civilians to the assault on hospitals, UN shelters and aid convoys, human rights and the rule of law are under attack.”
Mr. Ban urged world leaders to do more to help stop the spread of the deadly Ebola virus in West Africa.
U.S. President Barack Obama told the assembly that the world today was in a much better state than years ago but said the crises around the world, in particular the threat posed by extremists like ISIS, Russia in Ukraine, Syria and Iraq are threatening to reverse gains made at the end of the cold war.
“The terrorist group known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) must be degraded, and ultimately destroyed,” he said.
He emphasized that the group has terrorized all who they come across in Iraq and Syria, including women and girls who have been subjected to rape as a weapon of war; children had been gunned down; religious minorities have been starved to death; and innocent human beings have been beheaded on video.
“No God condones this terror. No grievance justifies these actions. There can be no reasoning – no negotiation – with this brand of evil. The only language understood by killers like this is the language of force," Mr. Obama declared.
"So the United States of America will work with a broad coalition to dismantle this network of death.”
He also spoke about the situation in Ukraine, accusing Russia of arming rebels fighting the government.
“There is a pervasive unease in our world – a sense that the very forces that have brought us together have created new dangers, and made it difficult for any single nation to insulate itself from global forces,” said Mr. Obama.
“We come together with a choice to make – we can renew the international system that has brought so much progress or allow ourselves to be pulled back by more and more outbreaks of instability. For America, the choice is clear. We choose hope over fear,” said Mr. Obama.
He called for a world that is shaped through collective effort, rejecting fatalism or cynicism.
Mr. Obama also urged the world leaders to come together to help strengthen West Africa’s health institutions so they can contain the Ebola virus that is spreading like veld fire.
Meanwhile, the Climate Change Summit ended last night with Mr. Ban thanking world leaders for making ‘bold pronouncements’ in their efforts to deal with climate change.
Countries pledged over $2.3 billion towards the Green Climate Fund as the world prepares for a firm agreement on climate change in Paris, France in 2015.
“Today was a great day – a historic day. Never before have so many leaders gathered to commit to action on climate change,” Mr. Ban said, summing up the day-long event.
The summit drew a unique mix of international players who announced their vision and commitment for reaching a universal and meaningful climate agreement in 2015, as well made announcements on actions that will reduce emissions, enhance resistance to climate change and mobilize financing for climate action.
“The Summit delivered,” declared the UN chief. He noted that leaders had reaffirmed determination to limit global temperature rise to less than 2 degrees Celsius by cutting emissions.
And many, from all regions and all levels of economic development, advocated for a peak in greenhouse gas emissions before 2020, decisively reduced emissions thereafter, and climate neutrality in the second half of this century.
The Secretary-General said public and private financial sources showed the way forward for mobilizing the needed resources to fight climate change.
“A new coalition of Governments, business, finance, multilateral development banks and civil society leaders announced their commitment to mobilize upwards of $200 billion for financing low-carbon and climate-resilient development,” he said.
Private banks, he added, announced they would issue $20 billion in “Green Bonds” and that they would double the market to $50 billion by 2015, next year.
Team of Elders member, Graca Machel, the wife of the late South Africa President Nelson Mandela, urged world leaders to search their souls and see if their pledges to the Green Climate Fund matched the way they polluted and continue to destroy the ozone layer through their quest for development.