Several days of speeches from heads of state and government began on Tuesday as the General Debate of the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) is set to kick off.
Climate change, COVID-19 and security are set to dominate discussion during the annual gathering, which has a hybrid format after being forced almost entirely online last year.
For Tuesday’s morning session, speakers include UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, US President Joe Biden, Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Here are all the latest updates:
Our effort in Afghanistan was not in vain: NATO chief
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has told Al Jazeera outside the United Nations that the 20 years of fighting against the Taliban in Afghanistan “was not in vain” despite the recent takeover of the country by the armed group.
Asked about at least 3,600 US and NATO troop deaths over the duration of the war in Afghanistan, Stoltenberg said: “We have all paid the very high price in blood and treasure, NATO allies, partners but not least the Afghans, but the effort was not in vain.”
“We went in there to fight international terrorism, to prevent attacks against NATO allies as we saw on 9/11. No terrorist attack has been organised from Afghanistan over these last 20 years. Then we also helped the international community and Afghans make enourmous social and economic progress,” he said.
Stoltenberg also said that “what is happening now in Afghanistan is a tragedy for the Afghans and it is heartbreaking for all of us who supported Afghanistan for all these years. But that doesn’t mean that the effort was in vain.”
‘Rational dialogue’ only solution to disagreements with Iran: Qatar’s Emir
Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani has addressed the conflicts in the Middle East, including “the disagreements and differences with Iran”.
“Honorable attendees, conflicts loom large in the United Nations agenda and places heavy burdens on its shoulders since its foundation. Unfortunately, the Middle East region is a source of many of these burdens. Hence Qatar believes that contributing to the peaceful settlement of conflicts as one of its priorities including suggesting concepts of collective security as there can be no security, stability, development or decent human life under conflicts.
“We have always endeavored for an environment of peace, stability and cooperation in the region. For example, in the Gulf region – our immediate environment – we have repeatedly stressed the importance of the Gulf Cooperation Council and our commitment to settle any differences through constructive dialogue. …”
He also said: “Rational dialogue underpinned on mutual respect is the only solution to the disagreements and differences with Iran. This is also applicable on the return to the nuclear agreement with Iran. I do not think there are alternatives to this approach, including among those who oppose the return to this agreement.”
Qatar’s Emir highlights flaws, vulnerabilities revealed by pandemic
Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani has told the UNGA that the coronavirus pandemic “has revealed the flaws and vulnerabilities of our collective security system”.
He also said the coronavirus crisis also taught the world many lessons which include “the importance of balancing the concern for people’s health and maintaining the economic cycle to secure their livelihoods”.
“It also includes the importance of integration between indispensable role of the state played within its borders on the one hand and its role in confronting cross-border issues and joint commitments to counter challenges, crises and disasters on the other hand.”
“We affirm our support to the priorities included in this session’s vision, emphasising the need for the equitable distribution of vaccines, ensuring their accessibility to the countries in the southern hemisphere.”
Bolsonaro tells UN Brazil is committed to environmental protection
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has told the United Nation’s General Assembly that his country’s environmental laws should serve as a model for the world, reinforcing his government’s commitment to eliminating illegal deforestation.
The far-right leader, who has pushed to open more of the Amazon rainforest to mining and agriculture, has come under criticism for surging deforestation under his government.
But in a conciliatory tone, he told the UN that his government was taking the protection of the Amazon seriously and doubling funding for environmental enforcement to combat illegal deforestation.
US seeks to double climate change aid for developing nations: Biden
President Joe Biden has told the UNGA he will work with Congress to double funds for helping developing nations deal with climate change.
“In April, I announced the United States will double our public international financing to help developing nations tackling climate crisis. Today, I’m proud to announce that we’ll work with the Congress to double that number again, including for adaptation efforts, to make the United States the leader of public climate finance,” he said.
Biden addresses Israel-Palestine, Iran, and ‘new cold war’
Biden said the US continues to support a two-state solution for Israel-Palestine, while adding that US support for an “independent Jewish state is unequivocal”.
He added the US is willing to return full compliance on the Iran nuclear deal if Tehran does the same.
Biden also said the US is “not seeking a new Cold War”, an apparent reference to Secretary-General Guterres’s warning to the US and China before the assembly.
Biden: US seeks to ‘rally the world to action’
Biden assured US engagement in the UN, while seeking to reassure allies.
That comes after the chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan and amid a diplomatic spat with France over a new security alliance with the UK and Australia – all part of a larger pivot to focus on China.
“As the United States turns our focus to the priorities, and the regions of the world, like the Indo Pacific, that are most consequential today and tomorrow we’ll do so with our allies and partners through cooperation of multilateral institutions like the United Nations to amplify our collective strength and speed are progress in dealing with global challenges,” he said.
He also decried “authoritarians” who “seek to proclaim the end of the age of democracy”.
US President Joe Biden: Next decade ‘must be decisive’
Biden laid out a stark choice for world leaders – cooperate or face the perils of various world challenges alone.
“This is the clear and urgent choice that we face here at the dawning of what must be a decisive decade for our world,” he said.
“A decade that will quite literally determine our future as a global community,” he said.
Unvaccinated Bolsonaro first world leader to speak
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who is vocally unvaccinated, has chafed against coronavirus restrictions.
The UN is requiring vaccinations on an “honour system”. New York City, however, requires proof of vaccination at some indoor locations – including restaurants, gyms, and entertainment venues.
In his speech, Bolsonaro decried coronavirus restrictions that he said have hobbled economies. He said his government supports vaccinations.
“However, my administration has not supported a vaccine or health passport, or any other vaccine-related obligation,” he said.
UNGA President welcomes leaders back ‘in person’
Incoming UNGA President Abdulla Shahid of the Maldives welcomed world leaders to the 76th session of the assembly.
“I’m honoured to welcome you all to the opening of the general debate, as we kick off the high-level week of the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly,” he said.
“I’m even more pleased to welcome all of you back to an in-person session of the General Assembly,” he said.
After being given the option, more than 100 world leaders opted to appear in person this year. Others will deliver speeches via video.
Guterres: UN scope too limited
Guterres called for more comprehensive multilateral organisations.
“Today’s multilateral system is too limited in its instruments and capacities, in relation to what is needed for effective governance of managing global public goods,” he said.
He said the world must address six “great divides”: Peace, wealth, gender, digital, and generational.
“COVID-19 and the climate crisis have exposed profound fragilities as societies and as a planet. Yet instead of humility in the face of these epic challenges, we see hubris. Instead of the path of solidarity, we are on a dead-end to destruction. At the same time, another disease is spreading in our world today: a malady of mistrust,” he said.
Guterres: ‘I am here to sound the alarm’
Guterres addressed the UNGA with a stark warning: “I am here to sound the alarm: The world must wake up. We are on the edge of an abyss -and moving in the wrong direction.”
In sweeping speech beginning the General Debate, Guterres decried inequality, distrust, misinformation, an “assault” on science, and upheaval in Afghanistan, Ethiopia and Yemen.
He decried geopolitical divides that hinder international cooperation, specifically referencing the confrontational stance of the world’s two biggest economies – the US and China – without naming them.
Guterres to pull no punches in speech
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will deliver a speech that pulls no punches, painting a dire picture of the world and a pressing need for leaders to engage with the global body.
“Those that have seen the speech say it’s an extremely strong speech and extremely pessimistic about the direction of the world,” said Al Jazeera’s James Bays, reporting from New York.
“One UN insider, who has worked for the UN for many years, says it’s the strongest speech they’ve ever seen by a secretary-general.”
Five things to watch
Following last year’s 75th anniversary celebration, this year’s UNGA will be indicative of just how seriously countries are taking their pledges to reinvigorate the UN and a wider commitment to multilateralism.
Of particular interest will be how Guterres approaches his second – and final term – in the role, with many observers expecting a more resolute and dire tone.
Also closely watched will be how competition between the US and China will play out in the General Assembly Hall, if leaders will make concrete commitments to address climate change and vaccine inequality, and how leaders approach human rights concerns.
Read more here.