Everything You Need to Know About the 74th UNGA and Day One

What is the UNGA and How Does it Work? 

Each year, our world leaders gather in New York for the UN General Assembly - what’s on the docket for this year’s 74th annual session? 

Let’s back up for a second, the General Assembly is the policy-making branch of the UN, requiring a 2/3 majority for any major decisions. All 193 Member States gather together to discuss a wide array of international issues, such as development, peace and international law. It is the only UN body with equal representation (each nation receives only one vote).

This year’s UNGA comes on the heels of heated climate change marches, grievances against trade and immigration policy and increasing fears surrounding rising tensions and terrorism, just to name a few. People are speaking up as we have seen this through the hundreds of protests led by millions of activists of all ages and backgrounds. It’s time world leaders start listening. 

 

1. Patriotism Over Globalism? 

While Trump addressed a variety of different issues, one message that was met with particular attention was the quote, “the future does not belong to globalists, the future belongs to patriots.” Strong words from a man who chooses not to listen to the vast majority in his country. While the notion of encouraging nationalism and pride within one's nation is a nice sentiment, this particular message seems to fail at capturing the one theme of the entire Assembly, international leaders working together. While the conference offers opportunity for world leaders to come forward and present issues of utmost relevance to their own nation, the point of the Assembly is to take these issues and find solutions based on multilateral cooperation and fostering diplomacy. Throughout the conference, one can see this isolationist mentality in the U.S. leaders lack of participation in topics that were not of particular importance to their own interest or agenda.

2. Tensions in the Middle East 

The Middle East served as a dominant topic today and the conversion is far from over. With the recent attacks on the Saudi Arabian Oil fields, the risk of U.S. military confrontation with Iran has never been higher. The signatories of the JCPOA  have urged the U.S. and Iran to come back to the negotiating table. French President Emmanuel Macron stressed the serious risks and consequences of this conflict that the world can just not afford, and urged leaders to build peace. 

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Trump actively advocated for leaders to ice out Iran calling for no government to “subside Iran’s bloodlust”. He urged countries to support and actively follow his hardline policies against the Islamic Republic.

 

3. China Trade War 

Trump utilized his speaking time to remind leaders of the tensions simmering between the world’s two largest economies and list his complaints about China’s trade practices. He criticized China’s harmful economic model dependent on massive market barriers, product dumping and technology transfers. He denounced the World Bank for its inability to compel China to liberalize their economy, calling for a drastic change to the international trading system.  

 

4. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

On a topic that doesn't center around Trump, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan calls for an end to the years-long Syrian civil war. Currently, over 3 million Syrian refugees reside in Turkey. Erdogan’s plea is an important note in today’s Assembly because he sought to bring the humanitarian crisis to the forefront of conversations, a necessary discussion that is long overdue for some changes. 

Erdogan also denounced the spread of hate crimes against Muslims, Jews, migrants and other minorities occuring around the world. He condemned politicians who seek votes off of inciting hateful rhetoric and urged that the world take action to eradicate these injustices. 

 

5. Climate Change

But what we and many other college students around the globe were waiting to listen in on was the extremely hot (pun intended) topic of climate change (yes, we did just do that). A strong and empowered voice of the activist movement, Greta Thunberg gave an emotional speech demanding environmental policy reform at the UN Climate Summit on Sept. 24th telling world leaders, “How dare you - you have stolen my dreams and my childhood.” By the end of the summit, 65 countries announced efforts to achieve zero-net gain emissions by 2050. 

One interesting thing to note; neither China nor the US have made any new pledges to combat climate change since the start of the UN conference or after Greta’s speech at the UN Climate Summit. 

While there has been an outpouring of public support for Greta and her activism from younger generations and communities committed to the cause, a news channel is upsettingly choosing to address her personal characteristics rather than her important message. (Since then, this news channel has issued an apology).   

What We can Expect to See: 

People, a lot has happened, tensions are high, and it's only day one. What can you expect for the next five days? We can anticipate hearing a lot more about climate change on Wednesday (09/25), in-depth North Korea talks, even more about tensions in the Middle East, the eradication of poverty, trade wars, migration, and energy supplies. Just a few topics for some light-hearted conversation! 

The one thing that world leaders could agree on today was the importance of tributing Mahatma Ghandi for the 150th anniversary of his birth on October 2nd. UN leaders spoke of his dedication to kindness and truth, something the world can definitely use a bit more of. 

*This is an Op-Ed piece, subject to personal opinion - we invite any and all responses to this article.