UN General Assembly meeting convenes with leaders in attendance for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres addresses the 76th Session of the UNGA in New York City, US, on September 21, 2021.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres addresses the 76th Session of the UNGA in New York City, US, on September 21, 2021. (Reuters)

In person and on screen, world leaders have returned to the United Nations' foremost gathering for the first time in the pandemic era with a formidable, diplomacy-packed agenda and a sharply worded warning from the international organisation's leader: "We face the greatest cascade of crises in our lifetime."

Secretary General Antonio Guterres rang the alarm on Tuesday in his annual state-of-the-world speech at the opening of the UN General Assembly's (UNGA) high-level meeting for leaders of its 193 member nations. 

More than 100 heads of state and government kept away by Covid-19 are returning to the UN in person for the first time in two years. 

But with the pandemic still raging, about 60 will deliver pre-recorded statements over the coming days.

"We are on the edge of an abyss — and moving in the wrong direction,” Guterres said. "I'm here to sound the alarm. The world must wake up."

Guterres urged world leaders to bridge six "great divides": promote peace and end conflicts, restore trust between the richer north and developing south on tackling global warming, reduce the gap between rich and poor, promote gender equality, ensure that half of humanity that has no access to the Internet is connected by 2030, and tackle the generational divide by giving young people "a seat at the table."

He also urged the United States and China to engage in dialogue, warning of an increasingly divided world.

"I fear our world is creeping towards two different sets of economic, trade, financial and technology rules, two divergent approaches in the development of artificial intelligence –– and ultimately two different military and geopolitical strategies."

"This is a recipe for trouble. It would be far less predictable than the Cold War. To restore trust and inspire hope, we need cooperation," he said.

"We need dialogue. We need understanding."

Bolsonaro committed to environmental protection

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro told the UNGA that his country's environmental laws should serve as a model for the world, reinforcing his government's commitment to eliminating illegal deforestation.

Brazil, whose president, Bolsonaro, isn't vaccinated against Covid-19 also spoke about Afghanistan, promising his country will grant humanitarian visas to Afghan Christians, women, children, and judges. 

Biden: US starting 'era of relentless diplomacy'

The summit featured the first speech to the world body by US President Joe Biden, who has described a rising and authoritarian China as the paramount challenge of the 21st century.

In his speech, Biden told the UNGA that America is "opening a new era of relentless diplomacy" following the end of the war in Afghanistan.

Biden also said the United States would be prepared to use force "if necessary" but that military power must be a "tool of last resort."

"The mission must be clear and achievable, undertaken with the informed consent of the American people and whenever possible in partnership with our allies," he added.

Instead of fighting wars, the US has recalibrated policy to focus on fighting pandemic and terrorism, Biden said. 

Biden said his country would "double" its contribution to climate finance.

"This will make the United States a leader in public climate finance," Biden told world leaders in New York, saying he would work with Congress to achieve the goal.

The United States does not seek a "new Cold War," in a reference to relations with China, he said.

"The United States is ready to work with any nation that steps up and pursues peaceful resolution to share challenges even if we have an intense disagreement in other areas," he told the world leaders in New York.

Qatar Emir: 'War offered no solution' in Afghanistan

Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani highlighted his country's role in US-Taliban talks and called for an end to bloodshed in Syria. 

Qatar was confident that "war offered no solution" in Afghanistan and this position proved to be correct, Al Thani told UNGA.

He also told UNGA that the Covid-19 pandemic "has revealed the flaws and vulnerabilities of our collective security system."

Highlighting Israeli atrocities on Palestinians in occupied territories, Al Thani urged global leaders to quickly "find a solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict."

He called for establishing a Palestinian state in line with 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital alongside the state of Israel.

Iran says US hegemony 'failed miserably'

Iran's new president, Ebrahim Raisi, declared that US efforts at hegemony have "failed miserably" in a fiery denunciation of the state's arch-rival in his first UN speech.

"What has been seen in our region today proves that not only the hegemonic system but also the project of imposing Westernised identity have failed miserably," Raisi said, pointing to the fall of the US-backed government in Afghanistan as well as the storming of the US Capitol on January 6.

Iran President Raisi said sanctions are the US' way of war with nations, adding US sanctions against Tehran in pandemic are "crimes against humanity."

Erdogan: Paris climate pact to be presented to parliament

In his UNGA speech, Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan said that the Paris climate agreement would be presented to the Turkish parliament for approval next month.

Erdogan said Turkey had not ratified the deal due to injustices regarding responsibilities but that there had recently been progress on the issue.

"I would like to announce to the whole world here from the United Nations General Assembly the decision we have taken following the progress made within the framework of the agreement. We plan to submit the Paris Climate Agreement for approval to our parliament next month," Erdogan said.

Xi says China will stop funding coal projects overseas

China will stop funding coal projects overseas, reducing a key source of pollution behind the climate crisis, President Xi Jinping told the UNGA.

"China will step up support for other developing countries in developing green and low carbon energy and will not build new coal-fired power projects abroad," Xi told the meeting in a recorded address.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies