After two years of corona restrictions, world leaders can reopen the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday in normal circumstances. Yet the annual diplomatic high mass in New York starts under a gloomy star. There is of course the war in Ukraine, but also the energy crisis, rising food prices and climate change weigh on the debates.

    “We are coming together at a time of great danger to our world,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres looked ahead to the opening of the 77th session of the General Assembly yesterday. He referred to, among other things, the many conflicts and climate disasters, the mistrust and division among countries, rising food and energy prices, falling incomes, the ongoing consequences of the corona pandemic and the lack of financing for developing countries. “A crisis like we have not seen in a generation,” said the Portuguese.

    Sustainable Development Goals

    All these developments are pushing the sustainable development goals (SDGs) further and further out of reach, says Guterres. In 2015, the leaders of the UN member states set out 17 major goals to be achieved by 2030, including ending extreme poverty and hunger, ensuring access to quality education and urgent action on climate change. “The world has a long ‘to do’ list”, concluded the secretary-general, but “the dangers we face are no match for a world that is united”.

    How united that world is will be revealed today, when more than 140 heads of state and government address the General Assembly. After Guterres’ opening speech, according to ancient tradition, the Brazilian president is given the floor. In addition to Jair Bolsonaro, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz will speak later in the day. The US president is normally also scheduled to attend on Tuesday, but due to his presence at the funeral of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II, Joe Biden’s speech has been postponed to Wednesday.

    Zelensky gives speech via video connection

    Despite protests from Moscow, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky would also address the General Assembly via video link on Wednesday. That is a rarity, because in normal times speeches from a distance are not allowed. That only happened for the first time in 2020, when the coronavirus had the world in its grip and there was nothing for it but to hold a virtual summit.

    Last year, a hybrid format was chosen, with speeches via video links and with leaders who were present in person. Russian President Vladimir Putin will also stay away from New York this year, as will Chinese President Xi Jinping.

    European Council President Charles Michel and Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo take the stage on Friday. De Croo, who arrives in New York on Wednesday, will be flanked by Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib (MR) and State Secretary for Development Cooperation Meyrame Kitir (Vooruit). Minister of Justice and North Sea Vincent Van Quickenborne (Open Vld) pays a blitz visit to participate in consultations about ocean policy.

    Multilateralism

    In our country, Guterres, who will receive the Belgian delegation tomorrow, is already a convinced supporter of multilateralism. “More than ever, we need global solutions, because the problems we face today are global problems,” said Lahbib, referring to the war in Ukraine and the impact on energy and commodity prices. However, the clash of arms in Ukraine should not overshadow everything, the minister warns. She points out that countries in Africa and in the Middle East from Europe and the West also expect action around other conflicts. “It is important that we do not give the impression that we have forgotten those conflicts and that there is a double standard.”

    ttn-3