UN General Assembly: what to expect from talks after thousands gather in climate protest

The General Assembly provides leaders of the 193 Member States an opportunity to discuss the most pressing issues of the moment.

Annabel Cossins-Smith September 18 2023

World leaders met in New York on Monday for this year’s UN General Assembly, expecting to talk about the war in Ukraine and the climate crisis, among other issues.

Although no single crisis is set to dominate the talks, the 78th session opens against the backdrop of an ongoing war in Europe, the lingering effects of the pandemic, new political crises in West Africa and Latin America, and a stream of natural disasters across the globe in the form of wildfires, floods and earthquakes.

The General Assembly provides leaders of the 193 Member States an opportunity to discuss the most pressing issues of the moment. Approximately 150 leaders are expected to attend this year’s talks, with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy expected to address the assembly on Wednesday and hold further talks with US President Joe Biden on the sidelines of the event, principally to discuss aid for Ukraine’s army.

“It is a one-of-a-kind moment each year for leaders from every corner of the globe to not only assess the state of the world but to act for the common good,” UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres told reporters last week, “and action is what the world needs now.”

On Wednesday, Guterres will convene the assembly’s Climate Ambition Summit, which will “call on every leader from governments, businesses, cities and regions, civil society and financial institutions to step up” regarding action against the climate crisis.

On the streets of New York on Sunday, the tone was one of dissatisfaction with the current state of global climate action as hundreds of thousands of protestors marched, collectively demanding an end to fossil fuels.

“[President] Biden, you should be scared of us,” warned Emma Buretta, a 17-year-old New York City high school student and organizer with the Fridays for Future movement, at a rally ahead of the march. “If you want our vote, if you don’t want the blood of our generations to be on your hands, end fossil fuels.”

At the end of the march, New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortex described climate action as “an electoral and popular force that cannot be ignored”.

In the past two years, Biden has signed into law the US’s most ambitious climate bill, known as the Inflation Reduction Act, but has also continued to issue controversial permits for huge oil drilling projects. In March, the US Government approved oil major ConocoPhillips’ $7bn Willow oil project in Alaska, against the will of climate scientists, activist groups and local indigenous communities.

The protests in New York followed climate demonstrations across the globe, notably in Germany, the UK, Senegal, South Korea and India.

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