tarting today, Presidents and Prime Ministers from more than 190 countries will come together at the UN General Assembly (UNGA) annual meetings to attend six summits and over 300 side events—50 of which are on climate alone. Unlike last year’s UNGA, U.S. President Donald Trump may not dominate the headlines. Global coalitions have formed around issues the U.S. has either left behind, exempted itself from, or outright denied.
As we’ve said before, diplomacy is not the purview of heads of state only. How do you navigate the biggest diplomatic fest of the year? We’ve compiled a list of the top five issues to pay attention to at this year’s UNGA.
Swedish activist Greta Thunberg has made waves in the international climate activism community. From inspiring student walkouts to firing harsh criticism towards dozens of U.S. policymakers, she takes center stage in terms of climate. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres’ decision to place the Youth Climate Summit before the UN Climate Action Summit is an intentional one. Many believe the youthful energy and new perspectives at the prior will impact the nature of discussion at the latter. U.S. leaders will be notably absent at this summit, with a religious freedom address scheduled concurrently. As many nations that signed the Paris Agreement struggle to meet their goals, climate change talks will likely steal the show this year.
Iran Diplomacy (unofficially)
While no official meetings between the U.S. and Iran are scheduled, corridor talk will be buzzing with news of Iran-U.S. relations, specifically recent sanctions and Iran’s nuclear potential. In the wake of attacks on Saudi Arabian oil facilities by an as-yet-to-be-determined actor, a meeting between the U.S. and Iran becomes more unlikely. Despite efforts from French president Emmanuel Macron, the French delegation will likely have to act as a middleman between the two feuding nations. These tensions are even more heightened as several Iranian delegates struggled to attain visas for the week’s meetings.
Multilateralism (with or without the U.S.)
With the U.S. not participating in either climate meetings or talks with Iran, the global community continues to push for multilateralism. Nigerian president and General Assembly President Muhammed-Bande called for increased global cooperation in his opening remarks, including on the issue of climate change. Guterres’ push for these talks to take center stage will leave the U.S. delegation, and specifically President Donald Trump, out of the spotlight. This power vacuum will make room for the French delegation to continue their push to become a facilitator of multilateral discussion. What remains to be seen is how incoming U.S. Ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft will fit into the equation. Predecessor Nikki Haley was known to have difficulties getting along with colleagues and delegates. Craft may need to take a more diplomatic approach.
Universal Health Care
The first Global Declaration on Universal Health Coverage sets a precedent for global health. September 23rd high-level meetings will convene global stakeholders to discuss the particulars of this declaration. Under the umbrella of Universal Health Care 2030, these meetings mark a key milestone in achieving healthcare goals by the SDG deadline. Despite widespread support for universal health coverage, key language has been a point of contention for some member nations, specifically in regards to sexual and reproductive health and the health of refugees. Language confirming sexual and reproductive rights has been removed, while still keeping language affirming universal access to sexual and reproductive health services.
Business is Blooming
The year’s biggest business event is the Bloomberg Global Business Forum. In its third year, the convening has quickly cemented itself as the go-to stage for private industry players during UNGA. Indian PM Narendra Modi is the event’s keynote speaker, followed by a 1-on-1 conversation with founder Michael Bloomberg. World Bank CEO Kristalina Georgieva, New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern, JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon and numerous other heads of state and industry leaders will take the stage at panels, keynotes and breakout sessions throughout the day. Talks range a constellation of topics, most notably several panels on the role of private industry and trade in solving the global climate crisis—this, on the heels of 130 banks committing to new principles for responsible banking over the weekend.
Come back for our key takeaways at the end of the week.