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UN General Assembly kicks off with leaders raising alarm alarm on climate change, refugees crisis

UN General Assembly kicks off with leaders raising alarm alarm on climate change, refugees crisis

The first day of the United Nations General Assembly meeting kicked off in downtown Manhattan Tuesday, bringing in speakers from around the world to discuss the globe’s most pressing challenges. 

Leaders spoke of the many global crises presently faced, including the climate crisis, rampant inequality, Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine, and geopolitical instability. 

Here are some highlights of the leaders who spoke on Day 1:

UN Secretary-General António Guterres evoked the recent floods in Libya which – according to estimates from government officials and aid agencies – caused between 4,000 and 11,000 deaths. Guterres echoed the conclusions of scientists who have said that climate change made the devastating storm 50% more intense. 

"In the face of all these challenges and more, compromise has become a dirty word. Our world needs statesmanship, not gamesmanship and gridlock. As I told the G20, it is time for a global compromise. Politics is compromise. Diplomacy is compromise," he said. "Effective leadership is compromise. Leaders have a special responsibility to achieve compromise in building a common future of peace and prosperity for our common good."

Dennis Francis, the president of this year’s U.N. General Assembly, said a common, global approach is needed now more than ever as the global faces geopolitical conflicts, climate change, debt, energy and food crises, as well as poverty and famine. 

"This year our imperative is clear: to unite the nations, to be united in conviction of common purpose and in solidarity of action," Francis said. 

Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva proclaimed that "Brazil is back," drawing a distinction with his predecessor, Jair Bolsonaro, who showed little interest in geopolitics or diplomacy during his four years in office. 

"Brazil is reencountering itself, the region, the world and multilateralism," Lula said. "As I never tire of saying, Brazil is back. Our country is back to give our due contribution to face the world’s primary challenges." 

Last year, the left-wing president narrowly won the election before Bolsonaro supporters stormed the capital in protest.

Polish President Andrzej Duda likened the Russian invasion of Ukraine to the World War II occupation and partition of his own country by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. He urged the world to hold Moscow accountable for its "barbaric actions." 

"Poland lost its independence, was wiped (off) the map of the world, and subjected to an extremely brutal occupation. This is precisely why we understand the tragedy of Ukraine better than any other country," Duda said.

Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel took aim at the U.S., calling its foreign policy with some countries – including his own – "unilateral" and "coercive." His speech was noticeably absent, any mention of Russia, which supports the island nation.

Díaz-Canel said U.S. sanctions "today also affect Venezuela, Nicaragua and, before and after, they have been the prelude to invasions and (the) overthrow of uncomfortable governments in the Middle East." 

"We reject the coercive and unilateral measures imposed on countries like Zimbabwe, Syria, the Democratic Republic of Korea and Iran, among many other countries whose people suffer the negative impact of these," he said. 

His comments come days after he and Brazilian President Lula reignited ties between the countries at the G77 summit in Havana, with the former lamenting the U.S. embargo of Cuba. 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called for peace in the Caucasus region amid renewed fighting in a war-torn Nagorno-Karabakh region. 

"In order to make use of this opportunity we attach importance to the normalization of our relations with Armenia," Erdogan said. "From the outset we always supported diplomacy between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Unfortunately, we see that Armenia cannot make use of this historic opportunity."

Portugues President Marcelo de Sousa stressed the need for more action and less talk on global inequality, climate change, and reforming international institutions in the wake of the war in Ukraine. 

"Year after year, we promise. It's time to fulfill," he said, warning that without reform: "there is no multilateralism possible, there is no lasting cooperation, there is no peace, all over the world." 

Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, the emir of Qatar, said Tuesday that sports can play a role in uniting different peoples and cultures across the world.

At the United Nations General Assembly, Sheikh Tamim touted the "tremendous potentials and opportunities" that belong to his small Arab country, which hosted the soccer World Cup last fall. 

"During the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, there was an opportunity for interaction between peoples, and it was an opportunity for the world to see our people as they are and to learn about our culture and values," Sheikh Tamim said, calling Qatar a "global destination and nexus between East and West." 

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa acknowledged the over-representation of men in the room, asking: "Where are the women of the world?" 

In his speech, he stressed the need to empower women and have them participate equally in decision-making. Fifty percent of cabinet members in South Africa are women, and Ramaphosa said he was accompanied by an all-female delegation to the United Nations.

President of Turkmenistan Serdar Berdimuhamedow called for multilateralism, as the world faces "very serious challenges out of multiple regions." 

"All of them, despite their difference in appearance, influence the course of interstate relations, [to] a greater or lesser extent," he said. 

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy accused Russia of "weaponizing" everything from food and energy to abducted children in its war against his country. 

He warned world leaders that the same thing could happen to them. 

"When hatred is weaponized against one nation, it never stops there," he said at the U.N. General Assembly’s annual top-level meeting. "The goal of the present war against Ukraine is to turn our land, our people, our lives, our resources into weapons against you — against the international rules-based order."

In his last speech to the United Nations, Guateleman President Alejandro Giammattei promised he would step down come January 14, after appealing the electoral victoria of his opponent Bernardo Arévalo.

"Different from the lack of truth that we have heard today on this podium, I will hand over power to whoever was elected by the sovereign majority will of the people of Guatemala on January 14, when my constitutional mandate is fulfilled," Giammattei said, criticizing "international organizations" for carrying out an "unnecessary" intervention" in Guatemalan elections. 

Hungarian President Katalin Novák spoke of the need to support Ukraine, as well as strengthening families, and the importance of parental freedom. 

Swiss President Alain Berset said: "In the context of armed conflicts, the lack of access to basic services claims many more lives than confrontations because it depends on inequalities." 

Slovenian President Nataša Pirc Musar warned that "business as usual is not working if it's failing us all." 

"Climate change is the greatest challenge of our time. The catastrophic floods that hit Slovenia in August are just one more event among the many, many events around the world that prove the point. I trust that we will be able to overcome the consequences of the floods." 

Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev spoke out against forced child labor.

"Our experience shows that it is possible to put an end to this," he said. 

Mirziyoyev highlighted the need to expand education and create jobs, saying such things were instrumental in eradicating poverty.