UN General Assembly: 5 burning climate issues for world leaders gathered in New York

This week, more than 150 world leaders are expected in New York to address the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).

Named the “biggest diplomatic week of the year” by the UN, it serves as a unique forum for member states to discuss international issues.

Topics on the agenda are likely to include the ongoing war in Ukraine, soaring food and fuel prices – and climate change.

“The climate crisis is the defining issue of our time,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said during the assembly’s opening address.

“And yet, climate action is on the back burner – despite overwhelming public support around the world.”

He pointed out that this year has brought Europe worst heat wave since the Middle Ages, and a mega-drought in Chinain the United States and beyond, while famine “stalking the Horn of Africa”.

With the G20 emitting 80% of all greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuel companies “reveling in hundreds of billions of dollars in subsidies and windfall profits”, Guterres says it’s time to to intervene.

Here are five of the biggest climate conversations likely to top the UN General Assembly agenda.

5. Limit the Windfall Profits of Fossil Fuel Companies

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and subsequent sanctions, fossil fuel companies have posted record profits this year.

António Guterres called on all developed economies to tax the windfall profits of fossil fuel companies.

“These funds should be redirected in two ways: to countries experiencing loss and damage from the climate crisis and to people struggling with rising food and energy prices,” he said. he declares.

Some members have already introduced measures to try to redirect these funds to those most in need – including EU.

But opinions on how best to tax oil and gas windfall profits are deeply divided.

New British Prime Minister Liz Trusswho flew to UNGA on Monday night, ruled out the option as a way to fund his £2,500 (€2,860) energy price cap, opting instead to use government borrowing to make it happen.

4. Advocate for cleaner energy

In his opening remarks, the Secretary General also identified renewable energy as one of the “solutions leading to sustainable economic growth”.

“It generates more jobs, is already cheaper than fossil fuels, and is the pathway to energy security, stable prices and new industries,” he said.

Guterres added that developing countries need help to make this change in the form of international coalitions to ensure a just energy transition.

With fossil fuel prices so high, many see renewable energy as a vital investment to ensure secure and cheap energy sources in the future.

On Monday, 77th UNGA President Csaba Korosi said it was more important than ever to prioritize the UN Sustainable Development Goals. He thinks they should serve as a ‘to do list’ for world leaders

“Key transitions need to happen. To name but a few, a transition to a renewable energy base and to green, inclusive and digital economies, where food systems must also be transformed,” he said.

To do this, Korosi added, “We need a collective effort intelligently directed towards global goals.”

3. Funding for countries most vulnerable to climate change

The Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) says people in these climate-vulnerable nations are nearing their limit. During UNGA, they want governments to show leadership in securing loss and damage financing during the COP27 negotiations in November.

“We have no more time to waste – our islands are being hit by more severe and more frequent climate impacts and recovery is coming at the expense of our development,” says Ambassador Walton Webson, President of AOSIS.

The loss of gross domestic product (GDP) due to tropical cyclones now averages 3.7% per year for small island states. Webson’s home of Antigua and Barbuda is still picking up the pieces from hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017. In total, this hurricane season alone cost the Caribbean a total of around 300 billion euros in damage.

“Where do we get the money to rebuild? Why do our islands, which contribute the least to the emissions at the origin of this crisis, have to pay a high price? Webson asks.

“During UNGA77, governments must come together and commit to getting it right for our climate-vulnerable countries at COP27 with strong support for loss and damage response funding.”

2. Keep global warming below 1.5C

At COP26 last year, UN member states pledged to “review and strengthen” their plans to reduce emissions and keep global warming below 1.5 C before the end of the century.

But so far very few major transmitters have done so, with lackluster updates from countries like Australia and the United Arab Emirates. The growing global energy crisis has put unexpected pressure on governments, with some turning to polluting fossil fuels as a way to keep the lights on this winter.

World leaders from Russia, China and India are also not expected to attend the UNGA, sending their foreign ministers instead.

As the deadline for including country plans in this year’s UN climate change progress report approaches September 23, we are likely to see a lot of talk about how to reduce emissions.

And with COP27 fast approaching, the UNGA will set the tone for negotiations in Egypt in November.

1. A legal obligation to protect populations from climate damage

Vanuatu, an island nation in the South Pacific Ocean, is trying to garner support for the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to issue an advisory opinion on a country’s legal obligations to protect people from climate damage.

The idea started with a group of university students from the South Pacific islands. They campaigned in New York before the UNGA and now Vanuatu and its allies should call for the issue to be put to a vote at the assembly.

Although the advisory opinion of the ICJ is not binding, it has a certain legal weight and moral authority. These types of statements are often used to clarify laws on complex international issues.

If so, it would help clarify international laws regarding governments’ responsibilities to prevent climate change and could even make it a human rights issue.

Teresa H. Sadler