A host of world leaders at this week’s U.N. General Assembly lined up to warn of a panoply of ills besetting the world, cautioning if coronavirus doesn’t kill us all then climate change surely will. They said stricter measures of global governance are the only way to spare humanity from the end of the world as we know it.
“We are already seeing a version of environmental Armageddon,” Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama said, citing wildfires in the western U.S. and pointing to the Greenland ice chunk as evidence of the dreadful fate that awaits low lying islands.
This was meant to be the year “we took back our planet,” he told his online audience. Instead, the coronavirus has taken over as the marquee issue at this U.N. gathering. Meanwhile, the U.N. global climate summit has been postponed to late 2021.
That hasn’t stopped countries from speaking out, as the AP reports.
“In another 75 years, many … members may no longer hold seats at the United Nations if the world continues on its present course,” the Alliance of Small Island States and the Least Developed Countries Group said.
The Pacific island nation of Palau hasn’t had a single cornavirus infection, but President Tommy E. Remengesau Jr. instead warns rising seas will doom his country.
“The momentary drop in (carbon) emissions this year cannot be allowed to generate any complacency about global progress,” he said, referring to the sparkling skies that followed lockdowns to slow the spread of the virus around the world.
The coronavirus pandemic has muted the U.N. meeting, with world leaders speaking not from the podium in New York but via video from home.
Still, Pacific island nations have seized on the unusual circumstances to demand immediate action, following the likes of Greta Thunberg who has spent the last 12 months calling for global climate and societal change:
The real concern of activists like Greta Thunberg is not climate change but to “upend society,” Australia’s resources minister said. https://t.co/SN4UUeHZ2Z
— Breitbart News (@BreitbartNews) January 14, 2020
The prime minister of Tuvalu, Kausea Natano, delivered his U.N. speech before a vista of turquoise waters and swaying palms.
While Tuvalu is free of the coronavirus, the pandemic’s effect on the movement of goods exposed food insecurity as local agriculture becomes more difficult with rising sea levels, Natano said.
“While COVID-19 is our immediate crisis, climate change remains the single greatest threat to the livelihoods, security and well-being of the Pacific and its peoples in the long run,” the prime minister said.
From the Marshall Islands, also free of coronavirus, President David Kabua used it as example to plead for more help now.
“Change relies on protecting the most vulnerable, because those on the frontline – whether healthcare workers battling the pandemic or small island nations sounding the alarm on climate change – are critical to the survival of us all,” he said.
“Small island and atoll nations like mine do not have time for paper promises,” Kabua added.
U.N. chief Antonio Guterres called for the world to “urgently redistribute power” so as to end gender inequality which he said “should shame us all in the 21st century because it is not only unacceptable, it is stupid.” https://t.co/sPyAaYudUL
— Breitbart News (@BreitbartNews) February 28, 2020
Pope Francis chose his alloted time to caution the world stands at a crossroads between multilateralism and a dangerous resurgence of nationalism, as Breitbart News reported.
In an apparent swipe at U.S. President Donald Trump and his “America First” motto prior to the upcoming presidential elections, the pope said the world should embark on a path to enhance “multilateralism” and “globally co-responsibility” in order to build on the values of justice, peace, and the unity of the human family.
“The other option gives priority to self-sufficiency, nationalism, protectionism, individualism, and isolation,” the pontiff declared in a live-streamed message delivered from the Vatican, “which leaves out the poorest, the most vulnerable, and the inhabitants of the existential peripheries.”
“That path would certainly be detrimental to the whole community, causing self-inflicted wounds on everyone. It must not prevail,” he added.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was another to despair of the dual impact of climate change and coronavirus.
He said the world is in crisis, “not just because of the last few months” and the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic, but “because of the last few decades, and because of us.”
Trudeau’s gloomy speech portrayed the world as teetering on the abyss, with “not a big chance, but a chance” to come together through multilateral organizations and save the future.
Trudeau cited the “climate reckoning” as the paramount example of a challenge that requires internationalist, multilateralist solutions.
“We are at this point because of our collective inability, over the past decades, to make the tough decisions and sacrifices needed to fight climate change and save future generations,” he argued. “The pandemic has not changed that. Our shared failures have continued, and our citizens are paying the price.”
Africa was another with a call for help.
“In favoring solutions based on the respect for nature, we’re also preserving the health of our peoples,” said President Issoufou Mahamadou of Niger, part of the Sahel region south of the Sahara desert where temperature increases are expected to be 1.5 times higher than the world average.
“Our global home that was teeming with millions of species of God-given creatures, both great and small, is slowly dying,” said Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta.
He added: “Our world is yearning for us to stop its ruin.”
AP contributed to this report