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The UN's big limitation

The UN’s biggest limitation is arguably its structural inability to be an effective tool of international and democratic accountability.

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This story was published on our Need to Know: UNGA 2022 newsletter, A periodic dispatch from the annual session of the United Nations General Assembly in NYC..
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Greetings, UN delegates and UNGA watchers!

“If nations can pursue their imperial ambitions without consequences, then we put at risk everything this very institution stands for. Everything.”

No surprise, Joe Biden’s UNGA address focused primarily on the war in Ukraine. But in condemning Russia, the US president went beyond faulting Vladimir Putin—he pointed out the shortcomings of the UN system itself.

That Russia was able to veto a UN resolution denouncing Putin’s invasion shows the limit of the UN Security Council’s current structure. Biden, in response, spoke of the need to control the use of veto power, and expand the council to include more permanent members, in order to preserve the UN mandate.

But if the US’s day in the glass house started by confronting what is arguably the UN’s biggest limitation—its structural inability to be an effective tool of international and democratic accountability—it continued on a far more hopeful note. In the afternoon, Biden hosted the Global Fund replenishment event, joining hundreds of countries and organizations investing in the global eradication of AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria.

The US committed $6 billion, a third of the Global Fund’s total three-year budget. Other rich countries made big pledges, including Germany ($1.3 billion), Canada ($1.2 billion), Japan ($1.08 billion). In doing so, they met the Global Fund’s request to increase their donations by 30%. What’s even more remarkable, so did struggling economies such as Burkina Faso, Togo, and Côte d’Ivoire.

The Global Fund, which was started in 2002, isn’t a UN project. But it represents the spirit of international solidarity that the UN’s development branch exists to advance, despite all the logistical and bureaucratic hurdles.

It’s encouraging that even with the demands of the covid recovery, rich countries and organizations would double down on investing to eradicate other diseases that kill overwhelmingly the world’s poorest people. And it’s an absolute beacon of hope that low-income countries, which were failed by the global response to the covid pandemic, still dare trusting international cooperation.

Though faith in multilateralism might be severely compromised, the Global Fund’s successful replenishment suggests there is still some sliver of trust, if not in the UN, then in its ideals.


What to watch for

It’s another huge couple of days—these are just a few highlights. Consult a more complete schedule here.

Thursday, Sept. 22 (all times local to New York unless otherwise specified).

🧊 What comes after Antarctica? More than three decades after expeditioner Will Steger first set out to answer that question with a crew of international scientists, he returned to the continent—but climate change has now made the future fuzzier. A film documenting his journey will be screened freely and virtually all day.

📊 It’s all about that data. There is great power in data—not only in what it shows but in who controls it and how it gets used. From 8am-10am at the Ford Foundation Center for Social Justice at 320 E. 43rd St., the Data Values Campaign will attempt to bring underrepresented perspectives to the table.

✏️ Teaching in the wake of covid. With new US statistics showing that reading scores fell drastically during the pandemic, we’re starting to see just how much covid lockdowns affected education. Transforming teaching at the margins of the global education system is the idea behind a 12:30pm panel at the Penn Club at 30 West 44th St.

📕 Storytime. A compelling, relatable story can help people move past the enormity of the environmental crisis and take action in their daily lives. Global communication experts will talk through how to craft innovative narratives in climate conversations during a 3:30pm panel at the Tzu Chi Center, 229 E. 60th St.

Friday, Sept. 23 (all times local to New York unless otherwise specified).

🤔 How do you use an index anyway? Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari will host a talk with heads of state and international organizations at 2pm in the Hilton, where speakers will share what tools they use to track issues and measure the effects of poverty.

Saturday, Sept. 24 (all times local to New York unless otherwise specified).

🎤 Nothing says world development conference like Mariah Carey. The pop singer is one of several acts, including Metallica, the Jonas Brothers, Italian Eurovision winners Måneskin, and Rosalía, who’ll be performing in Central Park for the Global Citizen Festival. The gates open at 2pm, and the show runs from 4pm-10pm.


Pass it on

At a panel on multilateral approaches to complex problems, organized by Foreign Policy and the Open Society Foundations, Susana Malcorra summed up her position by borrowing a phrase she heard the night before at an event on women’s empowerment: “Double it.” Meaning whatever effort you’re applying to the world’s big challenges, increase it exponentially if you want any hope of delivering an adequate response.

Malcorra, who was Argentina’s foreign minister from 2015 to 2017 and chief of staff to Ban Ki-moon when he was UN secretary general, told Quartz the pithy directive applies as easily to an issue like food security as it does to women’s empowerment (the original context in which she heard the phrase). She liked the succinctness of it and wanted to share the idea. And now we’ve shared it with you.


Quoted

“If you’re a low-ambition government, you have to find another coalition.”—Espen Barth-Eide, Norway’s minister of climate and environment and a co-chair of the High Ambition Coalition to End Plastic Pollution, aiming to keep his coalition true to its name.



How to text at UNGA

Inspired by a cute tweet from the US Fish and Wildlife Service, today we’re helping you decode what your fellow UNGA attendees are texting about:

🤝 BTW: Better The World
💼 IDK: International Development Knowledge
🚙 TBT: Traffic’s Bad Today
🤔 JK: Jargon Kryptonite
🎸 BRB: Bono Really Brought it
🗣️ POV: Panels Of Volume
🛢️ CU: Climate Ultimatums
🐐 GOAT: Greatest Overall Attaché Today


News from elsewhere

The EU is planning new sanctions on Russia. Ministers will finalize a sanctions package during their mid-October meeting. Ukraine also called for the UN to strip Russia of its veto rights in the Security Council.

The Federal Reserve hiked interest rates by 75 basis points. Fed officials expect to keep raising rates into 2023. Meanwhile, the the US dollar hit a 20-year high, and the British pound sank to a 37-year low ahead of the Fed hike and an escalation in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Italy’s far-right leader regards “The Lord of the Rings” as a sacred text. Giorgia Meloni, who may become the next prime minister of her country, said: “I think that Tolkien could say better than us what conservatives believe in.”

China accused the US of hacking into its telecom networks. A state-backed newspaper claimed that the US’s National Security Agency conducted a phishing attack through a university network and stole sensitive data.

Europe is replacing its energy dependence on Russia... with a reliance for solar panels on China. Chinese-manufactured panels form 80% of Europe’s solar imports.


Person of interest

Senegal president Macky Sall at UNGA in 2021
Image copyright: Reuters

Macky Sall, the president of Senegal and chair of the African Union, sent a direct message to his fellow world leaders this week: Africa does not want to be the battleground for a proxy war between nations on opposing sides of the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

It was one of the highlights of his address at this year’s UNGA meeting.

“I have come to say that Africa has suffered enough of the burden of history,” said Sall, who has become the loudest African voice advocating for an equal seat for the continent at crucial decision-making tables. Rather than be the stage for another Cold War, Africa wants to be a “pole of stability and opportunity open to all its partners, on a mutually beneficial basis,” he said.

Sall didn’t stop there— he made a striking list of demands during his address. Take a look at what else he called for.


We’ll be back next week with more UNGA news. Meanwhile, go ahead and register now for Gauging the Goals, an Oct. 6 virtual event in which Quartz and the Gates Foundation will look back and unpack everything UNGA.

—Annalisa Merelli, senior reporter; Heather Landy, executive editor; Amanda Shendruk, things reporter; Alexander Onukwue, West Africa correspondent; and Morgan Haefner, deputy email editor

📬 A periodic dispatch from the annual session of the United Nations General Assembly in NYC.

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