India vs Pakistan, killer robots, and news from elsewhere

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Good morning, citizens of the world!

It’s Friday, which means UNGA week is nearly over and you’ve survived. Let the great exodus begin. It’s been our great pleasure to spend the week with you. While our job is just about done here, you can keep an eye on the final few days of events with the unofficial UNGA guide, which has been our trusted ally as we navigated the week’s schedule.

And so we’re out. You stay UNGA, as they say, and see you next year.

What to watch for today

The final showdown. The last day of the General Debate will feature one of the most highly anticipated match-ups of the week: Indian vs. Pakistan. At stake? Nuclear war, potentially. Indian prime minister Narendra Modi goes first. The leaders of Norway and Singapore come next (just to build that dramatic tension a bit). Then, Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan takes the stage, and he’ll have a lot to say. Relations between the two nuclear powers are growing strained once again over control of Kashmir, a region the two countries have fought two wars over since the end of British colonial rule.

Missing in action. Representatives from Russia and China are also scheduled to speak. But neither Xi Jingping nor Vladimir Putin will be there. They’ve never been much for mingling at the UNGA, but as permanent members of the security council, they have the power to approve sanctions and missions. And they have the perhaps even greater power to veto them. Their absences are always notable.

You can livestream the General Debate on UNTV (also the source of UNGA’s most reliable schedule of events) starting at 9am EDT.

Make the world Greta again. While the UNGA is beginning to slow down, the kids who forced climate action to the forefront of its agenda appear to just be getting started. Led by 16-year-old sensation Greta Thunberg, they are holding another global climate strike today. The first one, you might recall, drew millions into the streets. Thunberg will be in Montreal for this one, where she’ll be protesting outside the International Civil Aviation Association, a UN agency. Despite increased attention to the issue, the UN again failed to convince the world’s largest polluters—the US, China, and India—to agree to anything.

Photo of the day

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Nayib Bukele, president of El Salvador, is young for a world leader (he’s 38). Although he’s not quite a millennial, he started his UN address by taking a selfie. It wasn’t, however, the adorable moment you might think. “Many more people will see this selfie than will hear this speech,” he lamented, before calling on the UN to get with the times and do a better job of connecting with the youth.

What everyone is talking about

Fear leads to UNGA. UNGA leads to hate. There was a lot of fear of robots going around yesterday. Dozens of foreign ministers, in fact, endorsed a declaration to ban fully autonomous weapons systems, or “killer robots.” “This declaration is yet another step down the path leading to the inevitable treaty that’s needed to prevent a grim future of killing by machine,” said Mary Wareham, the arms advocacy director at Human Rights Watch.

Meat for lunch (and dinner). For an event that promoted climate action and sustainability as a central goal, there sure was a lot of meat being served this week. With the exception of the World Economic Forum’s sustainable impact summit, most other prominent events (including the Concordia Summit, the Bloomberg Business Forum, and the Gates’ Goalkeepers event) featured some choice of meat—including beef, which is definitely not good for the planet.

Attention seekers. UNGA week is all about getting a message across. And sometimes it takes more than a panel discussion to do that. Enter the creatives. From rolls of SDG stickers to thread-based interactive installations, the efforts to engage people this year have been remarkable. The #togetherbands bracelets representing the SDGs made with recycled plastic and confiscated firearms (of all things) were a favorite. Oh, and the art: A participatory installation asked people to paint blue on a large canvas to represent the air we breathe. Another collected the blood of refugees and non-refugees, and then displayed it frozen to show that it is indistinguishable. That got our attention!

Wrapping up. Most of the big events are over now, fatigue is setting in, and delegates, business leaders, heads of state, activists, and other attendees, are beginning to funnel out of Manhattan’s east side. It’s not an uncommon sight now to see small suitcases rolling alongside their badge-wearing owners. At one side event discussing philanthropy for health coverage, held at the Rockefeller Foundation, the coat room housed nine trolleys—and zero coats.

Chart interlude

Member states are required to pay into both the UN general budget, which runs operations, and the peacekeeping budget. Complicated formulas determine the percentage of both budgets each member state must pay. Here are the first three steps (of seven) involved in calculating a country’s contribution to the general budget—see Amanda Shendruk’s story for the full formula.

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Overheard at UNGA

“Stop flirting with dictators and authoritarian regimes”—Donald Tusk, president of the European Council

“What would you do if someone tried… to erase your presence?”—Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas

“Free press is a very important pillar in promoting democracy, good governance, and human rights”—Abdalla Hamdok, prime minister of Sudan

“I strongly believe anybody who advocates for war, they need to get their head examined”—Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan

Acronym of the day

AU-ECOSOCC: African Union’s Economic, Social and Cultural Council

News from around the world

The US slashed its refugee intake to a historic low. The White House capped the number at just 18,000 people over the next 12 months, instead of 30,000. President Trump also signed an executive order requiring state and local governments to opt in to accepting refugees.

WeWork tried to slim down. The office-sharing startup—whose CEO Adam Neumann resigned under pressure this week—halted all new lease agreements and cut thousands of staff, after delaying its IPO plans this month amid increased investor scrutiny.

Saudi Arabia launched its first tourist visa scheme. The decision is part of the kingdom’s efforts to diversify its economy away from oil, in the hope that tourism revenues would grow to 10% of GDP by 2030.

Matters of debate

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Humans are as resilient as cockroaches. We’ll outlive climate change and nuclear war, no matter how bad it gets.

We should do better than “do your best.” Telling employees to just try hard actually sets them up for workplace mediocrity.

New York City is the ultimate screen idol. And Paris is its only serious rival among the world’s great metropolises.

Surprising discoveries

Japan Airlines has a new tool to deal with screaming babies. Online seating maps will show the likely location of toddlers.

Too much exercise leads to bad decisions. Overtrained athletes exhibit “motivational fatigue” and a diminished capacity for long-term thinking.

Cats are just as good company as dogs. They also form attachments to humans, according to a new study.

Our best wishes for smooth travel and a peaceful day. Please send tips, acronyms, and lost luggage to You can read more of our UNGA 2019 coverage here. That’s a wrap!