Work together. Go it alone. The apocalypse is at hand. But the future can be bright. The squabbles never cease, yet here are human beings from all across the world - hashing out conflicts with words and processes, convening under one roof, trying to write the next chapter of a common dream.
At the United Nations, "multilateralism" is always the goal. Yet so is the quest for a coherent storyline that unites all 193 member states and their ideas. Those two holy grails often find themselves at odds when leaders gather each September at the United Nations - a construct whose very name can be a two-word contradiction.
You hear a lot about "the narrative" these days in politics (and everywhere else). It's a way to punch through the static and make sure people are absorbing your message - and, ultimately, doing what you want them to do. But how to establish a coherent storyline when the very notion of many nations with many voices is baked into the pie to begin with?
Which raises the bigger question, the one that sits beneath it all at this assembling of people trying to figure out how to run their patches of the planet and be part of an increasingly interconnected civilization: With the 21st century unfolding in all of its unimaginable complexities and conundrums, with fracture and fragmentation everywhere, can the world even be governed?
"Yes, it can, but only in the sense that the world has ever been governed, including in this highly institutionalised and regulated world - that is, minimally," Jeffrey Martinson, an associate professor of political science at Meredith College in North Carolina, said in an email.
That truth becomes evident listening to the first two days of leaders' speeches at the U.N. General Assembly this week. They are, to put it mildly, a global festival of competing wants and needs and complaints and demands - with climate and war and public health and inequality at the centre of it all, but fragmentation and chaos ever-present.
"The world," said Wavel Ramkalawan, president of the island nation of Seychelles, "stands at the brink."
His sentiment embodies the main challenge that surfaces each year since shortly after World War II when leaders have gathered at the United Nations: how exactly to balance hope and cold reality.
For the past several years, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres has set the tone with warnings of darkening skies. His imagery gets more dire each year, and this year he topped himself. First, in his opening speech Tuesday, he said that "our world is becoming unhinged." Then, at a U.N. climate conference on Wednesday, he upped the ante even more - if that was possible - with the statement that humanity has "opened the gates of hell."
Here's a sampling of what followed:
- "We are going through a crisis - possibly the most significant one since the end of the Second World War," said Alain Berset, the president of Switzerland.
- "We no longer trust any narratives," said Nataša Pirc Musar, the president of Slovenia.
- "We believe that the world ... needs to be reborn," said El Salvador President Nayib Bukele.
Not exactly excerpts from "The Power of Positive Thinking." Yet in listening to the speeches, it became clear that some of this was merely an attention-getting device. Even Guterres, with his apocalyptic language, offered ways forward. His answer - unsurprising, since he hammers it home every year - is a world that is "multipolar" and multilateral, the collaborative foundations upon which the United Nations was founded.
"We are rapidly moving towards a multipolar world," he said. "This is, in many ways, positive. It brings new opportunities for justice and balance in international relations. But multipolarity alone cannot guarantee peace."
Or even coherence. Being multilateral means shared responsibility, shared ideas, shared paths forward. And nations have internal constituencies that often prevent that kind of cooperation (Exhibit A: Some Americans' suspicion of the United Nations, a mostly advisory organization, as the path to a "one-world government").
"The idea of a single governing body able to understand and address each country's needs and aspirations has proved to be an illusion," Andrea Molle, a scholar in sociology and political science at Chapman University in California, said in an email. "One of the axioms of the system of international relations is that such a system is intrinsically anarchic."
Anarchic is right. That's going to happen when those 193 members try to form a family and get along under one roof. But the goal - a shared vision, but multilateral - is always the United Nations' most elusive quarry.
"We seem incapable of coming together to respond," Guterres said in his opening speech Tuesday. Here's the thing, though: He may have been right, but he was also wrong.
Because before him sat scores of leaders and deputy leaders and ministers and diplomats, who travelled a total of more than a million miles to be on one patch of land in New York City to talk, to hear others talk and to try to work it out. It's chaos, but it's chaos sublimated.
"One can argue this question of governance has always plagued the United Nations," Katie Laatikainen, a professor of political science and international relations at Adelphi University in New York, said in an email. "Perhaps governing and a unified narrative are too ambitious for an organisation like the U.N. Creative problem-solving and inclusion are worthy goals of multilateralism, and the U.N. has a respectable record in that regard."
Maybe that's enough. Maybe that's also what makes the most intricate era in human history governable: Sometimes we don't just kill each other. Sometimes, like this week, we draw together with all our contentiousness and all our ego, and we sit down and try to work it out. Maybe that act of trying is the entire point.
PM Hasina vows to attain SDGs overcoming challenges
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has reiterated her pledge to attain the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including the SDG-3 which is related to 'Good Health and Well-being', as part of her early engagements before addressing the General Assembly this year.
"We're committed to achieving the SDGs....despite the challenges steaming out the Covid-19 pandemic, Ukraine war and climate crisis," she said.
The prime minister reiterated the commitment on Wednesday when Chair of the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (PMNCH) Helen Clark paid a courtesy call on her on the sidelines of the 78th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) at the UN Headquarters here.
Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen briefed the reporters about the engagements of the prime minister, now in New York to attend the 78th UNGA session.
Hasina said her government is now implementing the National Health Sector Strategic Plan (2011-2030) and enhanced the fund allocation by 27 percent in the health sector in the current FY 2023-24 in line with the government's commitment to reach healthcare services to the doorsteps of every person.
During the meeting, Clark commended the overall development in the health sector under the visionary leadership of Sheikh Hasina.
"Bangladesh has set a rare instance in reducing mother and child mortality rates by ensuring healthcare services for all," she was quoted as saying.
5 points to reshape global financial system
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Tuesday said the world financial system needs a fundamental shift to address the ongoing financial crisis across the globe.
She put forward five points in reshaping the financial system while speaking at the High-level Roundtable titled "Towards a Fair International Financial Architecture" held at UN Headquarters here.
The points are:
First, MDBs, IFIs, and private lending agencies must re-align their priorities and mobilize additional funds for SDG implementation and climate action.
Second, funds need to be made available for developing countries at low-cost, concessional rates, and preferably in higher quantities of grants;
Third, all lending instruments should have disaster clauses to allow vulnerable countries to absorb shocks during crises; Fourth, fair and effective debt relief measures need to be given priority based on coordination and transparency among creditors; and, Fifth, instead of quotas, SDR borrowing limits should be based on needs and vulnerability, supported by easy lending processes.
"We recognise that the international financial architecture needs urgent reforms. But agreement on the nature and extent of the reforms remains lacking. Political will is important," Hasina said.
She mentioned that international public finances are found to be costly and out-of-reach.
"We try to stay clear of high-interest-rate loans to avoid debt distress. Bangladesh has never defaulted on its loan repayment, and we hope to maintain that record," she said.
Agreeing with the UN Secretary General that the global credit rating system must be reviewed, she said that the current rating system further restricts access to funds for many low- and middle-income countries.
"The limits on their voting rights, quotas, and representation in MDBs and IFIs also undermine their bargaining power," she said.
Sheikh Hasina said it is critical for the international financial architecture to be inclusive and representative of the Global South.
"Development narratives from countries like Bangladesh demonstrate that we can do our part. It is time for the international financial system to respond to our expectations," she said.
Noting that Bangladesh has long been credited for its sound macroeconomic management, the PM said, "Our economy grew by 8.15pc just before the pandemic."
She said the country's economy was put under stress due to the Covid pandemic and Ukraine war.
"Despite that we're still maintaining 6-7pc GDP growth, we are trying to curb inflation, manage the balance of payments, and maintain our development expenditures. There are evident strains on our fiscal and policy space," she added.
She said her government reduced the poverty level from 41.9pc to 18.7pc and the extreme poverty level from 25.5pc to 5.6pc in the country.
Also on Tuesday, Hasina held bilateral meetings separately with Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe, Timor-Leste President Dr Jose Ramos-Horta and Denmark Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen at the bilateral meeting room at the United Nations Headquarters.
"Various aspects of the issues related to the interests of Bangladesh were discussed during the meetings," Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen while briefing reporters.
He said Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Rafael Mariano Grossi, paid a courtesy call on Sheikh Hasina at the latter's place of residence on the day.
During the meeting, the prime minister put emphasis on the peaceful use of nuclear energy and reiterated Bangladesh's steadfast commitment to nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, said Momen.
Sheikh Hasina recalled that Bangladesh ratified the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty after she formed the government for her first term.
She expressed her sincere thanks to IAEA for providing technical support to Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission and Savar Nuclear Reactor Research Establishment.
Meanwhile, the prime minister highlighted the progress of Bangladesh in developing adversity-tolerant and high-yielding crop varieties developed by Bangladesh Institute of Nuclear Agriculture (BINA), said the FM.
Major economies must make fair share to avert impending climate crisis
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Wednesday alleged that Climate Vulnerable Forum's repeated calls for an equal distribution of climate finance between adaptation and mitigation have received little response.
"The Adaptation Fund needs to live up to expectations," she said while speaking at a High-Level Thematic Session of Climate Ambition Summit "Delivering Climate Justice: Accelerating Ambition and Implementation on Adaptation and Early Warnings for All" at the UN Headquarters.
Hasina said that as a climate justice advocate, Bangladesh stands ready to align with any constructive move that advances the agenda.
"We also expect the world's major economies to remain honest about climate change and do their fair share to avert the impending crisis," she said.
She mentioned that Bangladesh is generally considered a global leader in climate adaptation.
"We have a number of nature-based, structural, and technical solutions in place that can be replicated in other parts of the world," she said.
She mentioned that the government has released its National Adaptation Plan with a projected need for 230 billion US dollars by 2050.
"We would like to see the Adaptation Pipeline Accelerator come up with a viable model for financing and technological support," she said.
She mentioned that Bangladesh has made considerable investments in early warning systems.
She said that the government has reduced fatalities to a single digit compared to the millions that perished during the Bhola Cyclone in 1970.
"We have one of the world's largest community volunteer programmes comprising 65,000 coastal people. Our latest National Plan for Disaster Management has adopted an integrated multi-hazard early warning approach," she said.
She informed that Bangladesh is using mobile technology to provide regular updates on weather forecasts.
"Bangladesh has requested the UN system to conduct a table-top exercise on nation-wide earthquake modelling," she said.
She mentioned that Bangladesh's experience demonstrates that investing in adaptation and early warning makes perfect sense.
"We hope our development partners will seize these opportunities to deliver climate justice," she added.
The prime minister said that Bangladesh is working on its second satellite, Bangabadhu II, as an Earth Observatory.
"Bangladesh is willing to share its expertise with other vulnerable countries through South-South and triangular cooperation. I hope Early Warnings for All will be able to encourage MDBs and IFIs to join such efforts," she said.
PM attends banquet hosted by President Biden
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina joined a banquet US President Joe Biden hosted in honour of the world leaders attending the ongoing UNGA session here.
Biden hosted the banquet at The Metropolitan Museum of Art here on Tuesday evening in honour of the heads of state and government of the participating countries.
Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen confirmed Hasina's attendance while briefing reporters about the prime minister's engagements in New York.
PM's daughter and Thematic Ambassador of the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF) Saima Wazed accompanied the premier. At the banquet, the prime minister exchanged pleasantries with the other world leaders.
Additional reporting by AP, UNB
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