Skip to content

Climate, development, India top of mind as Trudeau arrives at UN General Assembly

NEW YORK — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrived Tuesday at the UN General Assembly with the planet at a climate crossroads — and Canada facing an ever more fraught relationship with the world's fastest-growing economy.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres listens as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks at the Sustainable Development Goals closing session Tuesday, September 19, 2023 in New York. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

NEW YORK — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrived Tuesday at the UN General Assembly with the planet at a climate crossroads — and Canada facing an ever more fraught relationship with the world's fastest-growing economy. 

The day before, Trudeau rocked the House of Commons with "credible allegations" linking agents of India's government to the deadly shooting this past June of a Sikh leader in Surrey, B.C. 

At the UN, however — a place where political realities have a way of sabotaging multilateral visions of peace, prosperity and equity — Trudeau was determined to focus on the latter.

"The time has come for all of us to step up and understand: the future is expecting us all to meet this moment," he told a summit taking stock of progress to date on the UN's sustainable development goals. 

Those goals, established in 2015 as the UN's road map for a safe, equitable and peaceful world, include lofty ambitions like eliminating poverty and hunger, guaranteeing clean water and ending inequality. 

But progress has largely stalled, hampered by political intransigence, sluggish post-pandemic economies and the escalating problem of conflict in both Ukraine and the developing world. 

The goals may sound fanciful, but they're anything but, Trudeau said as he gently urged leaders to get serious about achieving them. 

"They're not some wish list generated by academics of global nice-to-haves. They are the building blocks of success in each and every one of our countries and each and every one of our communities," he said.

"The truth is, they will get harder and more expensive the longer we drag our heels."

The theme for this year's assembly is "Rebuilding trust and reigniting global solidarity" — two commodities that even UN Secretary-General António Guterres admitted have been hard to come by of late. 

"Our world is becoming unhinged," Guterres said during his opening address. "Geopolitical tensions are rising. Global challenges are mounting. And we seem incapable of coming together to respond."

Emergencies, on the other hand, are plentiful. 

The climate crisis grew ever more real in 2023, with a record-setting wildfire season in Canada, catastrophic flooding in Libya and a record 23 separate billion-dollar weather disasters in the U.S. in just the first eight months. 

Russia's war in Ukraine grinds on, the global angst augmented by last week's ominous meeting in Vladivostok between President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

And the uneasy truce of the UN's own Black Sea grain deal has collapsed, all but cutting off the developing world from one of the planet's most vital sources of food, cooking oil and fertilizer. 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who shared marquee billing Tuesday with Guterres and U.S. President Joe Biden, delivered a stark warning to leaders about Putin's ultimate ambitions. 

"When hatred is weaponized against one nation, it never stops there," Zelenskyy told delegates, one of whom happened to be Russia's deputy ambassador to the UN. 

"The goal of the present war against Ukraine is to turn our land, our people, our lives, our resources into weapons against you — against the international rules-based order."

He said tens of thousands of Ukrainian children have been repatriated by Russia since the invasion began and are being taught to "hate Ukraine," an indoctrination he described as "genocide." 

Reinforcing the international coalition of support for Ukraine was also one of the U.S. president's main goals Tuesday. 

"We must stand up to this naked aggression today to deter other would-be aggressors tomorrow," Biden said. 

"That is why the United States, together with our allies and partners around the world, will continue to stand with the brave people of Ukraine as they defend their sovereignty and territorial integrity — and their freedom."

West Africa has seen no fewer than eight military coups since 2020, most recently in Niger and Gabon, while Haiti remains racked by political chaos and gang violence, all in the midst of an unchecked cholera outbreak.   

"It's a serious moment in the life of the world," said Bob Rae, Canada's ambassador to the UN.

"There was sort of a school of thought that said, 'Every day, everything's getting better, it's not getting worse.' Right now, we can't say that."

A report Monday from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration catalogued the highest number of climate-related disasters ever recorded in a single calendar year — one that still has three months to go.  

So far, 2023 ranks as the ninth-warmest in the continental U.S. in 129 years, with new temperature records being set just last month in Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida and a potentially historic hurricane season now underway. 

"The world is increasingly coming to grips with the reality that climate change is not a future event, it's a current event," Rae said. 

"It's a today issue, and it's as much about resilience, adaptation and really investing in infrastructure and other ways of protecting people's health and safety for the current crisis, which will be ongoing." 

There again, Biden did not mince words. 

"Taken together, these snapshots tell an urgent story of what awaits us if we fail to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and begin to climate-proof our world," he said. 

"From (day 1) of my administration, the United States has treated this crisis as the existential threat that it is — not only to us, but to all of humanity."

That sense of urgency was palpable on city streets all over the world Friday and through the weekend, with massive protests unfolding throughout Europe, Southeast Asia, Africa and the U.S. 

Thousands marched in cities across Canada, part of a co-ordinated show of force in advance of the UN meetings and Climate Week in New York, where the protests culminated Sunday in a massive rally that attracted tens of thousands. 

"Climate chaos is breaking new records, but we cannot afford the same old broken record of scapegoating and waiting for others to move first," Guterres said. 

"To all those working, marching and championing real climate action, I want you to know that you are on the right side of history and that I am with you."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 19, 2023.  

James McCarten, The Canadian Press

push icon
Be the first to read breaking stories. Enable push notifications on your device. Disable anytime.
No thanks