Expo 2020 Dubai is a beacon of hope, says UN General Assembly head

Abdulla Shahid spoke exclusively to 'The National' while in the UAE for a series of Expo events

Abdulla Shahid, President of the UN General Assembly, speaks to 'The National' in Dubai. Photo: Chris Whiteoak / The National
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Expo 2020 Dubai is a beacon of hope for the world, the President of the UN General Assembly told The National on Monday.

“The spirit of the Expo and what we are seeing from the Expo goes fully in line with the vision that I've laid down for my presidency, the presidency of hope,” Abdulla Shahid said in an exclusive interview during a visit to Dubai.

Mr Shahid took up the presidency in September with five main goals that he calls the “five rays of hope”.

“Specifically, the first two rays of hope – the Expo has given us hope and assurance that with vaccines and protocols you can actually come back to a normalcy, whereby you can meet loved ones,” he said.

The UN official, who is also the Foreign Minister of the Maldives, is in the UAE for five days to take part in several Expo events on climate change and biodiversity.

During his trip he has met several UAE officials and is expected to deliver remarks at four more Expo events.

Mr Shahid said his engagements in the UAE align with his priorities on delivering urgent climate action, addressing the needs of the planet, recovering from the pandemic and rebuilding sustainably.

“The UAE has always been a beacon of hope, to not only the nation but also throughout the world. It has shown its pioneering leadership in renewable energy, science and technology. It has even moved from this planet to the realms of other planets,” Mr Shahid said.

Expo 2020 is aiming to gather around 25 million visitors over six months. All ticket holders must show proof of vaccination or have a fresh negative PCR test.

It will be the biggest global gathering since the outbreak of the pandemic in March 2020.

Covid-19 recovery

Mr Shahid's other priorities are to deal with Covid-19 on a global scale. He said vaccinating the international community without discrimination was the only way to recover from the global pandemic.

“The only way out of this pandemic is to make sure that everyone is vaccinated because the virus has shown us that no one is safe until everyone is safe,” he said.

“So, let us get a vaccine for everyone,” he said, adding that he will convene a high-level meeting of the General Assembly next January on this issue.

The UN official said that only 2-3 per cent of people in Africa and developing countries have been vaccinated. Conversely, in many developed countries, citizens are already taking booster shots.

“My call is to ensure that everyone in the world is vaccinated by the end of 2022. I have confidence that we can achieve it. It is doable,” Mr Shahid said.

Climate change

Mr Shahid's visit comes about a month before the Cop26 UN climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, where the countries that signed the 2015 Paris climate accord will announce pledges to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

The $100 billion that was promised each year for developing countries to fund climate change reforms has not been met, he said.

What is more challenging is not just attaining the funds but that disbursement is hindered, especially for small island states, he said.

President of United Nations General Assembly and Foreign Minister of Maldives, Abdulla Shahid in Dubai

“On top, we do not have the capacity, or the data that is required to create bankable projects, which is required by the funding agencies,” Mr Shahid said.

“So the question now is not only reaching $100 billion, but getting access to what is available. My call to member states will be to let us get to it,” he said.

The upcoming summit in Glasgow will meet “the expectation of the entire international community, especially the expectations of countries like the Maldives, the small island developing countries and the landlocked countries.”

Mr Shahid comes from the tropical Maldives, which may lose its entire islands unless it can quickly access cheap financing to fight the impact of climate change. It is vulnerable to the anticipated rise in sea levels that experts say is inevitable in the coming years.

The UN official believes that "humanity has solutions. We just need to make that very brave, courageous step forward."

"Humanity must be at the centre of all our efforts," he said.

Updated: October 05, 2021, 7:10 AM