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The United Nations General Assembly is gathering in New York this week amid continued divisions between global powers, particularly the US, China and Russia. The three countries wield immense power through their position on the UN Security Council, leading to polarisation on the world stage and making global action all the more difficult.
The UAE Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Lana Nusseibeh, described the current time as a “very geopolitically challenging period in human history”, and yet she said it has made the role of the UAE as “bridge builder” all the more important.
Soon after assuming its position as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council in January 2022, the UAE, like other nations, was faced by a polarised UN Security Council after the Russian war in Ukraine.
Speaking to The National ahead of the high-level debate at the UN General Assembly, Ms Nusseibeh said the “fracture” from the moment of the Ukraine war has led “basically to a breakdown of relations between the permanent five members and a polarisation in the council, and you see elected members [of the council] struggling to try to find consensus on so many files as a result”.
And so “the main challenge at the moment is mitigating the impact of polarisation in the work of the Council … the UAE continues to advocate for the compartmentalisation of disagreement and the importance of focusing on common priorities”.
Among those priorities is climate action, which Ms Nusseibeh described as a “defining moment priority” for the UAE at UNGA this week as it seeks commitments from countries ahead of Cop28 at the end of November in Dubai.
She said: “We take on our presidency of the Cop this year with a great sense of responsibility, knowing that climate change is the greatest long-term peril to humanity today.”
She stressed that the focus is on “an inclusive and results-orientated Cop that keeps the 1.5 degrees goal within reach and dramatically scales up investment in the coping capacity of vulnerable communities”.
“The delegation headed by our Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed will be engaging with member states to make ambitious financial and policy commitments at Cop28 across a range of sectors … ambition is of the essence.
“At the same time, we are leveraging our position as a non-permanent member of the Security Council to advocate for enhanced international support for the most climate change and conflict-affected countries – which in many cases receive 80 times less finance per capita than the developing country average.”
Momentum for Cop28
The UAE sees the General Assembly’s high-level week as a “major opportunity to raise ambition and build political momentum ahead of Cop28”, with Cop28 President-designate Dr Sultan Al Jaber holding dozens of meetings this week.
Sheikh Abdullah leads the UAE delegation which includes 10 ministers this year and is expected to have 80 bilateral meetings, in addition to several multilateral meetings. The accompanying ministers are expected to attend 200 multilateral meetings this week, divided between them. And in addition to the focus on climate, “the UAE is doubling down on economic partnership and integration, including finalising and initiating Cepa [comprehensive economic partnership agreement] agreements,” according to Ms Nusseibeh. She said the UAE will be “doubling down on focus on regional security and stability as being essential bedrocks” while “leading with Cop28 for this year”.
With four heads of government of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council missing this year’s meeting – only US President Joe Biden is attending – there is a further emphasis on the erosion of trust among key UN member states. Ms Nusseibeh said this erosion “has led to the waning influence of multilateral forums, making collective solutions to global problems such as climate change and sustainable development harder to achieve. It has also revived both the threat and use of force as a tool of international relations”.
She added that “war in Ukraine continues to have knock-on effects for the entire world with rising commodity prices and growing food insecurity affecting millions, especially those living in developing countries”. This is expected to be a major issue of discussion at the UN this week as many leaders from developing countries will call for a “compartmentalisation” of disagreements to allow for improved grain exports.
UAE combats extremism and promotes human fraternity
In four months’ time, the UAE will complete its tenure as an elected member of the UN Security Council. And while Ms Nusseibeh acknowledged that events such as the Houthi attack on Abu Dhabi in January 2021 and the Ukraine war added challenges to the UAE’s time on the council, she was also keen to highlight several successes. One such success was the unanimous adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 2686 last summer.
Ms Nusseibeh said: “One of the issues I feel most proud about is the adoption of resolution 2686 on tolerance and international peace and security. This was a priority for our leadership and a way of amplifying the initiatives that have been undertaken at home, from the inauguration of the Abrahamic Family House to the historic signature of the Document on Human Fraternity by the Pope and the Imam of Al Azhar.”
The resolution was co-drafted with the UK “and we succeeded in securing a unanimous adoption, which has a particular symbolic and political weight”. The resolution – the first of its kind – recognises that hate speech and acts of extremism are directly linked to the outbreak, escalation and recurrence of conflict. It also urges states and international and regional organisations to publicly condemn violence, hate speech and extremism, and encourages all stakeholders to speak out against hate speech and extremism.
Ms Nusseibeh said: “It is also the first UN resolution to globally address extremism in a cross-cutting manner without the narrow and qualified concept of ‘violent extremism’ which marks a shift in the UN’s recent approach on the issue.”
While the UAE has held its non-permanent seat at the UN, Afghanistan has risen in importance in needing global attention after the US withdrawal in August 2021 and the collapse of the Afghan republic. The UAE is the “co-penholder” with Japan on Afghanistan, which means it works on draft resolutions and issues related to Afghanistan on the council. Ms Nusseibeh explained that “thus far, the council has unanimously adopted three resolutions on Afghanistan by embracing consultation and inclusivity to accommodate diverse perspectives, without diluting key priorities”.
One resolution of particular importance was resolution 2681 which “unequivocally condemned the Taliban’s decisions that violated the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan, showcasing the potential of unified action despite complex challenges and some divergences among Council Members.”
She added the resolution’s success was in part because it “garnered co-sponsorship from an unusually high number of 90 member states, including many from Muslim-majority countries”.
While polarisation remains on the political front, Ms Nusseibeh stressed the importance of the humanitarian role of the UN and the need for collective efforts to help those most vulnerable. In that vein, the UAE has announced a “digital disaster response platform” to try to co-ordinate global humanitarian efforts.
Ms Nusseibeh said: “Following the devastating impacts of natural disasters in Syria, Turkey and now Morocco and Libya, the Security Council met to discuss the need to improve humanitarian response efforts globally.
“We made clear to our fellow council members that the current system simply cannot keep pace with the crises of the present. New approaches and technologies are needed to respond to natural disasters in real-time, when every second counts.”
The platform will aim to address “a clear gap in our humanitarian capabilities and help countries impacted by natural disasters get what they need, where they need it – as quickly as possible”.
Back to the UN high-level week, Ms Nusseibeh said that “this year marks the midway point on our road to 2030, the deadline the international community set out to implement the Sustainable Development Goals. But the reports of our collective performance are very disappointing.”
She warned that “the world is falling far short of meeting development targets, with only a little more than 10 per cent of the SDGs on track”. The SDG Summit held this week is “widely considered to be the most important event of this year’s UNGA … as it is designed to rally the political momentum at the highest level and to chart out an actionable pathway to set us back on track for meeting our development goals”.
Furthermore, the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres is also convening a summit on climate on Wednesday. Ms Nusseibeh said: “We are working hand in hand with the Secretary General’s office to ensure that ambition remains high and that his advocacy around climate feeds into Cop28’s success.”