Ukraine, AI and sustainable development to top UK agenda at UN gathering

UK PM Rishi Sunak criticised after sending deputy to in his place for New York summit

Foreign Secretary James Cleverly will be part of the UK delegation to the UN summit. Reuters
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The world must recommit to the UN's sustainable development goals if the ambitious targets are to be met, UK ministers and diplomats will urge at a summit of the global body next week.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has been accused of snubbing the gathering in New York, citing diary pressures for his absence and instead sending a team headed by his deputy Oliver Dowden.

He is not the only world leader expected to miss the summit, which is set to hold discussions on the war in Ukraine, artificial intelligence and the threat of climate change.

French President Emmanuel Macron is not expected to attend, and neither is China’s Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The UN gathering comes only weeks after world leaders met at the G20 summit in India.

The British Deputy Prime Minister will be joined in New York by Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, who arrives on Sunday and will hold talks with his US and French counterparts among others during the trip.

While there the UK delegation is expected to focus on stressing the importance of a “functioning” multilateral system, with calls too for a renewed effort to meet the UN’s sustainable development goals by 2030.

The conflict in Ukraine will also be on the agenda, with Mr Dowden – a close ally of the Prime Minister – set to attend UN Security Council sessions during the week.

He will also use an address to the general assembly to call for countries to co-operate on new technology such as AI, with meetings also due to be held with top tech companies during the American visit.

It comes as the UK prepares to host an AI summit in November, with Mr Sunak keen to establish a key role for Britain in harnessing and regulating the technology.

Mr Dowden said the UK has always worked closely with the UN to create a "safer, healthier and more prosperous world".

“I look forward to using this year to discuss the challenges and opportunities of AI, so that the benefits of this revolutionary technology are felt fairly across the world, and how Britain can be at the forefront of that effort.

Mr Dowden said he would be “challenging” Russia over the war.

The Foreign Secretary will also stress the need to ensure that international support for Kyiv remains strong, as the war drags on.

Mr Cleverly said that the global system is under strain, particularly from intensifying geopolitical rivalry.

He also added that sustainable development goals are seriously off-track, and that the world needs to come together to recommit and accelerate their delivery by 2030.

He added: “Putin is counting on the misguided assumption that he can outlast international support for Ukraine.

“We will not be deterred. It is in all our interests to ensure that Russia is defeated and evicted from Ukraine’s sovereign territory as quickly as possible.”

Updated: September 17, 2023, 5:54 PM