UNGA 2023: The need to tackle climate-fuelled disasters is one issue most leaders agree on

After a summer of earthquakes, wildfires and devastating floods, there is a growing consensus for action

Survivors wait to receive assistance in Morocco's Atlas Mountains following a powerful earthquake earlier this month. AFP
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With competing agendas at the UN General Assembly's High-Level Week, one theme that has emerged is the need to tackle natural disasters that are being worsened by climate change.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres began his opening speech by speaking about the flooding in Libya during Storm Daniel, saying that “many of the world’s challenges coalesced in one awful hellscape”.

“Thousands of people in Derna, Libya, lost their lives in epic, unprecedented flooding,” he said.

“They were victims many times over. Victims of years of conflict. Victims of climate chaos. Victims of leaders – near and far – who failed to find a way to peace”.

The compounding effects of a natural disaster and political failure highlight the challenges facing many underdeveloped countries as climate change makes extreme weather more frequent.

He went on to say that “Derna is a sad snapshot of the state of our world – the flood of inequity, of injustice, of inability to confront the challenges in our midst”.

The need to tackle climate change was also raised by US President Joe Biden when he addressed the UN General Assembly on Tuesday, listing off a series of extreme weather events: “record-breaking heatwaves in the United States and China; wildfires ravaging North America and southern Europe; a fifth year of drought in the Horn of Africa and the tragic flooding in Libya”.

“My heart goes out to the people of Libya,” he said.

He went on to say that “these snapshots tell an urgent story of what awaits us” if the world fails to “climate-proof the world”.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also spoke on natural disasters, which have become “a reality of our daily lives”.

Mr Erdogan spoke of the earthquake that hit Turkey and Syria on February 6 in one of the biggest natural disasters of this century, which affected up to 14 million people in his country.

He also spoke of the flooding in Libya and the earthquake in Morocco as further examples of the impact of natural disasters that require global responses.

High-Level Week at the UN General Assembly is expected to witness further statements about the threat of natural disasters, with the challenge being for countries to take tangible steps to confront climate change.

The UAE has said it will be seeking commitments from countries during this week in that vein. It also announced a “digital disaster response platform” aimed at helping countries affected by natural disasters to co-ordinate aid and support.

Updated: September 20, 2023, 5:21 AM