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The Necessary Voice of the Global South

The UN General Assembly meeting left its audience with a sense both of dire urgency and of déjà vu. At the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, the UN must prove that it can translate calls for action – particularly those made by developing-country leaders – into real progress.

MADRID – “We face the greatest cascade of crises in our lifetimes,” United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres declared in his speech at the opening of the UN General Assembly’s high-level meeting for leaders of its 193 member countries. When it comes to two of those crises – climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic – it was the leaders of smaller and developing countries, rather than those of the world’s major powers, that had the most compelling stories to tell.

Nigerien Minister of Foreign Affairs Hassoumi Massaoudou, for example, highlighted the “devastating effects” of climate change in his country. These include intensifying droughts, such as the one in 2010 that killed an estimated 4.8 million cattle – roughly 25% of the country’s herd – at a cost of more than $700 million.

Meanwhile, rising sea levels threaten to cause irreversible changes to the ecosystems of Pacific island countries, and even to submerge them completely. “Will Tuvalu remain a member state of the UN if it is finally submerged?” asked Prime Minister Kausea Natano.