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Climate Change, Terrorism, and Sustainable Development dominate UN Summit

October 1, 2015

Syria Conflict: Power Struggle between the US and Russia

With climate change, terrorism, and sustainable development issues dominating the 70th session of United Nations’ summit, there were more differences and less unanimity among world leaders over Syria. In fact, this division was over how to end the four-year-old conflict in Syria that has resulted in the advent of the ISIS, the terrorist outfit that is proving to be more dangerous than al-Qaeda. Power struggle between the US and Russia is cited as the reason behind the rise in the ISIS, which while feeding to on-going  crisis in the West Asia, has forced millions of people in the region to flee to Europe, America, and Canada for shelter. According to a US Congressional report released on September 29th, more than 25,000 foreign fighters, including at least 4,500 Westerners, have joined the ISIS and other terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq. Most foreign fighters come from Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, and other Arab countries. In this background, the world expected that the UN should find out mechanism to deflate the crisis in West Asia. But strained ties between the US and Russia once again failed to provide any breakthrough to the Syrian crisis.

Interestingly, a week ahead of international leaders’ gathering at the UN, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and UK Prime Minister David Cameron had signaled flexibility in their stand towards Bashar al- Assad, the Syrian leader, who they have previously said must step down. Even US President Barack Obama, in his speech to world leaders at the UN, said that he was willing to cooperate with any nation to resolve the Syrian crisis. “The United States is prepared to work with any nation, including Russia or Iran, to resolve the conflict,” Obama said, adding, “We must recognize there cannot be—after so much bloodshed, so much carnage—a return to the pre-war status quo.” But on the sidelines of the UN summit, when Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin sat together for the talks, no cohesive plan was worked out to end the crisis. Although speaking to Russian journalists after the meeting, President Putin is said to have told them that the two leaders had found at least some common ground on the conflict. “We had some points in common, and we had differences,” Putin said, according to a Russian TV channel. Nonetheless, whatever be the common ground between the US and Russia on Syria, it is expected that the sooner the crisis comes to an end, the better it will be for the world. But in any case, the mistakes committed while drawing up plans for a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq must not be repeated in Syria.

United Nations Action to Counter Terrorism

On terrorism, several member states called upon the world body to implement the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy to combat any forms and manifestations of terrorism, including the use of the Internet for terrorist purposes. India-led By Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked world leaders to come on the same page on the issue of terrorism. He also cautioned the world from differentiating between “good terrorism and bad terrorism.” “The UN is celebrating its 70th anniversary but till now it has not been able to arrive at a definition for terrorism. If defining it takes so much time, how many years will it take to tackle terrorism?” he said.

Legally Binding and Universal Agreement on Climate Change

However, it was on the issue of climate change, the seriousness was overlapping in the statements of the world leaders. While the Indian Prime Minister called for more global emphasis and co-operation in developing renewable sources of energy through innovation, finance, and co-operation, French President Francois Hollande sounded alarm that reaching a successful climate deal in Paris is the last chance to save the planet. “Without this decision in Paris, it will be too late for the world,” Hollande warned. Beginning from November 30th, a twelve-day conference on climate change under the aegis of the UN is going to be held in the French capital. The conference’s objective is to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate change from all the nations of the world. India’s stand on the issue has been clear that it will commit to reducing emissions if the developed world provides more technology and finance to combat global warming. India’s plan to have 175 gigawatt of renewable energy by 2022 indicates the priority New Delhi has set in combating the challenges of climate change. However, China was no less evocative on climate change. Addressing the UN summit for the first time since becoming Chinese President Xi Jinping said, “We should build an ecosystem that puts Mother Nature and green development first.” He added: “We should reconcile industrial development with nature and pursue harmony between man and nature to achieve sustainable development of the world and the all-round development of man.” The US President said consequences of climate change will impact on the life of the world’s poorest people. “All of our countries will be affected by a changing climate, but the world’s poorest people will bear the heaviest burden from rising seas and more intense droughts, shortage of water and food,” Obama said.

Sustainable Development Agenda of the UN

UK Prime Minister David Cameron was more forthcoming on sustainable development agenda of the UN. Participating at the summit, he was of the view that eliminating the scourge of extreme poverty was within the grasp of the world. Yet his stand was that poverty cannot be eradicated without fighting climate change. “So we commit to make progress in a way that is sustainable and protects our one and only planet for the long term and treasures and conserves our natural resources for future generations,” the British Prime Minister said. In fact, there was an overwhelming support from international leaders, including African countries to ambitious 15-year UN plan to tackle the world’s biggest problems, from eradicating poverty to preserving the planet to reducing inequality. What could be seen as humanitarian effort, even Pope Francis backed the UN’s sustainable development agenda, calling it “an important sign of hope” at a very troubled time in the Middle East and Africa.

In all, the UN summit remained successful in giving a shape and direction to issues like sustainable development and climate change, but whether it achieved anything meaningful on terrorism, is still in the realm of public discourse around the world.