Words like "existential threat" were part of the panorama of the leader's speech as well as references to "this august body."
The following analysis is by Ted Anthony, who covered the aftermath of September 11 in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and has written on international issues for The Associated Press since 1995.
The planet is warming up. The island nations are escaping. A nuclear war between Pakistan and India could be a "bloodbath." Governments are not working together as they used to. Polarization is tearing us apart. Murder. Migration. Poverty. Corruption. Inequality. Violations of sovereignty. Impotence. Despair.
"The problems of our time are extraordinary," said Ibraham Mohamed Solih, president of the Maldives, an island nation in the Indian Ocean threatened by the rising waters of climate change, at the UN General Assembly a few days ago.
There are those mornings when you come to work and everyone seems irritable. This is how he felt at the United Nations last week during the annual meeting of world leaders. Speech after bleak speech by leaders from all corners of the planet pointed to a more bleak conclusion than you: humanity clearly needs a spa day.
The United Nations was founded with an optimistic fervor after the devastation of World War II, with the idea that a cooperative body of countries could build a brighter future by learning to get along. Although that hope remains a fundamental basis, the real tenor these days seems to set a lower level: try to mitigate climate Armageddon and prevent some of the 193 diligent attempts of its member nations from weakening and sometimes being destroyed. mutually.
So words like "existential threat" were part of the panorama of the leader's speech last week as the usual references to "this august body."
"We are living in a time when the magnitude and number of lasting crises is constantly increasing," said Igor Dodon, president of Moldova. “We have had enough wars. We don't want new wars, "said Iraqi President Barham Salih, who would certainly know. And from Roch Marc Christian Kabore, president of Burkina Faso, came this euphemism:" International news has been marked by tension. "
Some of this is pure rhetoric. If you are a nation in the world and want something: money, troops, action, understanding, you must pose a problem so that you can propose the solution or, at least, persuade your countrymen that a solution is necessary.
Then, leaders and diplomats bring many problems to the UN at this time of year, hoping to take advantage of a global stage, and a rare one, if you are a smaller member of the community of nations.
Climate change was a central part of that.
The UN decision to really put the issue at the forefront and center produced both a youth climate summit and a full event the day before the leaders' speeches began. Many nations responded to the call to sound an alarm powerful enough to be noticed collectively.
"The challenges of the planet and people are colliding with far-reaching consequences," said Belize Foreign Minister Wilfred Elrington.
However, even given that context, it felt as if there was much more despair than normal. The UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, began Tuesday by opening the process, painting a bleak picture of this micromoment in the history of mankind.
"We are living in a world of restlessness," Guterres said.
"Many people fear being trampled, frustrated, left behind," he said. “The machines take their jobs. Traffickers take their dignity. Demagogues take their rights. The warlords take their lives. Fossil fuels take their future. "
However, is this so different from before? There have been many moments during the 74-year history of the United Nations in which we have been on the edge of politics, politics, displaced people, epidemics, the possible nuclear war. Chaos has always reigned, right?
Not quite like that. The speakers' agenda for Saturday was full of island nations around the world that, as many of them said, are on the frontline of climate change. For them, it's not just about melting glaciers or species extinctions; it is the amplified hurricanes that could erase them and the rising waters of the ocean that could slowly turn them into underwater ghosts.
So that mood? They feel it particularly acute.
“There is only one common homeland and one human race. There is no Planet B or a viable alternative planet to live, ”said Gaston Browne, prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, an island nation in the Caribbean.
But other nations that addressed the UN General Assembly were not optimistic about where we are as civilization. Two of the largest, China and Russia, were so direct about assessing the global landscape they saw before them.
"The world today is not a peaceful place," said Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
"The number of conflicts on the planet has not decreased and enmity has not weakened," said Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov. “Every year it is more difficult to address these and many other challenges. The fragmentation of the international community is only increasing. ”
As is tradition with the UN, the leaders provided solutions to propose, from the themes (reduce the "trust deficit") to the highly specific ones (review the Security Council to increase the permanent representation of Africa). Perhaps the most common was a renewed call for a total embrace of multilateralism, which many nations, particularly smaller ones with less global thrust, see as their only salvation.
This is particularly true in an era in which a growing number of high-profile leaders, including the President of the United States, Donald Trump, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, are turning towards more unilateral approaches to the United States. world.
"The 2020s could be remembered in history as a turning point, or as the moment when multilateralism lost its way," said Rwandan President Paul Kagame.
The United Nations is often criticized for talking a lot and not doing much. But when it comes to speaking eloquently, particularly about the future, he has always been one of the strongest players on the field.
Then, of course, there were gems of optimism that shone through the garbage: the ability of the UN to shape that brighter future, about the potential to sublimate the conflict in projects and agreements and resolutions and peacekeeping.
“I no longer believe in pessimism. It's too easy, "said French President Emmanuel Macron.
Good words, and that's where the ideas begin. However, after a week of oratory dejection of some of the most intelligent, informed and powerful people on Earth, you should ask yourself: if the United Nations is not the place for optimism about a shared prosperous future, it may be time I really start worrying.