UN General Assembly kicks off in New York City

By Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya, Melissa Mahtani and Veronica Rocha, CNN

Updated 0102 GMT (0902 HKT) September 22, 2021
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12:26 p.m. ET, September 21, 2021

Aerial images of Amazon rainforest contradict Bolsonaro's UNGA speech, organizations say 

From CNN's AnneClaire Stapleton 

Aerial view from Sept. 15 of an area in the Amazon that Greenpeace says has been deforested for the expansion of livestock, in Lábrea, Amazonas state.
Aerial view from Sept. 15 of an area in the Amazon that Greenpeace says has been deforested for the expansion of livestock, in Lábrea, Amazonas state. Victor Moriyama/Amazônia em Chamas/Greenpeace

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's speech at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) is contradicted by data and aerial images, non-governmental organizations say. 

Bolsonaro said in his remarks that the Amazon had “a 32% reduction in deforestation in the month of August when compared to August of the previous year.”

Brazil's president used numbers from the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research (INPE) released on Friday that points to a 918 square kilometers deforestation rate for August.

The number is almost double of what was registered in August 2018, before the Bolsonaro administration. Data from the Amazon Institute of Man and Environment (Imazon) – which monitors the deforested areas by satellite – however, points to 1.606 square kilometers of deforestation in August, a 7% rise in comparison to the same month of 2020. It is also the highest rate for August in a decade, according to Imazon´s satellites imagery.

After Bolsonaro's speech in New York, Amazon in Flames Alliance, a group formed by NGOs Amazon Watch, Greenpeace Brazil, and the Brazilian Climate Observatory, released aerial images of an expedition at Rondonia and Amazonas states on Brazilian Amazon between Sept. 14 and 17.

The images show large areas of the Amazon deforested in July, already consumed by fire, scars from mining activities within protected areas, illegal landing strips, large plots of land being prepared for planting, and cattle grazing alongside recent fires.

“While Bolsonaro was en route to New York, we flew over the Amazon to record the reality of the destruction of the largest tropical rainforest in the world: illegal deforestation and burning. The images don’t lie, but the same cannot be said of the President's speech at the UN,” says Stela Herschmann, climate policy specialist at the Climate Observatory.

Some background: Under the Bolsonaro administration, Amazonas surpassed Rondonia as the third state with the worst level of deforestation, according to INPE. In August alone, 8.588 fire spots were registered in the state, surpassing the record for the same month in 2020, which, in turn, had surpassed that of 2019. Fires are used by land grabbers and ranchers as a tool to deforest areas and take the land.

“Enforcement agencies such as IBAMA need to recover their capacity to act. Losing the southern Amazon, considered the heart of the Amazon, could bring us even closer to the forest’s tipping point. This is a time to act against the crimes, and not to cover them up,” says Ana Paula Vargas, Amazon Watch Brazil Program director.

Aerial view from Sept. 15 of an area in the Amazon that Greenpeace says has been deforested for the expansion of livestock, in Lábrea, Amazonas state.
Aerial view from Sept. 15 of an area in the Amazon that Greenpeace says has been deforested for the expansion of livestock, in Lábrea, Amazonas state. Victor Moriyama/Amazônia em Chamas/Greenpeace

An aerial image released by NGOs Amazon Watch, Greenpeace Brazil, and the Brazilian Climate Observatory from an expedition in the Amazonas states.
An aerial image released by NGOs Amazon Watch, Greenpeace Brazil, and the Brazilian Climate Observatory from an expedition in the Amazonas states. Victor Moriyama/Amazônia em Chamas/Greenpeace

11:03 a.m. ET, September 21, 2021

Unvaccinated Brazilian president tells UN General Assembly he wants to fight Covid-19

From CNN's Hira Humayun

(Timothy A. Clary/Pool/AP)
(Timothy A. Clary/Pool/AP)

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who has been criticized for his handling of the global pandemic, told the UN General Assembly that Covid-19 “caught everyone by surprise” in 2020.

“I have always advocated that we should fight the virus, and unemployment at the same time, and with the same sense of responsibility," he said.

Bolsonaro, who is unvaccinated against the virus, said lockdown measures "left a legacy of inflation, particularly in foodstuffs, all over the world."

“In Brazil, to cater to the needs of the low-income population, who were forced to stay at home by decisions taken by governors and mayors, people who lost their income, we granted an emergency aid of 800 US dollars to 68 million people in 2020.”

The Brazilian president has publicly spoken out against lockdowns, receiving criticism from governors, such as São Paulo governor João Doria.

However, Bolsonaro said that by November this year, all citizens “who have chosen to be vaccinated in Brazil will be duly covered."

"We support vaccination efforts," he said, although he acknowledged his own government's lack of wider vaccine participation. “However, my administration has not supported a vaccine or health passport, or any other vaccine related obligation.”

10:59 a.m. ET, September 21, 2021

Biden wraps remarks with optimistic call for global community to rally behind "a better future"

From CNN's Jasmine Wright

(Evan Vucci/AP)
(Evan Vucci/AP)

President Biden wrapped his more than 30 minutes remarks to the UN General Assembly with an optimistic call for the global community to rally behind building “a better future,” by meeting the list of challenges he laid out in his first address as president. 

“Let me be clear, I am not agnostic about the future we want for the world,” Biden said. “The future will belong to those who embrace human dignity. Not trample it. The future belongs to those who unleash the potential of their people, not those who stifle it.”

Biden said democracy lives in peaceful protesters, human rights advocates, journalists, women fighting for freedom among others in countries like Belarus, Zambia, Syria and Cuba, while nodding to the US’ own struggles in democracy. 

“I stand here today the first time in 20 years the United States is not at war. We’ve turned the page. All the unmatched strength, energy, commitment, will and resources, our nation are now fully and squarely focused on what's ahead of us, not what was behind," he said.

10:50 a.m. ET, September 21, 2021

Biden says US isn’t seeking a new Cold War, in nod to competition with China

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

President Biden, without naming China, said the United States isn’t seeking to reenter a global era of conflict akin to the decades-long standoff with the Soviet Union.

“The United States will compete, and will compete vigorously, and lead with our values and our strength,” Biden said in his first address to the UN General Assembly on Tuesday.

He said the US would “stand up for our allies and our friends and oppose attempts by stronger countries that dominate weaker ones.” He cited attempts to change territory by force, economic coercion and disinformation as examples of malign activity the US would oppose. Still, he said those efforts should be interpreted as aggression.

“We're not seeking — say it again — we are not seeking a new Cold War or a world divided into rigid blocks,” he said.

“The United States is ready to work with any nation that steps up and pursues peaceful resolution to shared challenges, even if we have intense disagreement in other areas, because we'll all suffer the consequences of our failure,” he said.

10:55 a.m. ET, September 21, 2021

Biden: "I stand here today for the first time in 20 years with the United States not at war" 

From CNN's Betsy Klein

(Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)
(Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

President Biden told world leaders that his country is focused squarely on the future, noting that ending the war in Afghanistan was a step in moving in that direction.

"These are the challenges that we will determine what the world looks like for our children and grandchildren and what they'll inherit. We can only meet them by looking to the future. I stand here today for the first time in 20 years with the United States not at war. We've turned the page," Biden said. 

"All the unmatched strength, energy and commitment, will and resources of our nation are now fully and squarely focused on what's ahead of us, not what was behind," he continued.

Biden said the US is looking to lead on the global stage, but with the help of its allies and partners.

"As we look ahead, we will lead, we will lead on all the greatest challenges of our time from Covid to climate, peace and security, human dignity and human rights, but we will not go it alone," he told the United Nations. "We'll lead together with our allies and partners and in cooperation with all those who believe as we do, that this is within our power to meet these challenges, to build a future, to lift all of our people and preserve this planet. But none of this is inevitable. It's a choice."

"I can tell you where America stands, we will choose to build a better future, we, you and I. We have the will and capacity to make it better," he continued. "Ladies and gentlemen, we cannot afford to waste any more time. Let's get to work. Let's make our better future now. It's within our power and our capacity."

Earlier in his speech: US President described his worldview of a “new era of relentless diplomacy” in his first remarks to the United Nations General Assembly as President, calling on the world to work together on shared challenges.

Calling it a “moment intermingled with great pain and extraordinary possibility” amid the Covid-19 pandemic, Biden said the “shared grief is a poignant reminder that our collective future will hinge on our ability to recognize our common humanity, and act together.”

Biden reiterated his belief that it is an “inflection point in history” and the dawn of “what must be a decisive decade for the world.”

He framed the moment as an opportunity for the world’s democracies, echoing sentiments casting this time in history as a question of whether democracy can prevail over autocracy.

“Will we affirm and uphold the human dignity and human rights under which nations and common cause more than seven decades ago formed this institution?” Biden asked. He continued, “Or, allow these universal principles to be trampled and twisted in the pursuit of naked political power? In my view, how we answer these questions in this moment, whether we choose to fight for our shared future or not, will reverberate for generations yet to come.”

The President called on world leaders to work together to defeat the pandemic and take steps toward preventing the next pandemic, combat climate change, strengthen the UN charter and human rights globally, and collaborate on trade, cyber, emerging technologies, and the threat of terrorism.

10:43 a.m. ET, September 21, 2021

US must be on guard against terrorism abroad and "in our own backyard," Biden says

From CNN's Adrienne Vogt

(Eduardo Munoz/Pool/AFP/Getty Images)
(Eduardo Munoz/Pool/AFP/Getty Images)

President Biden said the US must remain vigilant against global and domestic terrorism in his address to the United Nations General Assembly.

"We must also remain vigilant to the threat of terror, that terrorism poses, to all our nations, whether emanating from distant regions of the world or in our own backyard," Biden said in front of world leaders.

"The bitter sting of terrorism is real. We've almost all experienced it. Last month, we lost 13 American heroes and almost 200 innocent Afghan civilians in a heinous terrorist attack at the Kabul airport. Those who commit acts of terrorism against us will continue to find a determined enemy in the United States. The world today is not the world of 2001, though. And the United States is not the same country we were when we were attacked on 9/11, 20 years ago. Today, we're better equipped to detect and prevent terrorist threats and we are more resilient in our ability to repel them and to respond," he said.

Biden also said the US will work with local partners to decrease the need for large military deployments.

"We'll meet terrorist threats that arise today and in the future with a full range of tools available to us, including working in cooperation with local partners, so that we need not be so reliant on large-scale military deployments. One of the most important ways we can effectively enhance security and reduce violence is by seeking to improve the lives of the people all over the world who see that their governments are not serving their needs," he said.

10:41 a.m. ET, September 21, 2021

Biden announces effort to mobilize $100 billion to support climate action in developing nations

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

(Eduardo Munoz/Pool/AFP/Getty Images)
(Eduardo Munoz/Pool/AFP/Getty Images)

President Biden, citing “widespread death and devastation” due to climate change, announced Tuesday he would work with Congress to double US funding to help developing countries combat the crisis.

He said along with private capital efforts, the step would meet a goal of mobilizing $100 billion to support climate action in developing nations.

The steps come as Biden said the world is approaching a “point of no return” in the climate crisis.

He called on nations to “bring their highest possible ambitions to the table,” when world leaders convene in six weeks at a climate summit in Scotland.

10:53 a.m. ET, September 21, 2021

Biden: "A two-state solution" will ensure "Israel's future as a jewish democratic state"

From CNN's Aditi Sangal

While expressing the United States' "unequivocal" support for an independent Jewish state, President Biden said he believed in a two-state solution for the longstanding conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

"I continue to believe that a two-state solution is the best way to ensure Israel's future as a Jewish democratic state, living in peace alongside a viable, sovereign, and democratic Palestinian state. We're a long way from that goal at this moment. We must never allow ourselves to give up the possibility of progress," he told the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday.

Currently, Israel is recognized as a member state by the UN and Palestinians hold a "non-member observer state" status.

10:33 a.m. ET, September 21, 2021

Biden: US committing $10 billion to fight hunger globally

Biden announced during his speech at the United Nations General Assembly that the US will make a $10 billion commitment to the effort to "end hunger and invest in food systems at home and abroad."

"At a time when nearly 1 in 3 people globally do not have access to adequate food, just last year, the United States has committed to rallying our partners to address immediate malnutrition and ensure we can sustainably feed the world for the decades to come."