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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8:50 a.m. ET, September 21, 2021

Here are the countries we're expecting to hear from today

It's day one of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York, and some world leaders are gathering in person despite a letter from the US encouraging member states to call in virtually, like they did last year.

More than 100 heads of state and government coming in person, including UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Biden.

Like all UN events, schedule changes are ongoing, but here are the countries slated to address the assembly today:

Morning speakers:

  • Brazil
  • United States
  • Maldives
  • Colombia
  • Qatar
  • Slovakia
  • Portugal
  • Kyrgyzstan
  • Lithuania
  • Uzbekistan
  • Democratic Republic of Congo
  • Iran
  • Chile
  • Republic of Korea
  • Turkey
  • Switzerland

Afternoon speakers:

  • Egypt
  • Peru
  • France
  • Turkmenistan
  • Latvia
  • Philippines
  • El Salvador
  • Argentina
  • Palau
  • Romania
  • Costa Ricca
  • Mexico
  • Poland
  • Ecuador
  • Finland
  • Bulgaria
  • Zambia
  • Hungary

8:56 a.m. ET, September 21, 2021

Biden will hail decision to end Afghanistan war in UNGA speech, official says

From CNN's Kevin Liptak 

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

President Biden's first speech as President to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) will amplify his decision to end the war in Afghanistan, arguing it was time to move on to other, modern-day challenges.

"The speech will center on the proposition that we are closing the chapter on twenty years of war and opening a chapter of intensive diplomacy by rallying allies and partners and institutions to deal with the major challenges of our time," a senior administration official said a day before the address.

Biden is due to make his debut on the UNGA stage on Tuesday morning. He will be speaking amid several foreign policy crises, from a botched drone strike in Afghanistan that killed 10 civilians to a spat with France over nuclear-powered submarines.

The official downplayed those rifts, suggesting the United States continued to lead in areas of climate and Covid-19, citing global summits the President will convene on those topics over the course of the week.

The official listed Covid-19, climate change, emerging technologies, trade and economics, investments in clean infrastructure and counterterrorism as areas the President intends to harness the world's attention — a prospect made easier by ending prolonged military conflicts. 

"The President will essentially drive home the message that ending the war in Afghanistan closed the chapter focused on war and opened a chapter focused on purposeful, effective, intensive American diplomacy," the official said. 

8:36 a.m. ET, September 21, 2021

Climate change is also expected to take center stage at this week's gathering of world leaders 

From CNN's Caitlin Hu

Looming just as large as the political dramas are the deadly consequences of global warming, after a year of historic heat, wildfires and floods.

According to a new report released Friday by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the planet is careening toward warming to 2.7 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels — far above the 1.5 degree Celsius limit scientists say is necessary to stave off the worse consequences of the climate crisis.

Diverting this "catastrophic" path means building climate action into the world's pandemic recovery, and the General Assembly is seen as the last opportunity to lock in global commitments before next month's G20 in Rome and November's COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow.

On Monday, UK Prime Minister Johnson — a cohost of COP26 — sat down with the secretary general and dozens of other leaders for one of few in-person meetings to discuss the environment, focusing on the G20's responsibilities. That same day, UN climate chief Patricia Espinosa, former US Vice President Al Gore and COP26 chair Alok Sharma, spoke at a high-powered event on how to deliver the goals set out in the 2015 Paris accord.

A special open Security Council debate on climate and security will follow on Thursday, and a virtual event on sustainable energy will be held the next day — the first such high-level event since 1981.

The week will also be an opportunity for some countries and businesses that haven't yet set ambitious goals for carbon neutrality to finally do so and capitalize on the global attention.

9:06 a.m. ET, September 21, 2021

Biden will use first speech to UN General Assembly to advocate for global response to major issues

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

President Biden plans to use his first speech to the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday to advocate for a global response to the major issues currently facing the world, according to a senior administration official.

The pandemic, climate change, human rights, and the assault on democracy in countries around the world will all be topics in Biden’s address.

Biden has been working on the speech with his team for a few weeks and spent part of the weekend in Rehoboth polishing it, the official said.

The events of the past several days and weeks — including the withdrawal from Afghanistan, a drone strike that killed 10 civilians and a spat with France over nuclear submarines — are all complicating his debut as President at the General Assembly rostrum.

Officials view the speech and the other events surrounding it — including a Covid-19 summit on Wednesday and a meeting of "Quad" leaders on Friday (leaders of US, Japan, India and Australia) — as a critical moment for Biden to articulate his foreign policy vision and lay out what he believes should be the world’s priorities.  

The official said Biden doesn’t necessarily feel he needs to explain himself after a troubled stretch that caused rifts with major allies. But officials do believe that at this fraught moment, Biden can use his speech and other events to help other leaders understand his worldview better. 

He will speak about Afghanistan in his speech, including laying out expectations for the Taliban. Biden and other leaders are still assessing whether and when to recognize the Taliban as the official government of the country. 

He will also discuss the Covid-19 pandemic and argue for more aggressive measures around the world to contain the spread of the virus and prevent new variants from emerging. 

Speaking at the world’s foremost institution of multilateral diplomacy, the President will argue for a collective approach to global problems. Unlike his predecessor, Biden is a believer in the UN’s mission — if realistic about its efficacy — and wants to speak to its vital role in the world, the official said, particularly after four years under President Trump when the US commitment was questioned.

8:53 a.m. ET, September 21, 2021

UN's first post-Covid meeting sparks super spreader fears

Analysis from CNN's Stephen Collinson

The United Nations headquarters in New York on September 20.
The United Nations headquarters in New York on September 20. (Jeenah Moon/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

US fears that this week's annual world leader jamboree at the United Nations could spark a super spreader event will highlight the stark inequality of global access to Covid-19 vaccines — even as developed nations begin offering booster shots.

Scores of presidents, prime ministers and foreign ministers are set to ignore an American suggestion to stay home and address the UN General Assembly virtually and will converge on New York City in person this week.

The possibility that the visiting delegations might themselves pose a health threat will be an important reminder that while nations like the United States and major European powers have pushed ahead with vaccinating tens of millions of their people, many smaller, poorer nations, which lack pharmaceutical industries, have not been able to secure or make their own vaccines.

The World Health Organization said last week that more than 5.7 billion vaccine doses have been administered globally, but 73% of those doses have been administered in just 10 countries.

That reality represents the biggest potential stumbling block to ending the pandemic — and preventing even more infectious strains of the coronavirus like the Delta variant from building resistance to existing vaccines.

It will also underscore the world's failure so far to come up with a unified response to the worst public health crisis in 100 years, which will be at the center of countless speeches by world leaders in the coming two weeks.

While the social side of the UN General Assembly event and bilateral meetings have been pared back, it's possible that an influx of visitors, many from nations subject to US travel restrictions, could create classic conditions to spread infections and foster global transmission.

Read the full story here.

8:32 a.m. ET, September 21, 2021

World leaders are arriving ahead of UN General Assembly this morning

Leaders from around the world are now arriving at the United Nations headquarters in New York City for the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).

Member states are expected to deliberate on two parallel challenges: ending the Covid-19 pandemic and redefining the post-pandemic global economy.

President Biden is due to make his debut on the UNGA stage this morning. He will be speaking amid several foreign policy crises, from a botched drone strike in Afghanistan that killed 10 civilians to a spat with France over nuclear-powered submarines.

9:07 a.m. ET, September 21, 2021

UN secretary general says world is on a "catastrophic pathway" with the climate crisis

From CNN's Hira Humayun

UN Secretary-General António Guterres said the world is on a “catastrophic pathway” with the climate crisis, at a news conference on Monday following a roundtable on climate with member states – a meeting he said he convened to "instill a sense of urgency on the dire state of the climate process ahead of COP26" in November.

“Based on the present commitments of member states, the world is on a catastrophic pathway to 2.7 degrees of heating, instead of 1.5 we all agreed should be the limit,” he said, “Science tells us that anything above 1.5 degrees would be a disaster.”

Guterres said the world needs a 45% cut in emissions by 2030 to limit a rise in temperature to 1.5 degrees.

“Instead, the commitments made until now by countries imply an increase of 16% in greenhouse gas emissions – not a decrease of 45% – an increase of 16% in greenhouse gas emissions in 2030 compared to 2010 levels,” he said.

He warned of a high risk for the failure of COP26 “unless we collectively change course.”

He called on the international community to keep the goal of 1.5 degree Celsius within reach, to deliver on the promised $100 billion a year for climate action in developing counties, and to scale up funding for adaptation to at least 50% of total public climate finance.

“We are not yet there. But today, a few countries, namely Sweden and Denmark, have announced commitments of 50% or more, and I think that this idea that developing countries are already suffering so much, that it’s not enough to support them in reduction of emissions, it’s necessary to support them in building resilience for their communities, for their infrastructure. I believe that this 50% might gain traction, but we are still not yet there.”

He called on developed countries to take the lead and for several emerging economies to “go the extra mile and to effectively contribute to emissions reductions.”

8:49 a.m. ET, September 21, 2021

Unvaccinated Brazilian president plans to speak at UNGA today, despite rules requiring vaccination

From CNN's Rodrigo Pedro, Richard Roth and Artemis Moshtaghian

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro arrives for the United Nations General Assembly in New York on September 21.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro arrives for the United Nations General Assembly in New York on September 21. (John Minchillo/AP)

Unvaccinated Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said he will deliver the opening speech at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) Tuesday, despite rules requiring him to be vaccinated to be in the assembly hall.

Bolsonaro, who traveled to New York City late Sunday afternoon, previously said in a live broadcast on his social media that he wouldn’t get vaccinated before attending the UNGA.

“Why do you take a vaccine? To have antibodies, right? My antibodies rate is really high. I can show you the document,” the president said. 

Bolsonaro then claimed that a vaccine such as CoronaVac would not be effective for him and added, “I will decide my future after everyone in Brazil gets the vaccine.”

The UN is not barring anyone from entering the UNGA, UN Secretary-General spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric told CNN Sunday.

Dujarric explained to reporters Friday that “the honor system, as laid out by the President of the General Assembly, says that, by swiping a badge to enter the General Assembly Hall, delegates attest that they are fully vaccinated, that they have not tested positive for COVID-19 in the last ten days, have no symptoms.”

Dujarric also said Thursday that UN Secretary-General António Guterres has limited jurisdiction in imposing New York City vaccine mandate protocols for member states representatives attending the UNGA’s 76th meeting. He also noted Thursday that he’s “working with the sitting President of the General Assembly to continue that honor system [of vaccinations] in a way that is acceptable for all.”

The spokesperson added that the UN has taken several mitigation measures including implementing mandatory mask usage, mandatory vaccination for UN staff and limiting the delegation size in the General Assembly hall to ensure that the high level meeting is as safe as possible. 

9:35 a.m. ET, September 21, 2021

Here's a preview of Biden's first UNGA speech as President, according to the White House

From CNN's Maegan Vazquez

US President Joe Biden departs from the White House on September 20.
US President Joe Biden departs from the White House on September 20. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Monday offered a broad preview of President Biden’s upcoming speech at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).

Psaki was asked by CNN how the President plans to restore credibility at the UN this week.

She said the audience will hear him "lay out the case for why the next decade will determine our future, not just for the United States, but for the global community. And he will talk – and this will be a central part of his remarks – about the importance of reestablishing our alliances over the last several years,” Psaki said.

She argued that reestablishing those alliances “doesn’t mean that you won’t have disagreements.”

The goal of reestablishing those alliances, Psaki added, is “increasing the prospect of security and diminishing the prospect of war.”

“He’ll also make clear that for many of the greatest concerns we have, they cannot be solved or even addressed with the force of arms, whether that is preparing for the next pandemic … addressing the threat of climate change … leveling the economic playing field, fighting for democracy at home and abroad, and against threats ranging from cyber security to emerging technologies to terrorism. Finally, he will also reaffirm that the United States is not turning inward,” she continued, specifically pointing to the decision to withdraw from Afghanistan. 

Psaki added that the President “will talk about his objective of turning our focus and our resources to the priorities in regions of the world that are most consequential.”

Responding to CNN’s question about restoring credibility, she later asserted that “criticism of a decision is different from criticism of the credibility in leadership of the United States, broadly speaking.”

“We are committed to those alliances, and that always requires work, from every president, from every global leader, and his commitment is to make sure we are directing our energy, our resources and our efforts on the biggest challenges we’re facing in the world,” Psaki said.