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Climate Week NYC, U.N. General Assembly kick off weeklong meetings

By Don Jacobson
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Climate Week NYC, U.N. General Assembly kick off weeklong meetings
South Korean President Moon Jae-in speaks at the "SDG Moment" sustainable development event as part of the U.N. General Assembly 76th Session in New York on Monday. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

Sept. 20 (UPI) -- Climate Week NYC, an annual gathering of business and government leaders showcasing actions to combat climate change, opened in New York Monday in conjunction with the start of the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly.

A roster of 15 speakers including European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul and White House national climate adviser Gina McCarthy delivered remarks at the event's hybrid physical-virtual opening ceremony.

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The overall focus was on the upcoming 26th U.N. Climate Change Conference of the Parties, or COP26, to be held in Glasgow, Scotland, beginning Oct. 31, where countries will be asked to commit to ambitious 2030 emissions reductions targets that align with reaching "net zero" carbon emissions by 2050.

"The message is really clear -- 2030 and 2050 targets are necessary but they are not sufficient," said Helen Clarkson, CEO of event organizer The Climate Group. "We don't just want commitments and plans, we need delivery and action.

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"Let's ratchet up all our work ahead of COP," she urged.

In her opening virtual address, Von der Leyen referenced massive flash flooding in New York City from the remnants of Hurricane Ida two weeks ago as well as similar catastrophic flooding in Northern Europe in July as evidence of the urgency of climate change.

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"Or course, extreme weather has always existed, but its frequency is new," she said. "There are warning signs -- climate change is happening."

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This "new sense of urgency," she said, is reflected in the landmark report issued in August by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change warning that global temperatures worldwide will probably surpass a level in about a decade that experts and officials have been trying to avert.

"The main message is simple and sobering -- climate change is man-made," Von der Leyen said. "But the good news is that we can do something about it."

The climate gathering is being held in conjunction with the U.N. General Assembly's new session, which is being held against the background of the COVID-19 pandemic and global insecurity.

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U.N. leaders said the General Assembly "will underscore the need for greater urgency and ambition to end the pandemic and ensure an equitable and green recovery" as well as to accelerate the implementation of the world body's sustainable development goals, or SDG.

The new session began Monday with the "SDG Moment," an event held to "take stock" of how "a deeply uneven response to the pandemic" is creating a two-tier recovery impacting the U.N.'s 2030 goals for sustainable development.

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As part of the event, Grammy Award-winning K-pop supergroup BTS attended the meeting for a speech and to show a pre-recorded performance of their song "Permission to Dance," which was filmed earlier in the empty seating area of the General Assembly.

"I've heard that people in their teens and 20s today are being referred to as COVID's lost generation, that they've lost their way at a time when they need the most diverse opportunities and must try new things," group leader RM said, according to the Yonhap News Agency. "But I think it's a stretch to say they're lost just because the paths they tread can't be seen by grownup eyes."

The plenary sessions begin Tuesday and run through Sept. 27 utilizing a hybrid format combining in-person and online speeches during which heads of state and government will address the assembly.

U.S. President Joe Biden will deliver a speech to the world body in person on Tuesday, as will Brazilian leader Jair Bolsonaro, South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

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Iranian President Seyyed Ebrahim Raisi and Chinese President Xi Jinping will deliver pre-recorded messages.

Biden on Wednesday will convene a virtual COVID-19 Summit on the margins of the General Assembly, the White House announced last week.

World leaders assemble at United Nations

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the 76th Session of the U.N. General Assembly in New York City on Saturday. Pool photo by Eduardo Munoz/UPI | License Photo

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