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US-Iranian Tensions Threaten to Overshadow UN General Assembly

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As world leaders prepare to gather for their annual meetings at the U.N. General Assembly, heightened tensions between the United States and Iran threaten to overshadow a summit on global warming. 

By: Margaret Besheer

“Let’s face it, we have no time to lose. We are losing the race against climate change,” U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres told reporters Wednesday. “The imperative to act could not be more clear, and this is exactly why I am convening the Climate Action Summit.” 

The summit will take place Monday, and more than 100 heads of state and government are expected to attend. Only those who bring dynamic and concrete plans to mitigate the effects of global warming will be invited to speak. 

Guterres, who has made slowing climate change his signature issue, said he expects a number of “meaningful plans” for drastically reducing emissions during the next decade and for reaching carbon neutrality by 2050. 

“We will showcase promising initiatives aiming at moving away from coal, putting a price on carbon, stopping subsidies for fossil fuels, and cutting the pollution that damages our health,” he said. “And we will highlight the importance of scaling up nature-based solutions, creating cleaner ways in the way we work and societies function, building resilience, protecting people, mobilizing finance and promoting decent jobs for a just transition.” 

The U.N. wants to accelerate action on the 2015 Paris climate accord, which aims to limit the Earth’s temperature rise this century to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Experts warn that the Paris commitments are inadequate to avoid the worst impacts of climate change and more ambitious action needs to happen. 

“We’re seeing that actually, I think, on the ground in real time,” said David Waskow, director of the International Climate Initiative at the World Resources Institute. “We have floods, we have major weather events, we have droughts that are showing us what’s happening.” 

While most of the world is on board — 195 countries have signed the Paris Agreement and 186 have ratified it — one of the world’s biggest emitters, the United States, announced under President Donald Trump that it would leave the pact. The U.S. decision has not stopped climate action at the state, local and private sector levels. 

On Friday, youth climate activists held “strikes” in cities and towns across the globe demanding bolder action from adults. Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, 16, joined youth strikers in New York City, where she will be attending a youth climate summit Saturday at the United Nations. 

“The best leadership I’ve seen so far is actually coming from young people,” Deputy U.N. Secretary-General Amina Mohammed told reporters this week. “The future is going to be very different. It will be about them, and they’ve started now and not tomorrow.” 

But this collective push for more climate action risks being overshadowed by the latest geopolitical crisis in the Middle East. 

On Sept. 14, Saudi Arabia’s two most important oil installations were attacked, threatening global oil supplies. Houthi rebels, whom the Saudis are fighting in neighboring Yemen, claimed responsibility. The United States believes their patron, Iran, was the perpetrator. 

The attack has dashed growing expectations that there could be a meeting between Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on the margins of the General Assembly.  

This year, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will not be addressing the UNGA as he has opted to stay in Israel in the hopes of cobbling together a governing coalition or to join the Blue and White party in a national unity government. (VOA)

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