UNITED NATIONS (AP) – The planet is heating up. Island nations are disappearing. A nuclear war between Pakistan and India can be a "bloodbath." Governments are not working together as they used to. Polarization is separating us. Killing. Migration. Poverty. Corruption. Inequality. Violations of sovereignty. Helplessness. Hopelessness.
"The problems of our times are extraordinary," said Ibraham Mohamed Solih, president of the Maldives, an Indian Ocean island threatened by the waters of climate change, at the UN General Assembly a few days ago.
There are those mornings when you get into work and everyone seems cranky. This was so at the United Nations last week during the annual meeting of world leaders. Speech after dark speech by leaders from every corner of the planet has pointed to a darker conclusion than you: humanity clearly needs a spa day.
The United Nations was founded on optimistic fervor after the devastation of World War II, with the notion that a cooperative body of countries could build a better future by learning to live together. While this hope remains a fundamental foundation, the current tenor now seems to set a lower level: try to mitigate climate Armageddon and avoid some of its 193 member nations' diligent attempts to undermine and sometimes destroy each other.
Thus words such as "existential threat" were part of the leader's speech scenario last week, such as the usual references to "this august body."
"We live in times when the magnitude and number of lasting crises are steadily increasing," said Igor Dodon, Moldova's president. “We have had enough wars. We don't want new wars, ”said Iraqi President Barham Salih, who would surely know. And from Roch Marc Christian Kabore, president of Burkina Faso, came this euphemism: "International news was marked by tensions."
Part of this is pure rhetoric. If you are a nation of the world and want something – money, troops, action, understanding – you must present a problem in order to come up with the solution or at least convince your countrymen that a solution is needed.
Therefore, leaders and diplomats bring many problems to the UN at this time of year, hoping to leverage a global landscape – and rare if you are a minor member of the community of nations.
Climate change was a central part of it. A UN decision to really put the topic in front and center produced a youth climate summit and a full event the day before the leaders' speeches began. Many nations answered the call to sound an alarm powerful enough to be collectively noted.
"The challenges of the planet and people are colliding with far-reaching consequences," said Belize Foreign Minister Wilfred Elrington.
However, even considering this context, it seemed that there was much more hopelessness than usual. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres kicked off the process on Tuesday, painting a grim picture of this momentum in human history.
"We are living in a world of unrest," said Guterres.
"Many people fear being trampled, frustrated, left behind," he said. “Machines accept their jobs. Traffickers take their dignity. Demagogues assume their rights. Warlords take their lives. Fossil fuels lead your future. "
However, is this so different from before? There were many moments during the 74 years of United Nations history when we were on the brink of politics, expertise, displaced people, epidemics, possible nuclear war. Chaos has always reigned, right?
Not quite. Saturday's agenda was full of island nations from around the world who are, as many have said, at the forefront of climate change. For them, it is not just melting glaciers or killing species; they are swollen hurricanes that can sweep them out and the rising ocean waters that can slowly turn them into underwater ghosts.
So this mood? They are feeling this particularly acute.
“There is only one common homeland and one human race. There is no planet B or viable alternative planet to live for, ”said Gaston Browne, prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, an island nation of the Caribbean.
But other nations addressing the UN General Assembly were hardly optimistic about where we are as a civilization. Two of the largest, China and Russia, were equally frank in assessing the global scenario they saw before them.
"The world is not a peaceful place today," said Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
"The number of conflicts on the planet has not diminished and the enmity has not weakened," said his Russian colleague Sergey Lavrov. “It's getting harder to deal with these and many other challenges from year to year. The fragmentation of the international community is only increasing. "
As is traditional in the UN, the leaders brought solutions to be proposed, from the theme (reducing the "trust deficit") to highly specific (revising the Security Council to increase the permanent representation of Africa). Perhaps the most common was a renewed call for a full embrace of multilateralism, which many nations – particularly the smaller ones with less global strength – consider their only salvation.
This is particularly true at a time when a growing number of high-level leaders – prime examples include US President Donald Trump and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson – are turning to more unilateral approaches in the world.
"The 2020s could be remembered in history as a turning point, or as the moment when multilateralism has lost its way," said Rwanda President Paul Kagame.
The United Nations is often criticized for talking too much and for not doing much. But when it comes to eloquent conversation, especially about the future, it has always been one of the strongest players on the field.
So, of course, there were treasures of optimism that shone in the dirt – about the UN's ability to shape this brighter future, about the potential for sublimation of conflict in projects and agreements and resolutions and peacekeeping.
“I don't believe in pessimism anymore. It's too easy, "said French President Emmanuel Macron.
Good words, and that's where the ideas begin. Still, after a week of oratory discouragement from some of the most intelligent, informed, and most powerful people on earth, you may wonder: If the United Nations is not the place for optimism about a prosperous shared future, maybe it's time to really start. to worry about.
Ted Anthony, Associated Press director of digital innovation, has been writing about international affairs since 1995. Follow him on Twitter at @anthonyted.