UN general assembly president rebukes nationalism at World Leaders Forum
BY NOAH PERCY | OCTOBER 9, 2018, 10:39 PM
Source: Columbia Spectator
United Nations General Assembly President Maria Fernanda Espinosa Garces defended international cooperation and the relevance of the United Nations in the face of widening economic inequality and climate change in a speech to students in Low Library on Wednesday.
Maya Tolstoy, interim executive vice president of Arts and Sciences, introduced Espinosa as a guest of the Columbia World Leaders Forum, an initiative intended to raise student awareness and understanding of global challenges by creating a space for international dialogue. Each year, the University invites prominent world leaders to the Forum to speak on relevant social, political, and economic issues.
Espinosa, an Ecuadorian professor, poet, and diplomat, was elected to the position of UN General Assembly president last session, and began her one-year term last month. She is only the fourth woman to hold the office—the first since 2006. Her speech comes after the U.N. General Assembly in New York last month, at which President Trump’s insistence on “America-first” policies put the decline of U.S. cooperation in international politics on full display.
During the event, Espinosa expressed distress at the rise of “unilateralism, nationalism, and individualism” on the world stage. She claimed that the phenomenon was a consequence of political failures to address widening economic inequality across the globe.
“We live in a world experiencing transition in all fashions of life. As a result, many people feel left out, exposed to an environment of general anxiety, which traditional political institutions have failed to address,” Espinosa said. “In many parts of the world, this vacuum has been exploited by individuals and groups who attribute all the problems of the world to multilateral institutions and arrangements.”
During a Q&A, questions focused on a report released earlier this week by the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in which leading scientists warned of a potential global crisis from climate change as early as 2020. Espinosa pointed to climate change, which disproportionately impacts poor and vulnerable populations, as a problem that can only be solved by multilateral action from bodies like the United Nations that transcend individual countries.
“Climate change proves a very strong point: some problems are simply too large, too complicated, or involve too many stakeholders for any one country to go it alone. We see this in the divisive issue[s] of migration, nuclear proliferation, health, and in the spread of disease,” Espinosa said. “Multilateralism offers us a chance to share our know-how and our burdens, to do big things we could not do alone.”
Espinosa pointed to the 1987 Montreal Protocol, which helped halt the growth of a hole in the ozone layer, and the 2014 Ebola Response, when an international coalition effectively contained Ebola’s spread, as examples of successful multilateral interventions in pressing global issues.
Citing the General Assembly’s 2018 focus on outreach to all global communities, Espinosa voiced the need for the U.N. to make a case for itself to inspire public support. She acknowledged mistrust of the United Nations and international action but maintained that the criticism is simply a result of miscommunication and highlighted the need for broader political awareness.
Espinosa pointed to events like the World Leaders Forum as an avenue for achieving the assembly’s goal of relevance by opening the political dialogues to students, academics, and the general population.
“How can we expect the world to support multilateralism, and to fund the very institution that carries its wait, if they don’t know what we do, yet alone believe in it?” Espinosa asked. “Every paper you write, every book you read, every talk you go to is equipping you with the skills you need to address these very challenges in an increasingly complex, interdependent, and convoluted world.”