Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has used her debut speech to the United Nations General Assembly to call for a different world order – one that puts “kindness” ahead of isolationism, rejection and racism.
Ardern began her speech with a greeting in Māori after entering the General Assembly carrying an orator’s comb, gifted to her by Ngati Rehia. It is worn by leaders at prominent events and is an acknowledgement of her mana.
“Emerging from a catastrophic war, we have collectively established through convention, charters and rules a set of international norms and human rights. All of these are an acknowledgement that we are not isolated, governments do have obligations to their people and each other, and that our actions have a global effect. “
Given the challenges the world faced today, and how global they were in their nature and impact, the need for collective action and multilateralism had never been clearer, Ardern said.
“And yet, for all of that, the debate and dialogue we hear globally is not centred on the relevance and importance of our international institutions. Instead, we find ourselves having to defend their very existence.”
Ardern talked about New Zealand not having the option of going it alone – and said generational change were an added pressure.
“It should hardly come as a surprise that we have seen a global trend of young people showing dissatisfaction with our political systems, and calling on us to do things differently – why wouldn’t they when they themselves have had to adapt so rapidly to a changing world.
“Within a few short decades we now have a generation who will grow up more connected than ever before. Digital transformation will determine whether the jobs they are training for will even exist in two decades. In education or the job market, they won’t just compete with their neighbour, but their neighbouring country.
“This generation is a borderless one – at least in a virtual sense. One that increasingly see themselves as global citizens. And as their reality changes, they expect ours to as well – that we’ll see and understand our collective impact, and that we’ll change the way we use our power.”
Climate change was one area where they were looking for government’s to change.
In the Pacific, rising sea levels presented the single biggest threat to the region.
“For those who live in the South Pacific, the impacts of climate change are not academic, or even arguable. They are watching the sea levels rise, the extreme weather events increase, and the impact on their water supply and food crops.
“We can talk all we like about the science and what it means, what temperature rises we need to limit in order to survive, but there is a grinding reality in hearing someone from a Pacific island talk about where the sea was when they were a child, and potential loss of their entire village as an adult.
“Our action in the wake of this global challenge remains optional. But the impact of inaction does not. Nations like Tuvalu, the Marshall Islands, or Kiribati – small countries who’ve contributed the least to global climate change – are and will suffer the full force of a warming planet.
“If my Pacific neighbours do not have the option of opting out of the effects of climate change, why should we be able to opt out of taking action to stop it?
“Any disintegration of multilateralism – any undermining of climate related targets and agreements – aren’t interesting footnotes in geopolitical history. They are catastrophic.”
Yet instead of acting as a rallying cry, the debate had been marred by “a calculation of personal cost, of self interest”.
” But this is not the only challenge where domestic self-interest is the first response, and where an international or collective approach has been diluted at best, or rejected at worst.”
Ardern acknowledged, however, that international institutions that nations like New Zealand had committed themselves to were not perfect.
“But they can be fixed. And that is why the challenge I wish to issue today is this – together, we must rebuild and recommit to multilateralism. We must redouble our efforts to work as a global community. We must rediscover our shared belief in the value, rather than the harm, of connectedness. We must demonstrate that collective international action not only works, but that it is in all of our best interests.
“We must show the next generation that we are listening, and that we have heard them.
Ardern also talked about the “#me too” movement of women coming forward about sexual and emotional abuse and said government’s needed to show they were responding.
“Me Too must become We Too.”
She also urged governments to put kindness, ahead of “isolationism, protectionism, and racism”.
“I accept that the list of demands on all of us is long. Be it domestic, or international, we are operating in challenging times. We face what we call in New Zealand ‘wicked problems’. Ones that are intertwined and interrelated.
“Perhaps then it is time to step back from the chaos and ask what we want. It is in that space that we’ll find simplicity. The simplicity of peace, of prosperity, of fairness. If I could distil it down into one concept that we are pursuing in New Zealand it is simple and it is this. Kindness.
“In the face of isolationism, protectionism, racism – the simple concept of looking outwardly and beyond ourselves, of kindness and collectivism, might just be as good a starting point as any. “