WASHINGTON — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is headed to the UN General Assembly with the planet at a climate crossroads — and Canada facing an ever more fraught relationship with the world’s fastest-growing economy.
The day before departing for New York, Trudeau rocked the House of Commons with “credible allegations” linking agents of India’s government to the deadly shooting this past June of a Sikh leader in Surrey, B.C.
It’s a striking contextual backdrop for the week ahead at the United Nations, a place where aspirational visions of a prosperous and peaceful future often have to do battle with stark political realities.
This year’s theme for what the international diplomatic corps calls “high-level week” at the UN is “Rebuilding trust and reigniting global solidarity” — two commodities that seem hard to come by these days.
“Any involvement of a foreign government in the killing of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil is an unacceptable violation of our sovereignty,” Trudeau told MPs.
“It is contrary to the fundamental rules by which free, open and democratic societies conduct themselves.”
He said he confronted Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi with the allegations in person during last week’s G20 summit in New Delhi. A diplomat from India was also expelled Monday.
Modi, however, confirmed earlier this month that he wouldn’t be attending the assembly in person. External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar is standing in.
Trudeau, meanwhile, will have plenty of other crises to contemplate as he flies south for two days of meetings with world leaders, environmental crusaders and civil-society luminaries.
The climate crisis grew ever more real in 2023, with a record-setting wildfire season in Canada, catastrophic flooding in Libya and a record 23 separate billion-dollar weather disasters in the U.S. in just the first eight months.
Russia’s war in Ukraine grinds on relentlessly, the global angst augmented by last week’s ominous meeting in Vladivostok between President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
The uneasy truce of the UN’s own Black Sea grain deal has collapsed, all but cutting off the developing world from one of the planet’s most vital sources of food, cooking oil and fertilizer.
West Africa has seen no fewer than eight military coups since 2020, most recently in Niger and Gabon, while Haiti remains racked by political chaos and gang violence, all in the midst of an unchecked cholera outbreak.
And the UN’s ambitious effort to check off a laundry list of sustainable development goals — a particular focus for Trudeau — has largely stalled, hampered by political intransigence and sluggish post-pandemic economies.
“It’s a serious moment in the life of the world,” said Bob Rae, Canada’s ambassador to the UN.
“There was sort of a school of thought that said, ‘Every day, everything’s getting better, it’s not getting worse.’ Right now, we can’t say that.”
A report Monday from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration catalogued the highest number of climate-related disasters ever recorded in a single calendar year — one that still has three months to go.
So far, 2023 ranks as the ninth-warmest in the continental U.S. in 129 years, with new temperature records being set just last month in Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida and a potentially historic hurricane season now underway.
“The world is increasingly coming to grips with the reality that climate change is not a future event, it’s a current event,” Rae said.
“It’s a today issue, and it’s as much about resilience, adaptation and really investing in infrastructure and other ways of protecting people’s health and safety for the current crisis, which will be ongoing.”
The sense of urgency was palpable on city streets all over the world Friday and through the weekend, with massive protests unfolding throughout Europe, southeast Asia, Africa and the U.S.
Thousands marched in cities across Canada, part of a co-ordinated show of force in advance of the UN meetings and Climate Week in New York, where the protests culminated Sunday in a massive rally that attracted tens of thousands.
Instead of talking about ambitious but unrealistic new emissions targets, the UN will instead press members on how they plan to hit existing ones, said Catherine Abreu, founder and executive director of the climate group Destination Zero.
“This is a moment of honesty and inflection,” Abreu told a news conference last week.
“We need to get real about the fact that despite the targets that we have been setting over the course of the last decade, we are not delivering on those promises.”
In particular, UN Secretary-General António Guterres will be focused on some of the biggest gaps between promises made and promises kept, one of which is the transition away from fossil fuels, she added.
“Countries — including, in particular, major producers like Canada — will be asked how they plan to align their production of fossil fuels … with their promises under international climate treaties,” Abreu said.
“There is an open question as to how Canada will align the positions that it’s taking in those international fora with the action that it is taking here at home.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 19, 2023.
James McCarten, The Canadian Press