The 2020 UN General Assembly: Connecting Through Crisis

It's an unprecedented UNGA: How does a contact sport like diplomacy translate to the virtual realm, and how do we involve new players to tackle our toughest challenges in a year of crisis?

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As the UN turns 75, the organization is revealing the results of a global survey of nearly a million people in 193 nations—what matters most to them, and how do they view the need for global cooperation at this time of unprecedented crisis? Under-Secretary-General and Special Adviser Fabrizio Hochschild explains the purpose and findings of the report.

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As the United Nations wraps two weeks of a (historic and unprecedented) 75th General Assembly, made almost entirely virtual due to the ongoing global coronavirus pandemic, some clear themes and threads carried throughout, giving us a sense of what the next several years could look like for the organization. GZERO Media covered the world's largest diplomatic gathering extensively, receiving a great deal of access to delegates, world leaders, and policymakers.

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On October 7th, GZERO Media — in partnership with Microsoft and Eurasia Group — presented a live panel discussion, "Digital Inclusion: Connectivity and Skills for the Next Billion Jobs," about the acceleration of digitalization, the changing workforce, and the need for digital access for all.

The conversation was moderated by Sherrell Dorsey, founder and CEO of The Plug, and our panel included:

  • Kate Behncken, Vice President, Microsoft Philanthropies
  • Lisa Lewin, CEO of General Assembly
  • Parag Mehta, Executive Director and Sr Vice President, Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth
  • Dominique Hyde, Director External Relations, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
  • Rohitesh Dhawan, Managing Director, Energy, Climate & Resources, Eurasia Group

Also featured: special appearances by Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and former president of Chile, and Doreen Bogdan-Martin of the International Telecommunications Union.

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Marietje Schaake, former member of EU Parliament and international policy director of the Cyber Policy Center at Stanford University, discusses the role of cyberspace and the urgency to protect it in UNGA In 60 Seconds.

Protecting people in cyberspace is of vital importance for the United Nations. Secretary General Guterres has said that cyber is shaping history, but that we also risk that it's slipping away from us. What does that mean, exactly?

Well if you ask me, technology has shaped history. But more than anything, it's shaping the future. And I see a unique and urgent role for the United Nations in making sure that the public interest is defended. Anything from governing for public health, for public safety, and of course, for peace in cyberspace.

Now the question is, how has the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated some of these questions?

On September 23, GZERO Media — in partnership with Microsoft and Eurasia Group — gathered experts to discuss global recovery from the coronavirus pandemic in a livestream panel. Our panel for the discussion Crisis Response & Recovery: Reimagining while Rebuilding, included:

  • Brad Smith, President, Microsoft
  • Ian Bremmer, President and Founder, Eurasia Group & GZERO Media
  • Jeh Johnson, Partner, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, LLP and former Secretary of Homeland Security.
  • John Frank, Vice President, UN Affairs at Microsoft
  • Susan Glasser, staff writer and Washington columnist, The New Yorker (moderator)

Special appearances by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, European Central Bank chief Christine Lagarde, and comedian/host Trevor Noah.

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Protests and violence continue to escalate in Belarus as pro-democracy demonstrators demand the resignation of President Alexander Lukashenko, whose landslide reelection in August is widely viewed as illegitimate. GZERO Media spoke to Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius of neighboring Lithuania, a nation that has become a staunch ally of the opposition movement in Belarus and is providing refuge to Lukashenko's main challenger Svetlana Tikhanovskaya.

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Our October 14th livestream discussion, "Digital Peace: Trust and Security in Cyberspace," presented by GZERO Media — in partnership with Microsoft and Eurasia Group - focused on the need for a global framework to govern cyberspace.

The panel was moderated by Meredith Sumpter, CEO of the Coalition for Inclusive Capitalism, and included:

  • Marietje Schaake, International Policy Director, Cyber Policy Center, Stanford University
  • Marina Kaljurand, Member, European Parliament; Former Chair, Global Commission on the Stability of Cyberspace; Former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Estonia
  • Tom Burt, Corporate Vice President, Customer Security & Trust, Microsoft
  • Dapo Akande, Professor of Public International Law, University of Oxford

A major theme that emerged from the discussion is how the healthcare sector has become more vulnerable to cyberattacks due to the pandemic. But this sector also poses a major opportunity for governments and other actors to work together on protecting the world from such attacks — with huge resources already being mobilized to do so.

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GZERO Media caught up with Japan's Permanent Representative to the UN Kimihiro Ishikane during the 2020 UN General Assembly. In an interview with Eurasia Group Vice Chairman Gerald Butts, Ishikane talked about pandemic response, and how it has impacted the broader picture of US-China relations. Regarding a global fissure potentially caused by the world's two biggest economies, Ishikane said: "China is not like the former Soviet Union. Our system is completely intertwined, and I don't think we can completely decouple our economy and neither is that desirable." He also discussed the legacy of Shinzo Abe, Japan's longest-serving prime minister, who stepped down recently due to health complications.

As an historic virtual UN General Assembly gets underway, GZERO Media caught up with Fabrizio Hochschild, Special Adviser to Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, to discuss the challenges of conducting high-level diplomacy in a socially distanced environment.

Born in the ashes of World War II, the United Nations now marks its 75th anniversary amid another global crisis. But is the world ready to come together today as it did decades ago? Ian Bremmer offers a brief history of the organization, and some memorable moments from years gone by, as the UN's 193 member states gather virtually for the 2020 General Assembly.

Watch the episode: UN Secretary-General António Guterres: Why we still need the United Nations


In a special GZERO Media livestream on global response and recovery amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Eurasia Group & GZERO Media president Ian Bremmer discussed the difference between Europe's unified approach to economic stimulus and the deeply divided and political nature of the current conversation in the US. While initial stimulus support was bipartisan, there is little chance of Democrats and Republicans coming together again ahead of the November 3 presidential election. "It's red state versus blue state. President Trump's saying that coronavirus isn't so bad if you take the blue states out. He's president of the blue states, you can't take the blue states out," Bremmer told moderator Susan Glasser of The New Yorker.

In an interview with GZERO Media, Colombia's President Iván Duque discusses early missteps in global coordination on pandemic response that he feels exacerbated the spread of the virus. "If we all had acknowledged what was really going on in Asia, maybe we would have taken faster draconian measures to protect the world," he told Ian Bremmer.

While Colombia was initially praised for a swift and successful approach to COVID-19, infection rates and cases have spiked in recent weeks as lockdown restrictions ease in order to alleviate strain on an already battered economy. In the conversation, Bremmer and Duque also discuss the Venezuelan refugee crisis, and how economic fallout of the pandemic has forced at least 100,000 to leave Colombia and return home.

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

It's UNGA week, very unusual New York to have the United Nations General Assembly meetings. You know, the city is locked down. It's almost always locked down this week, but usually you can't get anywhere because you've got all these marshals with dozens of heads of state and well over a hundred foreign ministers and their delegations jamming literally everything, Midtown and branching out across the city. This time around, the security cordon for the United Nations itself is barely a block, and no one is flying in. I mean, the weather is gorgeous, and you can walk pretty much anywhere, but nothing's really locked down aside from, of course, the fact that the restaurants and the bars and the theaters and everything else is not happening given the pandemic. And it's not just in the US, it's all around the world.

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Movses Abelian, Under-Secretary-General for General Assembly and Conference Management, acknowledges that this year's gathering of world leaders presents unique challenges. But, he says, the work of the UN continues. For two decades he has had a pivotal role in organizing thousands of key diplomatic meetings during these important weeks in NYC. In this video, Abelian explains the General Assembly, how it has worked in the past, and what to expect this year.

Microsoft's President Brad Smith and Ian Bremmer discussed the impact of disinformation campaigns—both domestic and foreign--on the US democracy. The use of fake stories is creating polarization and an ill-informed public, they agreed. In discussing the impact of Russian interference in US politics, Smith said, "In all of the years of the Soviet Union, did the Soviet Air Force ever develop an aircraft that did as much damage to the United States as Russian disinformation campaigns have done through social media over the last four years? I would argue that the answer is no."

Watch more: Panel: How will the world recover from COVID-19?

From climate change to connecting more people to the Internet, big companies like Microsoft are seeing an increasing role within multilateral organizations like the UN and the World Health Organization. John Frank, Microsoft's VP of UN Affairs, explains the contributions tech companies and other multinational corporations are making globally during this time of crisis and challenge.

The United Nations marks its 75th anniversary this year amid the greatest global crisis since its founding. The UN's head of global communications Melissa Fleming explains the goals of this General Assembly, and how a renewed commitment to cooperation among nations could help eradicate COVID-19.

Gerald Butts, Vice Chairman & Senior Advisor of Eurasia Group, discusses reasons the rapid global response to climate change warrants optimism on UNGA In 60 Seconds.

There's a lot of doom and gloom out there about climate change. Can you give me a reason to be optimistic?

I'm going to say something you don't hear set very often when it comes to climate change. You should be an optimist. You should be a skeptical optimist, but an optimist nonetheless. Let me explain what I mean. We are scaling up climate solutions faster than even the most ardent among us thought possible a decade ago. Consider this. In 2010, about half of US electricity was generated from coal. This year less than 20% will be, and it's trending towards zero at increasing velocity.

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The United Nations has been working for over a decade on a global framework to govern cyberspace. But will it ever happen if global powers benefit from having no rules for cyber war? Find out in a livestream discussion, "Digital Peace: Trust and Security in Cyberspace," presented by GZERO Media — in partnership with Microsoft and Eurasia Group — on Wednesday, October 14 at 11a ET/8a PT/4p BST.

Watch our UNGA livestream events at https://www.gzeromedia.com/unga/livestream. (No registration required.)

Meredith Sumpter, CEO of the Coalition for Inclusive Capitalism, will moderate the panel, which includes:

  • Marietje Schaake, International Policy Director, Cyber Policy Center, Stanford University
  • Marina Kaljurand, Member, European Parliament; Former Chair, Global Commission on the Stability of Cyberspace; Former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Estonia
  • Tom Burt, Corporate Vice President, Customer Security & Trust, Microsoft
  • Dapo Akande, Professor of Public International Law, University of Oxford
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In an extended interview with GZERO World, European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde joins Ian Bremmer to explain how European nations were able to overcome political divisions and act quickly to prevent an all-out economic catastrophe on the continent.

Watch: Tolu Olubunmi in conversation with Dr. Samira Asma from the World Health Organization on how they are advancing health data innovation in the age of COVID-19.

This content is brought to you by our 2020 UN General Assembly partner, Microsoft.

Watch UN Innovation Room conversations weekly on Thursdays at 9 am EDT: https://www.gzeromedia.com/unga/livestream/

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In an interview with Eurasia Group Vice Chairman Gerald Butts, Nicolas de Rivière cautions against an overly halcyon view of the UN's history. The Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations explains that throughout its 75 years the organization has confronted adversity. This moment is no exception, but "we have no other choice" than cooperation in order to address today's biggest crises, he explains. Rivière also discusses the global pandemic response, a need for greater commitments to climate action, and a recent move by the US to push for renewed sanctions against Iran.

How does having "the mind of a pessimist, and the soul of an optimist" affect Trevor Noah's view of the world? Microsoft President Brad Smith interviewed him for this first edition of "In Conversation," a discussion series launched from the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in celebration of the 75th anniversary of the United Nations.

This video is provided by Microsoft, which is partnering with GZERO Media and Eurasia Group for special coverage of the 2020 UN General Assembly. See more on connecting through crisis at #UN75: gzeromedia.com/unga

Ian Bremmer looks at how 27 nations in the European Union were able to put aside decades of inter-continental grievances and come together to aggressively and almost immediately respond to the economic toll wrought by the coronavirus. One person, in particular, played an outsize role in bringing about that unlikely outcome: Christine Lagarde.

Watch the episode: Christine Lagarde, Leading Europe's United Economic Pandemic Response

While governments around the world race to develop a coronavirus vaccine, intelligence services and criminal organizations see an opportunity: to steal vaccine research, keep tabs on the competition, or hold critical information for ransom. The vaccine manufacturing process involves a wide group of public and private organizations that have access to sensitive vaccine and manufacturing details as well as the personal information of trial participants. In addition to the risks of stolen intellectual property or personal information, hacks could also delay or derail elements of the quest for a viable vaccine. Here's a look at what hackers are after at each stage of the vaccine development process.

One of the biggest threats to 21st century international peace is invisible. It recognizes no borders and knows no rules. It can penetrate everything from the secrets of your government to the settings of your appliances. This is, of course, the threat of cyberattacks and cyberwarfare.

During the coronavirus pandemic, cyberattacks have surged, according to watchdogs. This isn't just Zoom-bombing or scams. It's also a wave of schemes, likely by national intelligence agencies, meant to steal information about the development and production of vaccines. Attacks on the World Health Organization soared five-fold early in the pandemic.

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The annual United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), the world's largest diplomatic event, normally entails leaders and representatives from the 193 UN member states descending upon New York for a full week of speeches, high-stakes meetings between governments, and street protests. UNGA has also had its share of surprising moments, like Soviet premier Nikita Kruschev (allegedly) banging his shoe on the desk, or Venezuela's Hugo Chávez suggesting that US President George W. Bush was the devil himself.

This year's UNGA will be very different because of COVID-19. Hotels in New York won't be full of diplomats, metal detectors, and secret service agents. The "contact sport" of diplomacy will go virtual, with great uncertainty over how improvisational breakthroughs often found on the sidelines of UNGA summits will translate to the digital world. And more individuals from around the world than ever before will be able to take part. In other words, UNGA will be very different, but hardly less important (or dramatic).

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"Our number one priority is to protect human life at sea, but we also have responsibility of protecting our borders," Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told Ian Bremmer when asked about the growing refugee crisis in his country. In an interview for GZERO World, Bremmer pressed the Prime Minister on if he's forced helpless refugees in the region play a role in a geopolitical tiff between Greece and Turkey.

Brad Smith, President of Microsoft, joins Ian Bremmer on this week's World in 60 seconds to discuss multilateralism, optimism, and the return to normal in the post-pandemic world.

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When the coronavirus came to Greece in March, the country was only beginning to emerge from a decades-long financial crisis that had brought it to its knees. Citizens feared the worst, but instead the country responded swiftly and effectively, and cases have stayed down. In an extended GZERO World interview with Ian Bremmer, Greece's Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, talks about his country's pandemic response, its "improved brand" on the European stage, and recent tensions with neighboring Turkey.

The world's largest multilateral organization was born out of the global crisis of World War II. Now, as another crisis rocks the world, the United Nations is facing a challenge of its own—to remain relevant in an increasingly nationalistic geopolitical environment. On the eve of the first virtual UN General Assembly, GZERO World host Ian Bremmer spoke to UN Secretary-General António Guterres about pandemic response, climate action, the US/China schism, and more.

GZERO, Microsoft & Eurasia Group @ UN General Assembly 2020
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Video: Reimagining while rebuilding: How we respond to & recover from 2020's crises

The world is facing an unprecedented, once-in-a-lifetime crisis. World leaders and corporations alike need to not only rebuild, but reimagine what life could look like after the COVID-19 pandemic. In a special GZERO Media series, Eurasia Group and Microsoft experts present solutions to some of the biggest issues of the 21st century.

Bridging the digital divide starts with broadband around the world

John Frank, Vice President of UN Affairs at Microsoft, discusses how to include people around the world in the digital economy,on UNGA In 60 Seconds.

Satya Nadella famously said, "We saw two years of digital transformation in two months" due to the pandemic and the need it created for virtual communication, work, and learning, but still nearly half the world's population lacks connectivity.

First, how can we begin to bridge the digital divide? Then, how can digital skilling lead us into a better global economy?

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Video: The need for digital inclusion: access, training, and activating skills for the next billion jobs

Nearly half the world's population lacks internet connectivity at a time when digital communication has never been more critical. As part of a special partnership between Eurasia Group and Microsoft, GZERO Media examines the power of connecting more people—and how teaching digital skills could create the workforce the 21st century needs.

An interview with UN Secretary-General António Guterres

In this extended version of Ian Bremmer's conversation with UN Secretary-General António Guterres for GZERO World, the two discuss a wide range of geopolitical issues and how they've been exacerbated by the pandemic. Guterres shares his views on the urgent need for global climate action, equitable distribution of vaccine once approved, and Europe's emerging role as an example of successful intergovernmental cooperation. Guterres also lays out his vision for a more "inclusive" multilateralism, one that involves deeper partnerships between organizations like the UN and World Health Organization with multinational corporations and private stakeholders.

Panel: How can we get to "net zero" to fight climate change?

On September 16, GZERO Media — in partnership with Microsoft and Eurasia Group — gathered global experts on climate and sustainability to address the future of "net zero" in a livestream panel.

Our panel for the discussion on Net Zero: Climate Ambition and Action included:

  • Julia Pyper, host and producer of the Political Climate podcast (moderator)
  • Gerald Butts, Vice Chairman & Senior Advisor, Eurasia Group
  • Lucas Joppa, Chief Environmental Officer, Microsoft
  • Rachel Kyte, Dean of The Fletcher School, Tufts University
  • Mark Carney, Finance Adviser to the UK Prime Minister for COP 26 and UN Special Envoy for Climate Action and Finance

Select quotes from our panelists:

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Video: Seeking digital peace, trust & security in cyberspace

As the UN turns 75, GZERO Media, Eurasia Group and Microsoft have teamed up to bring you a look at some of the most pressing global issues of the 21st Century. Here's a short look at a battlefield that has no borders—cyberspace, and efforts to create a safer digital world.

A more inclusive UN: Secretary-General Guterres on the future of multilateralism

In a new interview with GZERO World host Ian Bremmer, conducted on the eve of the 2020 General Assembly, UN Secretary-General António Guterres confronts the challenges of leading a multilateral organization in an increasingly nationalistic world. "I am not naïve," he tells Bremmer. "I know this is going to be a very tough ideological battle."

Watch the episode: UN Secretary-General António Guterres: Why we still need the United Nations

Why COVID-19 will widen the global digital gap

The coronavirus pandemic has radically accelerated the adoption of digital technology in the global economy, creating an opportunity for millions of new businesses and jobs. However, it has also left millions jobless and exposed yet another vulnerability: hundreds of millions of people lack access to this technology.

To be sure, this divide was already present before COVID-19 struck. But unequal access to the internet and technology is going to make the multiple impacts of the pandemic much worse for offline and unskilled communities, among others. In fact, there is not a single global digital gap, but rather several ones that the coronavirus will likely exacerbate.

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The Graphic Truth: A virtual UN General Assembly

This year's United General Assembly will be very different. Hotels in New York will not be full of famous heads of state, metal detectors, or US secret service agents as the coronavirus pandemic has turned the world's largest diplomatic gathering into a mostly online affair to enforce social distancing. A virtual UNGA requires a 20th century institution — which turns 75 and still thinks in analog in many ways — to rapidly embrace 21st century technology. How will UNGA adapt to its new virtual setting? Here are a few things that will change.

The pandemic is hurting women more than men

At the outset of the pandemic earlier this year, people in high places said that the coronavirus was shaping up to be the "great equalizer." But, in fact, the twin health and economic effects of the pandemic have been anything but equal. The poor have suffered and died more than the rich. Ethnic minorities in Europe and the US have borne the brunt. Pre-existing inequalities have been exposed, and deepened, by the disease.

Nowhere is that clearer than in the pandemic's disproportionate impact on women. What are the particular challenges for women in this crisis, and what does recovery look like for over half of the world's population?

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The Graphic Truth: New digital jobs in a post-pandemic world

The twin blows of the coronavirus pandemic and the economic crisis it unleashed have added around 250 million globally to unemployment rolls. It has also changed the nature of work for many of those who have been lucky enough to keep their jobs. But this disruption has also accelerated digitalization, which Microsoft projects will create 149 million new jobs over the next five years. As more people learn to work from home, what does this mean for work, education, and skilling? We look at the new "digital" jobs that the global economy will need to fill by 2025, and which skills will be needed to get hired.

Digital peace: Trust and security in cyberspace

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Three years ago, long before anyone had ever heard of COVID-19, a different kind of virus spread around the world: a piece of malicious software code launched by a nation state. It paralyzed computer networks in hundreds of countries, disrupted global shipping, forced pharmaceutical factories to shut down, and inflicted an estimated $10 billion of economic damage.

On the physical battlefield, a widely accepted set of rules, backed by international law, governs conduct, with the aim of protecting soldiers and civilians. Establishing common rules or guardrails is much harder in cyberspace, where borders can't be easily defined and the tools and tactics of combat are always changing. But it has never been more urgent.

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The Graphic Truth: Who's been hit hardest by COVID job losses?

The pandemic has affected the working world in a slew of ways: the collapse of economic growth has put many out of work, while public health restrictions mean others cannot do their jobs even if they still have one. The UN calculates that the equivalent of 400 million full-time jobs were lost in the second quarter of this year, compared with the end of last year. That's 14 percent of all worldwide jobs. This number includes workers put on furlough or temporary leave, as well as those who are now unemployed. The burden has fallen disproportionately on women, and experts are worried that the pandemic will exacerbate inequalities in the workforce, given the large number of women who work in hard-hit sectors of the economy. We take a look at which regions have been hit hardest by pandemic-related job losses.

The Graphic Truth: High drama at the UN General Assembly

This year's United Nations General Assembly will be mostly virtual, so the high-stakes drama of global diplomacy won't be the usual "contact sport" between rivaling nations. But previous UNGA editions have been full of surprising, unusual, and often bizarre moments inside the General Assembly Hall in New York. Here's a historical look at highly dramatic events that have taken place at the world's largest diplomatic gathering since 1945.