Jacinda Ardern uses UN speech to slam 'isolationism, protectionism and racism'

Jacinda Ardern has used her first speech at the United Nations General Assembly to take aim at the Trump administration, without mentioning the US President by name.

The Prime Minister took the stage in New York on Friday morning (NZ time), beginning and closing her remarks with Te Reo.

After a brief introduction to herself - "a child of the '80s" - and the "self-deprecating" New Zealand people, Ms Ardern got stuck in, decrying the "catastrophic" decline of multilateralism in trade and efforts to stop climate change.

"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?"

World leaders queue up to meet Jacinda Ardern after her speech (there are a lot).
World leaders queue up to meet Jacinda Ardern after her speech. Photo credit: Office of the Prime Minister

US President Donald Trump pulled the US, the world's second-largest emitter of carbon dioxide, out of the Paris Agreement in June last year.

"Any disintegration of multilateralism - any undermining of climate related targets and agreements - aren't interesting footnotes in geopolitical history. They are catastrophic," said Ms Ardern.

"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."

She said while New Zealand is taking steps to do its part, such as ending permits for oil and gas exploration, the "remote nation at the bottom of the south Pacific" only represents 0.2 percent of global emissions.

"That's why, as a global community, not since the inception of the United Nations has there been a greater example of the importance of collective action and multilateralism, than climate change. It should be a rallying cry to all of us.

"And yet there is a hesitance we can ill afford.  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."

She went on to criticise the "false promises of protectionism", clearly a dig at the United States' move towards tariffs and Mr Trump's constant threats to tear up trade agreements.

"International trade... has helped bring millions of people out of poverty around the world.  But some have felt their standard of living slide.  In New Zealand, we ourselves have seen the hesitancy around trade agreements amongst our own population," she explained, no doubt a reference to the chaotic protests against the Trans-Pacific Partnership in 2016.

"The correct response to this is not to repeat mistakes of the past and be seduced by the false promises of protectionism. Rather, we must all work to ensure that the benefits of trade are distributed fairly across our societies."

The UN General Assembly listens to Jacinda Ardern.
The UN General Assembly listens to Jacinda Ardern. Photo credit: UN

Elsewhere in the speech, Ms Ardern touched on women's rights, saying "me too must become we too" if issues like the gender pay gap and domestic violence were ever going to be solved.

"As a girl I never ever grew up believing that my gender would stand in the way of me achieving whatever I wanted to in life. I am, after all, not the first, but the third female Prime Minister of New Zealand.

"It seems surprising that in this modern age we have to recommit ourselves to gender equality, but we do. And I for one will never celebrate the gains we have made for women domestically, while internationally other women and girls experience a lack of the most basic of opportunity and dignity."

She also reiterated New Zealand's long-held view the UN Security Council veto should be canned.

"If we want the council to fulfil its purpose of maintaining international peace and security, its practices need to be updated so it is not hamstrung by the use of the veto."

Ms Ardern finished off by saying "kindness" was the key to achieving "the simplicity of peace, of prosperity, of fairness".

"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."