UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. Source: Andrew Kelly/Reuters.
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  • World leaders will return to the United Nations in New York this week with a focus on tackling climate change and COVID-19
  • Around a third of the 193 UN states are planning to once again send in videos, with the rest due to travel to the United States
  • UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said discussions around how many diplomats have been vaccinated showed the inequality of vaccine distribution
  • Of the 5.7 billion vaccine doses administered globally so far, only two per cent have been in Africa

World leaders will return to the United Nations in New York this week with a focus on tackling climate change and COVID-19.

While the coronavirus rages amid an inequitable vaccine rollout, around a third of the 193 UN states are planning to once again send in videos. Presidents, prime ministers and foreign ministers from the remainder, however, are due to travel to the United States.

The US had previously tried to discourage leaders from coming to New York, citing the potential for the UN General Assembly to become a “super spreader” event. Still, US President Joe Biden is expected to give his address in person — his first UN visit since taking office.

America’s UN envoy, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said Biden would “speak to our top priorities: ending the COVID-19 pandemic; combating climate change … and defending human rights, democracy, and the international rules-based order.”

A so-called UN honour system will be in place, meaning that anyone entering the assembly hall effectively declares they are vaccinated, but they do not have to show proof.

That system is likely to be immediately broken when the first country — Brazil — speaks. President Jair Bolsonaro is a vaccine sceptic, who declared last week that he does not need the shot because he’s already immune after being infected with COVID-19.

Speaking to Reuters, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said discussions around how many travelling diplomats might have been vaccinated illustrated “how dramatic the inequality is today in relation to vaccination.” Guterres is pushing for a global plan to vaccinate 70 per cent of the world by the first half of next year.

Of the 5.7 billion vaccine doses administered globally so far, only two per cent have been in Africa.

Biden is expected to host a virtual meeting from Washington with leaders and chief executives on Wednesday that aims to boost the distribution of vaccines globally.

In an interview with CNN on Sunday, Guterres pointed to Biden’s efforts and a proposal by the International Monetary Fund to create a US$50 billion (A$68.83 billion) vaccine program for poorer countries as “positive signs” richer countries are starting to tackle vaccine inequity.

“But let’s be clear: all this is too little, too late,” he added.

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