UN General Assembly enters high-level week: what to expect
The 77th UN General Assembly’s (UNGA 77) high-level week begins in New York today against the backdrop of rising tensions between the world’s major powers, the war in Ukraine, as well as a perfect storm of food, climate and energy crises.
Although the UN’s key annual gathering officially kicked-off last Tuesday, the main event begins on 20 September when leaders and other senior officials will deliver their statements during the week-long general debate, held in the UN headquarters General Assembly hall.
Gone is the possibility of delivering statements remotely. This year’s debate is an in-person event only – the first since before the Covid-19 pandemic struck in 2020 – the exception being Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky, after a resolution was recommended to allow him to deliver a pre-recorded address.
However, there’s some uncertainty over when, and how many, leaders will arrive as Queen Elizabeth II's state funeral beckons hundreds of heads of state to London today – among them, US president Joe Biden who has changed his speaking time for the General Debate from Tuesday to Wednesday 21 September.
“Unfortunately the number of confirmed heads of states and government to come in person has been declining over the last couple of days, ” Maki Katsuno-Hayashikawa, executive secretary of the Transforming Education summit secretariat at UNESCO told journalists in Geneva last Thursday.
Member states are expected to make new national commitments to improving their education systems at the key UNGA thematic event, which began Saturday and will close with its Leaders Day today. “Initial registration was almost over 100 (leaders) but now I think we are down to about 60,” she added.
Hunger crisis, energy, climate and political tensions dominate agenda
Between the ongoing Covid pandemic, the Ukraine war, and a toxic cocktail of climate-related emergencies, food shortages and disruption caused by numerous armed conflicts, member states will have their pick of issues to try and tackle at this year’s General Assembly.
“This year’s General Debate must be about providing hope and overcoming the divisions that are dramatically impacting the world,” said UN secretary general Antonio Guterres in his opening remarks last week.
Diplomats and humanitarians in Geneva have also expressed concern that frayed political tensions between the major powers and a growing East-West divide risks slowing progress on some of the most pressing global issues.
Last week, the heads of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Geneva urged countries attending the New York gathering to act urgently to address the “catastrophic humanitarian crisis” in Africa, where more than 140 million people face acute food shortages brought on by soaring food prices, conflict and climate-related factors such as drought.
Reforming the UN Security Council
Beyond the long list of global emergencies to tackle, reforming the Security Council – the UN’s main tool for tackling challenges to global peace that has become increasingly paralysed – will also be high on the agenda.
In a press briefing last week, US ambassador to the UN in New York Thomas-Greenfield said President Biden would make it one of his three key priorities during the high-level week, alongside food insecurity and global health.
Efforts to reform the Security Council have tried and failed over the years and would require, first, that the General Assembly adopts a resolution on reform by a two-thirds majority, and an amendment of the UN Charter – a daunting task for countries to take on.
For Switzerland and for International Geneva, improving access to education, especially for children living in crisis situations, is one of the key priority issues at this year’s General Assembly.
The Swiss Confederation is supporting the Transforming Education summit and will co-host a high-level financing conference in February 2023 for UN’s Global Fund for Education in Emergencies, Education Cannot Wait.
It has also pledged to host headquarters for Giga, a new initiative by UNICEF and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) to connect every school to the internet, which held a side event at the UNGA as part of the Transforming Education summit on Saturday.
Last year, Geneva also became host to a new global education hub linking government, humanitarian, development, and UN actors, including Education Cannot Wait, to address the challenges that prevent children from accessing education during emergencies.