General debate commence at the UN General Assembly

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United Nations General Assembly

The General Debate of the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly opened at the UN headquarters in New York on Tuesday, focusing on restoring global trust and solidarity in current challenging time.

Dennis Francis, president of the 78th session of the UN General Assembly, presided over the opening of the debate, which is themed “Rebuilding trust and reigniting global solidarity: Accelerating action on the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals towards peace, prosperity, progress and sustainability for all.”

In his opening speech, Francis stressed the importance of uniting nations to tackle global challenges.

“This year, our imperative is clear: to unite the nations, to be united in conviction of common purpose and in solidarity of joint action,” he said.

He said the world has the capacity to effect change if there is the will to act.

“Despite the many and complex challenges we face, we do have the capacity to effect change, consequential change … What we lack is the will to act,” said Francis. “By putting aside our differences and bridging divides, we can deliver, we must deliver peace, progress, prosperity, and sustainability to everyone, everywhere. So let us step up and take action now.”

A common coordinated approach is needed now, as much as at any point in history. War, climate change, debt, energy and food crises, poverty and famine. These crises are directly impacting the lives and well-being of billions of people around the world. They are rolling back decades of hard-won development gains, and thus condemning millions to lifelong inter-generational poverty and hardship, he said.

“It is at times like these that we must search deep within to find our better selves and our common humanity that impels us to meet the moment. I therefore implore you, let us use this forum for that which it was intended,” he told world leaders.

Francis called for efforts to bring peace in Ukraine and other parts of the globe, from Africa to the Middle East.

“I urge you, member states, to use this high-level week not to fan the flames of conflict and hostility, but instead, to opt for dialogue and diplomacy. We must remember that peace is an investment in our collective prosperity,” he said.

While some progress had been made on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the SDG Summit is being convened on the sidelines of the General Debate in a context where there have been unacceptable delays and rollbacks, he noted.

“Let me be clear: we do not have the luxury of excuses, nor are we absolved of our responsibilities. The onus is on us – collectively – to make up for the lost momentum and work much harder in the remaining seven years to accelerate progress on that which we have promised to deliver.”

Francis also called for climate action, the advancement of human rights and gender equality.

The General Assembly Hall and the rostrum in it stand as a living testament to multilateralism and to the extraordinary role and compelling influence of the United Nations over the 75 years of its existence. It is a unique and truly global platform for debate, dialogue, and problem-solving through multilateral diplomacy, he said. “Let us re-energize the UN General Assembly and demonstrate our capacity and our will to deliver for all.”

In his “state-of-the-world” report right before the opening of this year’s General Debate, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for effective multilateral institutions to tackle global challenges.

“The world has changed. Our institutions have not. We cannot effectively address problems as they are if institutions do not reflect the world as it is. Instead of solving problems, they risk becoming part of the problem,” he said.

Guterres warned that the world is becoming unhinged.

“Geopolitical tensions are rising. Global challenges are mounting. And we seem incapable of coming together to respond,” he said.

The world confronts a host of existential threats, from the climate crisis to disruptive technologies, and the world is undergoing a chaotic transition, he noted.

For much of the Cold War, international relations were largely seen through the prism of two superpowers. Then came a short period of unipolarity. Now the world is rapidly moving towards a multipolar world. This is, in many ways, positive. It brings new opportunities for justice and balance in international relations. But multipolarity alone cannot guarantee peace, he said.

A multipolar world needs strong and effective multilateral institutions. Yet global governance is stuck in time, he warned.

“We are inching ever closer to a Great Fracture in economic and financial systems and trade relations; one that threatens a single, open internet; with diverging strategies on technology and artificial intelligence; and potentially clashing security frameworks,” he said. “It is high time to renew multilateral institutions based on 21st century economic and political realities, rooted in equity, solidarity and universality and anchored in the principles of the United Nations Charter and international law.”

Guterres called for compromise.

“Our world needs statesmanship, not gamesmanship and gridlock. As I told the G20 (Group of 20), it is time for a global compromise. Politics is compromise. Diplomacy is compromise. Effective leadership is compromise. Leaders have a special responsibility to achieve compromise in building a common future of peace and prosperity for our common good,” he said.

Multilateral action has produced results over the past year, with important new agreements on safeguarding biodiversity, on protecting the high seas, on climate loss and damage, and on the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, he noted. “We have all the tools and resources to solve our shared challenges. What we need is determination.”

He called for determination to uphold the UN Charter’s pledge for peace.

The world is witnessing a surge of conflicts, coups and chaos. If every country fulfilled its obligations under the UN Charter, the right to peace would be guaranteed. When countries break those pledges, they create a world of insecurity for everyone, he said.

Guterres called for reform of the international financial institutions.

The international financial architecture is dysfunctional, outdated and unjust. The deep reforms that are needed will not happen overnight, he said. “But we can take determined steps now to help countries weather crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic have dramatically impacted.”

He called for determination to tackle the most immediate threat to humanity: global warming.

Actions are falling abysmally short. The G20 countries, which are responsible for 80 percent of greenhouse emissions, must lead. Developed countries must reach net zero as close as possible to 2040, and emerging economies as close as possible to 2050. Developed countries must finally deliver the 100 billion U.S. dollars every year for developing country climate action, as promised; double adaptation finance by 2025, as promised; and replenish the Green Climate Fund, as promised, he said.

All countries must work to operationalize the loss and damage fund this year and ensure universal early warning coverage by 2027, he said. “Climate chaos is breaking new records. But we cannot afford the same old broken record of scapegoating and waiting for others to move first.”

Guterres also called for determination to honor the UN Charter’s commitment to fundamental human rights, including women’s rights.

He stressed the need to tackle the threats posed by new technologies.

New technologies require new and innovative forms of governance. There is an urgent need for a Global Digital Compact between governments, regional organizations, the private sector and civil society to mitigate the risks of digital technologies, and identify ways to harness their benefits for the good of humanity, he said.

The United Nations was created precisely for moments of maximum danger and minimum agreement, said Guterres. “Despite our long list of global challenges, that same spirit of determination can guide us forward. Let us be determined to heal divisions and forge peace, determined to uphold the dignity and worth of every person, determined to realize the Sustainable Development Goals and leave no one behind, determined to reform multilateralism for the 21st century and come together for the common good.”

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