By Elena Marmo
With the focus firmly on preparations for the UN General Assembly (UNGA) High-Level Week (23-27 September), the Presidents of the General Assembly (PGAs) and the UN Secretary-General expressed their concerns and ambitions in closing the 73rd Session and opening the 74th Session.
While the UNGA High-Level Week will feature high-level meetings on climate, universal health coverage, financing for development, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and solutions for Small Island Developing States (SIDS), the UNGA’s remit goes far beyond that week, with meetings spanning the entire year, and a new session beginning each September.
The closing of the 73rd Session sees the departure of UNGA President María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés of Ecuador while the opening of the 74th sees the arrival of new President Tijjani Muhammad-Bande of Nigeria.
At the closing of the 73rd Session on 16 September, Secretary-General António Guterres and outgoing President Espinosa Garcés reflected on the work of the 73rd session, imploring Member State delegates to continue to pursue the many challenges the multilateral body is designed to address, with particular emphasis on the significance of the forthcoming 75th UN Anniversary. At the opening of the 74th Session on 17 September, incoming President Muhammad-Bande closed this loop, highlighting his plans and vision for continuing the work thus far and bringing new themes to the attention of Member States.
Priorities of the UN General Assembly
In her remarks at the closing of the 73rd Session, Espinosa Garcés highlighted her work on seven priorities identified at the outset of her presidency–advancing gender equality, inclusive UN access, eradication of single-use plastics, the Global Compact on Migration, and dialogue on decent work for all with a focus on inclusion for women and youth, increasing dialogue on synergies, and strengthening multilateralism.
At the opening of the 74th Session, Muhammad-Bande outlined his priorities for the tenure of his presidency including conflict prevention, poverty reduction, zero-hunger, inclusive access to education, climate change and social inclusion across UN policies. In terms of conflict prevention, Muhammad-Bande noted he will be working closely with the Security Council to “advocate for effective early detection and warning systems, as well as mediation, negotiation and peaceful settlement of ongoing conflicts” and “to engender cooperation that will address drivers of conflicts such as poverty, exclusion and illiteracy”.
At the closing of the 73rd Session, Espinosa Garcés noted, “I am more convinced than ever that multilateralism and the United Nations are irreplaceable and that, when we work together, there is no goal we cannot reach. We have, literally the power to transform the world, to do better for all people, to do it more inclusively and sustainably.”
While multilateralism remains under attack and the increased corporate sector engagement at the UN has engendered growing discontent among civil society, the Secretary-General and outgoing PGA reaffirm the relevance and necessity of the UN as a multilateral forum. Espinosa Garcés stated: “Today, at the end of my mandate, I can affirm with absolute conviction that the General Assembly is the ideal space – and the only one – to reach agreements, to advance global solutions.”
Further, Guterres noted: “From the climate crisis to migration flows and rising inequality, from waves of intolerance to harnessing technology for good, one thing is certain: global issues require global solutions. The United Nations General Assembly is our universal platform to build consensus for the common good.”
And in his opening remarks at the 74th Session, Muhammad-Bande reiterated this thought, noting that, “we must never forget that the world looks up to the UN as a vehicle for attaining peace and security, sustainable development and universal human rights”. Guterres highlighted this at the opening of the 74th Session as well, recalling conversations with Muhammad-Bande on how “transparency, dialogue and greater understanding are essential to alleviating…the trust deficit between nations”.
Reform to the UN System (UNS)
Along with an emphasis on multilateralism, both the outgoing and incoming General Assembly presidents as well as the Secretary-General made note of the role of ongoing reform to the United Nations Development System (UNDS) in helping the multilateral institution deliver more effectively for all. The Secretary-General emphasized that, “the United Nations continued over the past year to advance its comprehensive reforms at an unprecedented pace and scale…to make our Organization more nimble, effective and efficient – and to better serve ‘we the peoples’ of the world”.
Espinosa Garcés remarked on the importance of building on reforms carried out thus far for the 75th UN Anniversary in 2020, which Guterres called “a crucial year…to convince people that the United Nations is relevant to all and that multilateralism offers real solutions to global challenges”.
Muhammad-Bande reiterated this in his remarks as well, stating, “in line with the far-sighted vision of its founders” the Assembly needs to “redouble its efforts to bridge gaps and act for the common good of the people we serve, particularly as we prepare for the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the Organization”. Muhammad-Bande has also gone on record highlighting hopes for reform to the Security Council.
UN General Assembly (UNGA) High-Level Week
As the High-Level Week will take place under the presidency of the 74th Session of the UNGA, in her closing remarks Espinosa Garcés noted that “next week’s meetings must not be treated as stand-alone events but as a package. Indeed, they are inextricably linked strands of DNA that make up our ‘blueprint’ for the world.” Muhammad-Bande has called the week a “key opportunity to demonstrate that multilateralism works”.
With the much anticipated High-Level Week as a start to the 74th Session of the UNGA, the eyes of the international community will be on the Heads of State or Government to address the Summits’ interlinked and complex issues. To read more on the challenges and opportunities these meetings present, read Global Policy Watch’s analysis here.
Muhammad-Bande has reminded Member States that “we will have to strive together, to deliver for all” and to “build trust with one another, deepen partnerships and show empathy” as “the only way to resolve the many challenges that confront us”.