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High-level week at the United Nations

Dr. Mariam Shaikh

The UN General Assembly also known as UNGA is the main policy-making organ of the United Nations. It is the most representative and comprises all Member States. The prime function of the General Assembly is to discuss, debate, and make recommendations on subjects about international peace and security, including development, disarmament, human rights, international law, and the peaceful arbitration of disputes between nations. It provides a unique forum for multilateral discussion of the full spectrum of international issues covered by the Charter of the United Nations. The General Assembly appoints the Secretary-General, on the recommendation of the Security Council, and approves the Organization’s annual budget. It also elects the nonpermanent members of the Security Council and other UN bodies, such as the Human Rights Council (HRC).
Each year, the Assembly meets in regular sessions from September to December, and thereafter as required. It discusses specific issues through dedicated agenda items or sub-items, which lead to the adoption of resolutions.
Each year, a new President is elected by 193 UN Member States, all of which have an equal vote. This year the UNGA has elected, by acclamation, Ambassador Dennis Francis, the Permanent Representative of Trinidad and Tobago to the #UN, a representative of a small island developing state, to serve as President of its 78th session.
In his acceptance speech, Ambassador Francis said his vision for UNGA 78 is ‘Peace, Prosperity, Progress, and Sustainability.’ He will succeed Csaba K?rösi of Hungary, current UNGA President, assuming the presidency on 5 September 2023.
In his acceptance speech on 1st June 2023, the President-elect pledged transparency, accountability, vigor, and dedication in discharging his responsibilities with hope “to bring forward a renewed atmosphere of conciliation, cooperation and shared commitment in addressing the many challenges and seizing every opportunity – however nascent – before the General Assembly,”. The 78th President of the UNGA highlighted peace, prosperity, progress, and sustainability as the international community’s “four supreme objectives” that if achieved, would “significantly alter the trajectory of disappointment and disillusionment…”
Each Year, every September, the session opens with a “high-level week” attended by heads of state and government, ministers. High-level week’s main event is the General debate where Heads of state and government make a speech in front of the General Assembly to put forth their priorities. Besides, the high-level week is also punctuated by a high number of high-level meetings, conferences, and bilateral meetings.
Each Year, Member states’ seating positions, in the largest and most majestic room of the United Nations’ main headquarters in New York, which is dedicated to its purpose, change for reasons of equity. During the 78th Session, North Macedonia will occupy the first seat in the Hall, including in the Main Committees (followed by all the other countries, in English alphabetical order).
Each year, High-level week has a focus and a unique theme that stems from the recognition of the critical concern for member states of the United Nations. Last year, the seventy-seventh session of the General Assembly opened on 13 September under the theme, “A watershed moment: transformative solutions to interlocking challenges.”
What is Unique about the UNGA’s 78th Session?
The 78th UN General Assembly will take place at a time of unprecedented setbacks in global progress.
The Earth is getting hotter, faster. Poverty and food insecurity are worsening, amid war and inflation. Humanitarian needs are escalating in scale and cost. Inequality is deepening.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres in his remarks during the election of the UNGA’s 78th President said that “Mr. Francis’s tenure comes at “a deeply challenging moment”, amidst conflicts, climate chaos, and escalating poverty, hunger and inequality – while the SDGs are also “slipping out of reach”.
Therefore, the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly marks a crucial milestone in the journey towards achieving the 2030 Agenda and the urgent need to put the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) back on track.
The 78th session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA 78), with the opening of the General Assembly regular session on Tuesday, 5 September, the first day of the high-level General Debate will be Tuesday, 19 September 2023.
During #UNGA78, world leaders, including young leaders, will discuss and debate how to confront the global poly-crisis and find strategies to accelerate action on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This year’s theme is ” Rebuilding Trust and Reigning Global Solidarity: Accelerating Action on the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals towards Peace, Prosperity, Progress, and Sustainability for All.”
This year, Heads of State and Government, and Ministers coming to participate in a general debate are set to explore solutions to the global challenges of peace, security, and sustainable development at this juncture of history.
This year, there are key High-Level Meetings during the High-Level Week (19-23 September 2023) that are being organized around the theme of the 78th Session.
Foremost, is the #SDG Summit (18-19 September 2023), which will review the implementation of the SDG 2030 Agenda and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The discussions are expected to provide high-level political guidance on transformative and accelerated actions leading up to the target year i.e., 2030 for achieving SDGs. It is expected that a negotiated political declaration is a resolve to combat the combined impacts of climate catastrophe, conflict, economic downturn, and lingering COVID-19 effects. It is a moment to recommit to a vision of the future that ensures no one is left behind and reset a balanced relationship with the natural world.
An event taking place on the heels of the SDG Summit, that is set to provide political leadership and guidance on the implementation of the Addis Ababa Action Agenda (2015) – is the High-Level Dialogue on Financing for Development. As the Addis Ababa Action Agenda served as a UN framework for mobilizing resources to achieve the SDGs in 2015, this year in 2023, the High-Level Dialogue on Financing for Development may help identify progress and emerging challenges and mobilize further action reinvigorating international commitment to the Addis Agenda.
It is critical to note that this dialogue is taking place when only 15% of the Sustainable Development Goal targets are on track and when the international financial architecture is increasingly becoming unfair to developing countries. It is interesting to see the main outcome of this event and that will be the announcements by countries and other stakeholders of new commitments and initiatives that could accelerate progress on the 2030 Agenda.
Along with the SDG Summit, the Climate Ambition Summit on 20 September 2023, convened by the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres aims to provide credible, serious, and new climate action and nature-based solutions that can effectively respond to the urgency of the climate crisis. The issue of Climate Change is now “Urgent “as not just assessed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change but also felt by the world leaders. The extensive damage from the climate crisis while the global greenhouse gas emissions remain at record levels needs immediate and deep reductions in emissions now to limit global warming to 1.5°C degrees above pre-industrial levels and prevent the worst impacts.
#ClimateJustice demands that populations that are the least responsible for the climate crisis yet suffering from its impacts be provided with immediate help to adapt and recover from loss and damage. The climate Crisis at this moment in history has emerged as an issue of equity and climate justice which requires immediate attention from governments and international financial institutions. It is hoped that the Summit will prove a critical political milestone for demonstrating that there is a collective global will to accelerate the pace and scale of a just transition to a more equitable renewable-energy-based, climate-resilient global economy.
Seeing the lingering effects of #COVID19, a High-level Meeting on Pandemic Prevention, Preparedness, and Response, is another landmark event happening during a high-level week. The President of the General Assembly, in collaboration with the World Health Organization, will convene Heads of State and Government for this very important discussion and to adopt a political declaration aimed at mobilizing political will at the national, regional, and international levels for pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response.
This event affirms that pandemics call for timely, urgent, and continued leadership, global solidarity, multilateral commitment, and cooperation among Member States and with relevant United Nations entities and other relevant international organizations, to implement robust global, regional, national and local actions, driven by equity and the respect for human rights, to strengthen pandemic prevention, preparedness and response, and fully address the direct and indirect consequences of current and future pandemics.
Another featured event during the High-Level week is the Preparatory Ministerial Meeting for the Summit of the Future on September 21, 2023. In the backdrop of major global shocks in recent years including the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ukraine war, and the triple planetary crisis, among others that have challenged our international institutions, the “Summit of the Future” in September 2021, the Secretary-General responded with his report, Our Common Agenda, had called for a Summit of the Future to forge a new global consensus on readying ourselves for a future that is rife with risks but also opportunities.
The Summit of the Future 2024 where an action-oriented Pact for the Future is expected to be agreed upon by Member States through intergovernmental negotiations on issues they decide to take forward is marked as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to enhance global cooperation to tackle critical challenges, address gaps in global governance, reaffirm existing commitments, and make a multilateral system better positioned to positively impact people’s lives.
In September 2019, Heads of State and Government endorsed an ambitious and comprehensive political declaration at the United Nations General Assembly high-level meeting on universal #health coverage (UHC), reaffirming the right of every human being, without distinction of any kind, to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health and recommitting to achieve universal health coverage by 2030. The High-level Meeting on Universal Health Coverage during a high-level meeting on September 21, 2023, is expected to present an opportunity for countries and stakeholders to renew efforts and accelerate progress toward achieving health for all. This meeting is aimed at bringing a concise, action-oriented declaration based on a comprehensive review of the implementation of the 2019 declaration, lessons learned from COVID-19, identified gaps, and evidence-based recommendations to accelerate progress towards the achievement of universal health coverage by 2030.
Another health-related event during high-level week is a High-level Meeting on the Fight against Tuberculosis on September 22, 2023. The UN General Assembly will hold this meeting under the theme, “Advancing science, finance, and innovation, and their benefits, to urgently end the global tuberculosis epidemic, in particular, by ensuring equitable access to prevention, testing, treatment and care”. The main objective of the meeting is to implement a comprehensive review of progress in the context of the achievement of targets set in the 2018 political declaration and in the Sustainable Development Goals.
Since 2020, the UN General Assembly Sessions have been transitionally from virtual during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic to a hybrid format due to the situations of uncertainty surrounding the fear of Covid-19. This year, the session in its post-pandemic era is back in its in-person format. This year it is expected to be bigger and a busier moment at the United Nations.
In this large gathering of world leaders, the world is watching… whether the world leaders would actually commit to make real progress on the SDGs and resolve to avert a Climate emergency, and more importantly, get ready to apply the hard-earned lessons of the pandemic. Fingers crossed!

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