Amid Daunting Global Agenda, General Assembly President, Opening New Session, Calls on States to Commit towards Advancing Peace, Prosperity, Sustainability
The General Assembly opened its seventy-eighth session today, with its newly elected President calling on Member States to come together and commit to advancing the causes of peace, prosperity and sustainability in the face of a world beset by a series of cascading challenges.
The session begins “amid a daunting global agenda”, Dennis Francis (Trinidad and Tobago) stated in his opening address, setting out priorities for his presidency, beginning with the urgency of working for peace. Sharp geopolitical divides have led “to a dangerous new era of nuclear uncertainty”, he warned — forcing many countries to navigate a narrow space to drive change for their societies. This is especially true for small island developing States, middle-income nations and countries in the Global South struggling to meet their unique needs, and the Assembly must ensure that its efforts are anchored in a robust multilateral system. Amid questions about whether the Security Council can fulfil its mandate, the Assembly’s veto initiative is a welcome innovation towards greater transparency and accountability, he observed.
Citing a lack of prosperity, he noted that the world’s poorest bear the steepest costs of violence — and that long-term investments are needed to leave no one behind. The General Assembly must push to enhance financing, technology, debt sustainability and capacity-building in places where development is in deficit. The international community must also accelerate the transition to clean energy by making climate finance more accessible and affordable. Pointing to the fourth International Conference on Small Island Developing States in Antigua and Barbuda in May, and the third United Nations Conference on the Landlock Developing Countries in Rwanda in June, he stressed: “We can no longer tolerate unjust financial systems that keep countries trapped in vicious cycles of debt and deprivation” — moving beyond gross domestic product (GDP) and developing a Global Digital Compact.
He emphasized that the Sustainable Development Goals Summit will set the tone for the rest of the session, and for the 2030 Agenda over the next seven years. Member States must come together on the three major health processes: the fight against tuberculosis; pandemic prevention and preparedness and response; and universal health coverage — learning lessons in global solidarity from the COVID-19 pandemic. The high-level dialogue on Financing for Development, and the Summit for the Future will allow delegations to make a robust push towards delivering life-changing action by 2030.
“As things stand, 680 million people — 8 per cent of the global population — will still be facing hunger in 2030” without a quantum leap in commitments and radical transformation in action, he stressed. Further, with women and girls systematically denied their most basic human rights, “it is time to confront the epidemic of violence against women”. The Assembly must further tackle the insidious spread of human rights violations and extremisms in all their declinations — from hate speech to institutionalized discrimination — as ethnic, racial, sexual and religious minorities, people with disabilities, Indigenous People and others remain vulnerable to intersectional forms of discrimination.
Looking ahead to the 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference in December, he noted the Assembly’s historic recognition of the newest human right — to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment. With a global population set to reach 9.5 billion by 2050, it is imperative to transition to a mode of producing, consuming and living that is in equilibrium with all people, species and ecosystems. The world needs a green/blue revolution that addresses concerns around water, climate, biodiversity, land degradation and global food security. “The ‘future we want’ requires a pre-emptive nurturing of nature,” he stressed. He called for a high-level week and sessions agenda ensuring “that each of these gatherings culminates in meaningful, transformative outcomes. That must be our modus operandi.”
Amina Mohammed, United Nations Deputy Secretary-General, welcoming the incoming Assembly President on behalf of the Secretary-General, said the skills, experience, knowledge and wisdom that Mr. Francis brings will be essential as the international community continues seeking avenues for multilateral cooperation amidst deep challenge and division that is testing the United Nations.
“Despite profound global challenges, this is not a moment for pessimism. This is a moment for action,” she stressed, urging action for peace and human rights, as well as rescuing the Sustainable Development Goals, tackling climate change and expanding economic opportunity, especially for women and young people. She also called on Member States to ensure that rapid evolutions in technology like artificial intelligence are a help, not a harm, to humanity and to build a world of hope and promise for all.
Encouraging them to draw strength from the mission and values of the Charter of the United Nations, she stressed: “More than any room on Earth, the General Assembly represents our common humanity and our shared commitment for peace, sustainable development and human rights. Let’s forge the solutions that all people expect and make progress towards a better, more peaceful and prosperous future, and a healthier planet.”
At the outset of its first plenary meeting, the Assembly observed a minute of silence for prayer or meditation, in keeping with the rules of procedure. Following the opening statements, it turned to its agenda, first taking note of the Secretary-General’s letter of 21 August 2023 (document A/78/336) informing the Assembly of Member States in arrears of their financial contributions to the United Nations within the terms of Article 19 of the Organization’s Charter.
[Under Article 19, a United Nations Member in arrears of its financial contributions to the Organization shall have no vote in the General Assembly if the amount equals or exceeds the amount of the contributions due from it for the preceding two full years. The Assembly may, nevertheless, permit such a Member to vote if it is satisfied that the failure to pay is due to conditions beyond the Member’s control.]
The Assembly then appointed Andorra, China, Grenada, Nigeria, Russian Federation, Solomon Islands, Suriname, Togo and the United States to its Credentials Committee.
The General Assembly will meet again at a time and date to be announced.