The 78th UN General Assembly (UNGA), which is taking place from 18 to 26,September at the UN headquarters in New York, comes at a time of unprecedented setbacks in  global progress on multiple fronts. During the week-long gathering, world leaders will discuss and debate how to confront the global polycrisis. They will also seek strategies to accelerate action on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, as well as on climate change. In addition, the leaders will strive to find solutions to several lingering geopolitical crises that have evaded consensus so far.

A highly anticipated and widely watched event during the 78th session of UNGA is the General Debate that began on 18 September and will continue over the next few days. “It is a one-of-a-kind moment each year for leaders from every corner of the globe to not only assess the state of the world but to act for the common good,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters last week. “And action is what the world needs now.”

The theme for this year’s General Debate is quite a mouthful, ‘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’. The theme underlines the challenges facing the 193-member world body from reaching consensus and moving forward cohesively on many of the critical issues facing the world.

About 150 leaders are expected to attend the high-level talks, including Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, both of whose addresses to the General Assembly will be closely watched by media and political analysts. Given the diversity of speakers, the General Debate is,as usual, expected to cover a range of contentious issues and challenges of regional and global interest.

US President Joe Biden will be the only top leader of the UN Security Council’s five permanent members —  the US, China, Russia, France and the United Kingdom —  to attend the high-level week. British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has decided to skip the event, saying his busy schedule prevents him from going to New York. French President Emmanuel Macron will also miss the event, citing scheduling conflicts.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is likely to represent his country in place of President Vladimir Putin while China is expected to send its vice-president or foreign minister to sit-in for President Xi Jinping, who has over the years tended to skip the annual UN powwow.

The 78th session of UNGA gains added significance as it comes two months before the United Nations’ climate summit, COP28, which will be held in Dubai, UAE, and in this regard the UN Secretary-General Guterres, will host a Climate Ambition Summit on the sidelines of the main event in New York. “My appeal to world leaders will be clear: This is not the time for posturing or positioning. This is not the time for indifference or indecision. This is a time to come together for real, practical solutions,” Guterres said at a recent news conference.

Recent military coups in Africa, notably in Niger, is likely to be another topic that comes up for discussion during the debate, as are the ongoing conflicts in Sudan and Ethiopia. New and prevailing humanitarian crises in places such as Afghanistan, the Horn of Africa and Latin America, as well as the recent devastating earthquake in Morocco and floods in Libya are also expected to feature  prominently in talks during the week-long debate in New York.

The 78th session of UNGA also highlights the need for renewed commitment to multilateralism and for UN member states to see how they can undertake coordinated purposive action to promote peace and security, fight climate change, and promote human rights. The gathering also underlines the need to accelerate efforts to meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals that are critical in determining not only our future, but that of generations to come.

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