Thursday, 28 September, 2023

UNGA: High-level debate begins today

Developing countries to push for faster action on poverty, inequality

  • Diplomatic Correspondent
  • 19 September, 2023 12:00 AM
  • Print news

The climate crisis, Ukraine war and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are expected to figure prominently at the United Nations this week, as more than 140 leaders and state representatives from around the world descended on New York to address the 78th session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA).

But diplomats said developing countries will be vying for the spotlight as well as they push for faster action on poverty and inequality at the first full-on meeting of world leaders since the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted travel three years ago.

The UN’s two-day summit, which started on Monday, is aimed at generating action by world leaders to achieve 17 wide-ranging and badly lagging global goals by 2030.

In addition to ending extreme poverty and hunger, the goals include ensuring quality secondary education for all children, achieving gender equality and taking urgent action to combat climate change.

The high-level General Debate, which begins on Tuesday following two weeks of meetings, is the most widely watched event in the UN’s annual calendar.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is expected to address the general debate on September 23.

According to many analysts and diplomats, this year, the UNGA is taking place at a polarising and divisive juncture in history, the most fraught and dangerous since the Cold War.

When the annual high-level meeting of the 193-member General Assembly begins Tuesday, Presidents, Prime Ministers and monarchs from 140 countries are scheduled to speak, a very high number that reflects the multitude of global crises and lack of action.

For the first time in years, US President Joe Biden will be the only leader from the five powerful veto-wielding nations on the UN Security Council attending in person.

This has sparked private grumbling from developing-country diplomats that key global players won’t be listening to their demands, which need billions of dollars to implement.

Chinese President Xi Jinping attended last month’s Johannesburg summit of the BRICS bloc of developing economies — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, sought by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes in Ukraine, did not go to South Africa and is not coming to New York.

French President Emmanuel Macron, who attended last year, opted out to host Britain’s King Charles in Paris next week, and Rishi Sunak will be the first British prime minister to skip the UNGA in a decade, officially due to a busy schedule.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters last week that he didn’t think a leader’s presence “is more relevant or less relevant.” What counts, he said, is whether their government is prepared to make commitments on the UN goals and many other issues during the week. “So this is not a vanity fair,” he said.