UN High-Level Week: Time for Solutions and Solidarity
The 75th session of the General Assembly will be unlike any other in the Organization’s history, occurring in the midst of a crisis unlike any other in our lifetimes: the COVID-19 pandemic. The corridors at Headquarters may be less active than usual, but the programme is full and the stakes are higher than ever. This year’s Assembly offers a unique platform at a pivotal moment.
The pillars of our world, already unsteady, have been shaken to the core by the coronavirus. As societies lock down, and economies slow down, poverty is going up for the first time in a generation, erasing almost all the progress made since the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals five years ago. Everything the United Nations stands for and works for – peace, progress and human rights – is in jeopardy, and a prolonged crisis looms. As we strive to respond and recover, international cooperation has never been more important.
The General Assembly’s opening will underscore anew the urgency of the SDGs, and strive to raise the ambition and action needed to leave no one behind. It will start with what aims to be a galvanizing “SDG Moment” – launching a Decade of Action and highlighting SDG solutions that can help to heal the ills and inequities exposed or exacerbated by the virus. A series of high-level meetings will carry forward the momentum for transformation by addressing key dimensions of this work: on the climate crisis, the alarming decline in biodiversity and the effort to produce a COVID-19 vaccine accessible to all as a global public good that keeps us all safe. Financing is the crucial underpinning, and leaders will come together in an attempt to overcome funding shortfalls and, just as important, to explore how the global financial architecture can be made more fit for purpose. Member States will also mark the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action to reaffirm the central role of women and reinforce our work to eliminate gender-based violence.
In his speech to the General Debate, the Secretary-General will stress the need for a more concerted and coordinated pandemic response, and offer a vision for recovery, including through a New Social Contract to address the roots of inequality and drivers of instability. Broadening the lens, he will address the world’s readiness to tackle fragilities whose impacts may dwarf those of the pandemic – climate change above all, but also lawlessness in cyberspace and the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Finally, he will examine the international system itself, elaborating on his call for a New Global Deal and offering suggestions for improving global governance in a multipolar world.
The pandemic has erected new obstacles to peacekeeping and peacemaking. Despite some encouraging steps following the Secretary-General’s call in March for a global cease-fire, conflicts persist and suffering continues. Seeking to build on recent diplomacy, cease-fires and standstills in the fighting in some situations, the Secretary-General will renew his appeal and call on Member States to mobilize a collective push for peace by the end of the year. High-level meetings will refocus attention on peace and security challenges in the Central African Republic, Libya and Yemen. The international community will meet to reaffirm solidarity with Lebanon in the aftermath of the explosion that destroyed the port of Beirut. Across the week, human rights will be front and centre, echoing the Secretary-General’s “Call to Action” launched earlier this year.
Seventy-five years ago, world leaders took visionary steps to recover from a calamitous global war. Today, we face another foundational moment. Even before the pandemic, to mark the 75th anniversary of the United Nations, the Organization initiated a global listening exercise to take the pulse of the planet. The results, now infused with the upheaval caused by the virus, show a world on edge but clear about its aspirations: universal health care, a healthy environment, social justice, racial justice, a fair globalization and enhanced international cooperation.
At a ceremony marking the anniversary, Member States will adopt a declaration expressing their belief that today’s challenges can only be addressed through “reinvigorated multilateralism”, and inviting the Secretary-General to report back within a year on advancing our “common agenda”. The Secretary-General will seize this opportunity and report back with analysis and recommendations before the end of the 75th session.
The overarching message emanating from this year’s virtual high-level week will be one of solidarity. Amidst the tragedy, geopolitical tensions, mistrust and misinformation, the world has witnessed remarkable feats of community and caring, with people displaying the universal impulse to extend hands of help in times of need. With that spirit, and with the knowledge and tools in our hands today, we can get on track to overcome the virus and chart a better path forward. Solutions, science, cooperation and leadership will point the way.