You are here: Five things that will be discussed in New York

1. Climate Change

Secretary-General António Guterres will be convening the Climate Action Summit on Monday 23 September. This will be one of the most high profile climate conferences in recent times, and in the wake of devastating Hurricane Dorian and the recent fires that raged through the Amazon Basin, it seems the Summit has arrived not a moment too soon. Despite the commitments made in the Paris Agreement three years ago to restrict the rise in global temperature to below two degrees celsius, July 2019 saw carbon levels matched and record temperatures broken.

The Summit is expected to attract many world leaders. In July, UNSG Gutteres wrote to world leaders asking them “to come to the Summit ready to announce the plans that they will set next year to reduce greenhouse gas emissions for 2030 and to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.”

Although unconfirmed, the UN blog Passblue reported that Germany’s Angela Merkel may make an appearance in New York specifically in order to attend the Summit and other high profile meetings. Notably, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison will not attend being in the US that week to visit President Trump.

The list of attendees and speakers is not yet released, but is understood to be populated by those nations intending to outline plans for new emissions reductions targets or commitments to the UN Green Climate Fund. It promises to be a moment when the most meaningful and ambitious strategies to combat climate change will be presented.

Another high profile attendee, Swedish activist Greta Thurnberg, will be attending the Summit on the 23, as well as the Youth Climate Summit on 21 September. The first of these coming a day after the planned international climate strike taking place on 20 September. Preceding this, on 18-19 September there will be a “people’s summit” on climate rights and human survival hosted by Amnesty International.

For more on climate issues at the UN, read UNA-UK’s publication Climate 2020.

2. Universal Health Coverage

“Universal health coverage: moving together to build a healthier world”. Opening statements will be given by the President of the General Assembly, UN Secretary General, Director General WHO, and the President of the World Bank Group.

The meeting will be the last opportunity before 2023, the midpoint of the SDGs, “to mobilise the highest political support to package the entire health agenda under the umbrella of UHC”. In order to achieve this the meeting will aim to identify how a political declaration can encourage the establishment of milestones towards achieving Universal Health Coverage by 2030.

A report: “The Global Action Plan for Healthy Lives and Well-being for All: Strengthening collaboration among multilateral organizations to accelerate country progress on the health-related Sustainable Development Goals” will be presented by 12 global health, development and humanitarian agencies: Gavi, Global Financing Facility, the Global Fund, UNAIDS, UNDP, UNFPA, Unicef, Unitaid, UNWOMEN, World Bank Group, World Food Programme, WHO.

An important process in the preparation of this UNGA event was a multi-stakeholder meeting convened in April 2019 by the outgoing President of the General Assembly. You can find the key recommendations that this produced, here.

3. Sustainable Development Goals

The two day event on the Sustainable Development Goals will comprehensively examine implementation and progress towards achieving the 2030 agenda. It is the first UN summit on the SDGs since their adoption in September 2015. Its theme is: “Setting the scene and taking stock of the situation regarding the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals: progress, challenges and the way forward”.

The Summit will see a series of 6 “Leaders Dialogues” over the two-days, each based on a theme inspired by the Global Sustainable Development Report. The report The Future is Now: Science for Achieving Sustainable Development, is the first Global Sustainable Development Report prepared by the Independent Group of Scientists appointed by the United Nations Secretary-General. It summises that the current model of development is unsustainable and that drastic change is needed to avoid reversing the progress of the last two years. Concluding that “understanding the interconnections between the individual SDGs and the concrete systems that define society today will be essential to devise policies that manage difficult trade-offs.”

In a press release from the 12 September, responding to the report the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) warned “a new relationship between people and nature is needed as climate change a biodiversity loss threaten progress.” DESA highlighted the report’s assessment that the 2030 agenda can still be achieved but only by a “change in the relationship between people and nature, and a significant reduction in social and gender inequalities between and inside countries”.

It is important to note, that despite the report’s conclusion on the need for dramatic reform of development policies, the Summit is reserved for state actors alone, with civil society and business leaders excluded to side events. A civil society side event, “Systemic Analysis, Proposed Pathways and Institutional Reforms to Advance the 2030 Agenda” will take place on Tuesday 24, while an SDG business forum, “The SDGs...Turning Promises into Reality" on the Wednesday 25.

In June, UNA-UK released its latest report on the SDGs, “Sustainable Development Goals: Transforming Our World”. The sixth report in a series of publications by UNA-UK on the 2030 agenda, this edition looks at how the goals can be made to work for all and who is at risk of being left behind.

4. Nuclear Weapons

This high-level event will see the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear weapons commemorated and the cause of disarmament promoted.

Recently Turkey’s President Erdogan made the unprecedented announcement of his desire for Turkey to obtain nuclear weapons, despite their obligations as a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Erdogan’s statement is the latest in a line that suggest next year’s conference may spell the collapse of the NPT, the cornerstone of multilateral attempts to regulate nuclear weapons, established over 40 years ago.

Non-nuclear states are increasingly expressing their frustration as the N5 (The five nuclear armed states - China, France, Russia, UK and the US - as recognised under the NPT) continue to fall short of their obligations under Article 6 of the Treaty, which requires them to make good faith attempts to negotiate for disarmament. As a result, many non-nuclear armed states continue to push for the full ratification of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). Adopted in 2017, the TPNW is seen as a complementary agreement to the NPT, indeed a necessary one, in the face of faltering progress on disarmament. To date, 70 States have signed it, 26 States have ratified the TPNW and it will enter into force after the 50th ratification.

While the agenda for this high level event has not been confirmed, it is likely that it will be used as an opportunity to encourage States to ratify the TPNW and discuss ways to improve the chances of success of the approaching NPT Review Conference, scheduled for Spring 2020. UNA-UK has been campaigning for the UK Government to step down its harsh criticism of TPNW, as their animosity towards the treaty aggravates non-nuclear states and so poses a significant threat to the NPT.

5. Small island states

On 27 September 2019, the General Assembly will convene a one-day high-level meeting to review progress made in addressing the priorities of small island developing states (SIDS) through the implementation of the SAMOA Pathway. The high-level review will also result in a concise action oriented and inter-governmentally agreed political declaration.

The meeting will assess progress, challenges and gaps in implementing the SAMOA pathway. It will bring together SIDS representatives and development partners with a days of multi-stakeholder roundtables.

This is a crucial example of an indispensable relevance of the United Nations, in which small developing states are elevated in a way that would not be seen in other international decision-making arenas. Smaller developing States are disproportionately affected by climate change, and this landmark conference allows for them to hold the floor and be at the fore of the development policies for their future.