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

1. Covid19

As the General Assembly takes place in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the PGA for the 75th session has urged speakers to focus their remarks on multilateralism in the context of responding to the pandemic.

The WHO has set out their three main messages for this year’s UNGA:

  • World leaders must support equitable access to Covid-19 tools;
  • We must maintain the momentum towards achieving the SDGs;
  • We must prepare for the next pandemic together, now.

At the top of the agenda will be the draft resolution on “international cooperation to ensure global access to medicines, vaccines and medical equipment to face Covid-19”. Member states started this conversation in April, but must make progress on negotiating a way to ensure equal access to any future vaccine.

In outlining his three priorities for the year ahead, Secretary-General Guterres stated that it would be a “stupid mistake” for states to not support the call for an affordable vaccine for all. He has urged the global community to build solidarity and view the vaccine as a public good that should be fairly accessible to all.

In April WHO launched the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator platform for Covid-19 testing, treatment, and vaccine distribution. As part of the platform the COVAX Facility has been established as a mechanism to pool funding from wealthy nations and other donors, in order to develop and distribute Covid-19 vaccines. The scheme is led by WHO, GAVI, and the Coalition for Pandemic Preparedness Innovations so far has 172 countries signed-up and intends to deliver 2 billion doses of the vaccine to 20% of the population of participating countries by the end of 2021.

Another priority for the Secretary-General will be to pursue his call for a global ceasefire. Although the UN Security Council eventually agreed to a resolution supporting this in July, it came after months of political inaction.

Unfortunately the delay in endorsing the ceasefire is typical of Security Council inaction with respect to Covid-19. Although the UN General Assembly adopted its first resolution on Covid on 2 April, calling for “global solidarity, multilateralism and international cooperation” the UN Security Council is yet to come to consensus on a resolution to recognise Covid19 as a threat to international peace and security.

Last year UNGA hosted the first High-Level Meeting focused on Universal Health Coverage. As the outgoing PGA noted, “the emergence of the novel coronavirus has shown that we have to continue to deepen multilateral cooperation in the health sector...to build a healthier world for all.” It remains to be seen if member states will take heed from this crisis and step up to take firm action for a fair and cooperative multilateral plan to tackle this crisis.

2. UN75

The UN celebrates this landmark anniversary not only at a time when the world is gripped by a health crisis, the economic and social fallout of which is yet to be fully released, but also at a time when the very fundamental tenets of the rules-based order and multilateralism are under threat.

On Monday 21st September, UN member states are set to adopt the UN75 political declaration at the high-level event to commemorate the 75th anniversary. For the event, pre-recorded messages from heads of state and governments will be broadcast.

This declaration has been shepherded throughout the course of the last year by the co-facilitators appointed to the process, Permanent Representative of Qatar to the UN, Her Excellency Ambassador Alya Ahmed Saif Al-Thani and the Permanent Representative of Sweden, Ambassador Anna Enestrom. UNA-UK’s Together First campaign for global governance reform has closely followed and advocated around this process. You can find out here more about the different stages of the draft declaration, and here you can find out more about how Together First along with partners advocated to make sure the UN75 process was open, transparent and accessible to civil society.

UNA-UK issued statements on the political obstacles the draft faced, the first on the occasion the UK “broke silence”, the second when a member state objected to a reference of the Paris Agreement. Ultimately, the final agreed document is a reaffirmation of multilateralism and is inspiring and clear - the outgoing PGA along with the co-facilitators should be commended on such an outcome considering the current global political environment.

However while, the declaration is a positive commitment to multilateralism and the pillars of the UN’s mission, it is still not enough. Instead, this moment needs to be a launchpad for a serious agenda of reform, one that truly meets the scale of the challenges we face. The declaration mandates that the UN Secretary-General reports back before September 2021 with his recommendations for our common agenda.

In January of this year the UNSG launched the “largest ever global consultation” under the banner of “the future we want, the UN we need”. Taking place during a moment of global upheaval, the urgent need for renewed international cooperation has only been heightened. The UN is to release its report documenting the outcomes of this global conversation, and we can expect it to highlight 10 main items that respondents and participants have highlighted as their main concerns for the UN.

As the SG has rightly said “business as usual” cannot be the route of post-Covid recovery. As we aim to “build back better” the United Nations must lead by example - the UN75 report and declaration should serve as the launchpad for a year of meaningful and innovative reform

3. Beijing +25

2020 marks the 25th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action on gender equality. On 1 October a high-level meeting of the General Assembly will focus on the theme “Accelerating the realisation of gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls.”

This session will focus on the review of the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and assess the current challenges impeding implementation of the Platform for Action and attaining gender equality and women’s empowerment. As this important anniversary coincides with five years since the agreement of the SDGs, and the start of the “decade of action” to deliver them. Gender equality has been recognised as an essential factor in achieving all 17 Goals; special focus will be paid to the contribution of women’s empowerment to the realisation of the 2030 Agenda.

The high-level commemoration of Beijing +25 comes after the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) was unable to carry out their periodic review in March 2020 as Covid19 forced the suspension of the session after just one day.

The agenda for women’s rights is facing a critical moment. A major report by UN women, published earlier this year, shows that progress towards gender equality is under threat, and many gains and advances are being reversed. Currently no country in the world is on track to achieve gender equality in 2030. Moreover, Covid19 has disproportionately affected those most vulnerable in our societies, and the impact on women and girls has been widespread. UN Women created a new “in focus” hub in order to share up-to-date information and analysis on the impact of Covid19 on women, and how gender equality matters in the world’s Covid response.

In the lead up to the October meeting, a number of side events supported by UN Women will highlight the fundamental importance of placing women at the heart of Covid-19 response and recovery. UNA-UK echoes the call from the Centre For Feminist Foreign Policy that urges governments and ministers to apply a feminist persepctive to their Covid19 repsonses, not only to safeguard existing progress, but to ensure women’s rights do not face further setbacks during this crisis, and to kick start progress towards achieving the 2030 goal of gender equality

4. SDGs

There is just a decade left to fulfil the Sustainable Development Goals - and the annual SDG progress report released in July 2020 revealed that efforts to deliver the Goals has been insufficient. Covid19 has unleashed a crisis beyond the immediate health concerns, and has set back progress on the SDGs even further. It has been noted that Covid19 is no leveler, rather it has shone a harsh light on the vast inequalities that exist at global and local levels affecting the poorest and most vulnerable.

On Friday 18th September the UN Secretary-General hosted the first “SDG Moment” of the Decade for Action. Member states were invited to participate at the level of head of state with the aim to:

  • Set out a vision for a Decade of Action and recovering better from Covid19;
  • Provide a snapshot on SDG progress;
  • Highlight plans and actions to tackle major implementation gaps;
  • Demonstrate the power and impact of action and innovation by SDG stakeholders.

This ‘moment’ was followed by a major media broadcast of a special 30 minute video entitled “Nations United” on Saturday 19 September. A video the UN hopes “will elevate the vision of the 2030 Agenda, showcase critical actions, and emphasize the need to transform our future to deliver the SDGs.”

For the SDGs to be realised, and indeed for the Decade of Action to meaningfully commence, it is vital civil society, and other stakeholders beyond UN member states, meaningfully participate in discussion and action on the SDGs. Despite the limitations of a virtual UNGA, two key SDG initiatives will continue virtually:

  • The SDG Action Zone will take place for 3 days from 22-24 September and aims to facilitate more in depth and detailed multi-stakeholder conversations on accelerating the SDGs.
  • The SDG Media Zone is taking place virtually from 15-29 September under the theme Science, Solutions and Solidarity to Transform our World. A main feature of UNGA since 2016, this media zone is organised by the UN Department of Global Communications and brings together member states, journalists and media professionals.

It is imperative that world leaders heed the call from Antonio Guterres to “build back better” and ensure that the post-Covid recovery is in line with the 2030 agenda.

5. Climate

The climate emergency has not abated, and although national lockdowns across the world led to a short-term improvement in carbon emissions, urgent action is needed if we are to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees and avoid the catastrophic consequences of not doing so.

UN Secretary-General Guterres has stated one of his three main goals for next year is to make sure the world is put on track to keeps warming below 1.5 and achieve carbon neutrality through climate action by 2050.

At last year’s UNGA, the Secretary-General hosted the largest ever high-level summit on climate change. This year, climate change and climate action will be focused on primarily through the UN Summit on Biodiversity, a high-level event that will hopefully see world leaders raise ambition and take action on protecting biodiversity.

2020 marks the end of the UN Decade on Biodiversity, and so far action to achieve global biodiversity targets, including those of the SDGs, has not been sufficient. Recently the UN published the fifth edition of its Global Biodiversity Outlook report in which they reported that the world has failed to meet a single one its targets to reduce the destruction of wildlife. While certain targets were partially reached, and there were examples of localised success, overall biodiversity is globally declining at unprecedented rates. Notably, the report highlights the importance of protecting biodiversity in fighting climate change and preventing future pandemics.

The Summit is a vital opportunity to establish political momentum to develop a post-2020 biodiversity framework to be adopted at the 15th Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, in Kunming, China, now postponed to 2021.

For more on global progress on the Paris Agreement, check out UNA-UK’s expert report Climate2020.