On Friday 11 September, the United Nations All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) hosted a briefing from Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Minister of State for the Commonwealth, United Nations, and South Asia) on the UK’s objectives at the historic 75th session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA). The meeting was chaired by Lord Hannay of Chiswick (Chair of UN APPG) and attended by members of both Houses.
Lord Hannay opened the meeting by noting that although the media is understandably focused on the pandemic, important policy choices continue to be made around the world - and particularly at the UN - which deserve our attention.
He highlighted key concerns, including:
- Attacks on the World Health Organisation by the United States
- Continuing deadlock in the UN Security Council, and the impacts on countries including Syria and Iran
- Economic shock due to the pandemic, which will adversely affect developing countries in particular
- The UN Climate Conference (COP 26) and the NPT Review Conference both being postponed until next year
Lord Ahmad began his briefing by highlighting the historic nature of the 75th session of the UN General Assembly, as the first ever virtual UNGA. UNA-UK was encouraged to hear that in his view UNGA remains a key opportunity for the UK to reaffirm its role as an active and forward-looking UN Member State.
This UNGA session is the first since the formation of the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) and Lord Ahmad stressed the significance of development as a key focus of the newly merged office. He noted that the interdependence of humanity has become all too clear through the challenges of the pandemic, and reinforced the message that Covid-19 is an urgent reminder for countries around the world to come together.
We were pleased to hear Lord Ahmad outline the G7 and COP26 (to be held in Glasgow next year) as opportunities for the UK to demonstrate its leadership. Additionally, he reaffirmed the UK’s commitments to working with the UN on global challenges, and working with the WHO, noting the UK’s funding to support Covid-19 response.
Asked what the UK hopes will emerge from the UN75 global consultation and follow up process, Lord Ahmad stressed that the overarching objective must be a renewal of the multilateral system and cooperation, reiterating that UNGA is a crucial opportunity to address global challenges, such as Covid-19 and climate change.
Important questions around broader UN reform, effective leadership at the Organisation, and the international rules-based system were raised. Baroness Coussins asked whether the idea of merit-based appointments, such as the open recruitment for the role of Secretary-General that the 1for7 Billion campaign achieved, could be extended to other UN leadership positions. In response, Lord Ahmad expressed his “total commitment” to reform, a position which he has shared with Secretary-General Guterres.
Following this, Lord Judd raised the question of whether the UK’s role as a permanent member of the Security Council means it should set even clearer commitments to international rule of law. Lord Ahmad stated it is important that the UK remains a strong voice in support of the multilateral system and that while the UN is not without faults, no other organisation has the ability to bring together these crucial strands, such as health, gender equality, and conflict.
Looking forward, Lord Ahmad expressed hope that the UK will host the UN Secretary-General in January 2021 to mark the anniversary of the first ever session of the General Assembly and Security Council - both of which were held in London.
For further information on the 75th Session of the UN General Assembly, read our latest UN briefing here.
Photo: Houses of Parliament. Credit: Adrian Pingstone