UNGA 2022: What to expect at the General Debate

Food insecurity, climate crisis and the war in Ukraine will take top spots

The UN headquarters in New York. The annual General Debate of the UN General Assembly begins next week. EPA
Powered by automated translation

The 77th session of the UN General Assembly, the world’s biggest annual diplomatic event, is due to start on September 20, with an opportunity for representatives from all 193 member states to weigh in on global issues.

This year’s main overarching themes at the General Debate are the war in Ukraine and the global crisis in food security that has partly resulted from it.

"We're going to be hearing a huge amount from western leaders about what they're trying to do to tackle the global food crisis," Richard Gowan, a UN analyst with the International Crisis Group, told The National.

"In response, we will be hearing a great deal from the African group, in particular, about the need for more assistance.

"Underlying a lot of these meetings, I think, will be a huge amount of tension between western countries and representatives of the Global South.”

Years of growing discord among some of the powerful member states have undermined the UN as a platform for peaceful resolution of political disputes.

“You can't fix the pandemic, you can't fix climate, you can't fix hunger or terrorism without everybody getting around the table,” said UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric.

"I think it's also important to note that even though there are deep divisions within the council, the work of the UN continues.”

Another issue that will be discussed and championed by the US during the assembly is UN Security Council reform.

The topic was first raised by the US permanent representative to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, while addressing the future of the UN last week in San Francisco.

"During this month's General Assembly, President Biden, Secretary Blinken, and I plan to consult broadly on our individual and collective responsibilities under the UN Charter, including critical questions around reform of the Security Council and other UN organs," Ms Thomas-Greenfield said.

"The Security Council should better reflect the current global realities and incorporate more geographically diverse perspectives."

The structure of the Security Council goes back to 1945 when the five countries that won the Second World War — China, France, the UK, US and the Soviet Union — assumed permanent memberships with powers of veto.

Mr Gowan said the US initiative was “a clever way of putting China and Russia on the spot, because we all know that the countries that are most allergic to the ideas of Security Council reform are Russia and China".

"China especially, because they worry that any council reform could lead to Japan gaining more influence in the organisation," he said.

Looming just as large as the political dramas are the deadly consequences of global warming.

The severity of climate change has been on full display in the lead-up to the General Assembly, with wildfires raging across Europe, catastrophic flooding in Pakistan and severe droughts in the horn of Africa.

Overall, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres's pleas have had limited impact.

“Because of the conflict in Ukraine and other crises, climate has kind of been pushed aside, when in fact, this is an opportunity to take the courageous steps," Mr Dujarric said.

"This is an opportunity to show real solidarity with those who need it.

"There were promises made in Glasgow. They were promises made in Paris for money, for adaptation, for energy transition that has just not come forward."

Ukraine war latest — in pictures

Updated: September 20, 2022, 11:45 AM