GP Insights

GP Insights # 153, 28 September 2019

United Nations: The General Assembly meets again, but no big breakthroughs
Harini Madhusudan

What happened?

This week saw the first few rounds of speeches of the leaders at the UNGA. Brazil’s President, Jair Bolsanaro, was the first one to address the general debate amidst the heavy criticism over his economic and environmental policies as fires continue to burn in the Amazon. Mr Bolsonaro insisted that the Amazon is not being “consumed by fire”, and he urged world leaders to come to see for themselves. Boris Johnson had to cut his trip short after the Supreme Court ruling in the UK. However, Johnson met European Council President Donald Tusk but with no luck. 

Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, Benjamin Netanyahu and Nicolas Maduro were missing at the UNGA. 

So far, the leaders have not made many significant statements in the general debate. 

However, on the sidelines of the general debate at UNGA, multiple meetings were held, which were more significant than the general debate. Expectations remain that the assembly would take strong positions on North Korea, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, Myanmar and the Kashmir- India-Pakistan stand-off. 

What is the background?

The theme of the 74th Session of the UNGA meeting is on “Galvanizing multilateral efforts for poverty eradication, quality education, climate action and inclusion.” The broader focus of this years’ UNGA circles around Iran-US Crisis, Fire in the Saudi Oil fields, Climate and the forest fires in Brazil and Indonesia. 

On 23 September, the UN Secretary-General convened the Climate Summit. Following the convening of the general debate, a UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF), took place on the afternoon of 24 September and all day on 25 September. 

On 26 September, the UNGA held a high-level dialogue on financing for development (FfD), as well as a high-level meeting on the elimination of nuclear weapons. 

On 27 September, the UNGA held a high-level meeting to review the progress made in addressing the priorities of small island developing States. (SIDS) This was assessed through the implementation of the SIDS Accelerated Modalities of Action (SAMOA) Pathway. 

What does it mean? 

Mid-way through the UNGA, the world has not seen any significant outcomes from the debates. 

The meetings on the sidelines, however, have been somewhat useful; for example, the trade deal between Japan and the US. The widespread attention given to the proceedings of the UNGA by the international media is minuscule. 

The fact that the leaders of China and Russia did not make it to the debates does speak volumes about the broader attitude to the General Assembly. With the world caught among multiple conflicts and disputes, does the world take the UN General Assembly seriously anymore? 


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