The General Debate of the 77th session of the UN General Assembly opened on Tuesday with the theme of “A watershed moment: transformative solutions to interlocking challenges.”
Csaba Korosi, president of the 77th session of the UN General Assembly, presided over the opening of the debate.
The world needs solutions through solidarity, sustainability and science, said Korosi in his opening speech.
“(We need) solutions because we have drafted many treaties, set excellent goals, yet have taken too little action. We need solidarity because inequalities have reached record heights. We need sustainability because we owe it to our children to leave behind a liveable world. We need science because it offers us neutral evidence for our actions,” he said.
“We gather today at the most consequential moment of the last four decades. Climate change has left us reeling under heat waves, floods, and droughts. Unsustainable consumption and production have left scars across our environment, from our skies to our seas,” said Korosi.
“We live, it seems, in a permanent state of humanitarian emergency. Over 300 million people are in urgent need of humanitarian aid and protection — a 10 percent rise since January,” he added.
Driven by climate change, COVID-19 and conflict, global hunger has reached alarming levels. In the last six months, food and energy price hikes have pushed at least 70 million people into poverty. Meanwhile, inflation rates are at 40-year highs, he said.
One-quarter of humanity lives in conflict areas, caught amid fighting and political instability. The violence across the world has rarely been so fierce, he added.
Korosi stressed the importance of tackling climate change.
“I stand in solidarity with the people of Pakistan, where devastating floods washed away hundreds of villages. You have seen the heart-wrenching scenes of devastation: this can be a window into our future,” he said. “However, in tackling climate change, we have the solutions. These are rooted in the advancements we have made in science cooperation and climate diplomacy. But we have to want to put them in practice.”
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has been proved to be an invaluable tool for supporting political decisions to combat climate change and to adapt to its consequences, he said. “We should consider replicating its success in the areas of water, energy, food and biodiversity. This would give us a universally accepted, scientific foundation for action.”
Water is set to be the next major driver of conflict worldwide, he warned.
The problem of water is threefold: too much, not enough, not safe. The UN Water Conference next year offers a rare opportunity to make a difference in the lives of 2.1 billion people who lack access to clean water, he said. “Let us cooperate to make the Water Action Agenda as transformational, practical, and actionable as possible.”
During the 77th session of the UN General Assembly, member states will also assess the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction and come to conclusions to improve resilience against disasters. It is vital that these opportunities lead to substantive outcomes, he said.
The challenges are great, and they are interconnected. But they are not insurmountable, he said. “Our opportunity is here and now. Let us act.”
In his “state-of-the world” report to the General Assembly right before the opening of the General Debate, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that the world is “in big trouble” and needs collective action across the board.
“Our world is in big trouble. Divides are growing deeper. Inequalities are growing wider. And challenges are spreading farther,” he said. “We need action across the board.”
However, he warned that the international community is gridlocked in colossal global dysfunction, saying it is “not ready or willing to tackle the big dramatic challenges of our age.”
He said crises like the conflict in Ukraine, climate emergency and biodiversity loss, and the dire financial situation of developing countries threaten the very future of humanity and the fate of the planet. But progress on all these issues and more is being held hostage to geopolitical tensions.
“Geopolitical divides are undermining the work of the Security Council, undermining international law, undermining trust and people’s faith in democratic institutions, undermining all forms of international cooperation,” he said. “We cannot go on like this.”
Even the various groupings set up outside the multilateral system by some members of the international community have fallen into the trap of geopolitical divides, like the Group of 20 (G20), he said.
“At one stage, international relations seemed to be moving toward a G2 world; now we risk ending up with G-nothing. No cooperation. No dialogue. No collective problem-solving,” said Guterres. “But the reality is that we live in a world where the logic of cooperation and dialogue is the only path forward. No power or group alone can call the shots. No major global challenge can be solved by a coalition of the willing. We need a coalition of the world.”
This coalition of the world must urgently overcome divisions and act together. It starts with the core mission of the United Nations — achieving and sustaining peace, said Guterres.
“We need much more concerted action everywhere anchored in respect for international law and the protection of human rights. In a splintering world, we need to create mechanisms of dialogue and mediation to heal divides,” said Guterres. “We are committed to make the most of every diplomatic tool for the pacific settlement of disputes, as set out in the United Nations Charter: negotiation, inquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration and judicial settlement.