UN General Assembly: who will attend and what’s on the agenda?


World leaders are meeting in New York this week to address the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).

The war in Ukraine, climate change and nuclear disarmament are likely to dominate speeches and discussions at the annual meeting starting Tuesday at UN headquarters.

The theme for this year’s UNGA is “A Turning Point: Transformative Solutions to Interlocking Challenges”.

According to the UN, it “arises from the recognition that the world is at a critical juncture … as a result of complex and interconnected crises”.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the meeting took place “at a time of great peril”, with the world “plagued by war, battered by climate chaos, scarred by hatred and shamed by poverty, hunger and inequality”.

Speakers on Tuesday include Brazilian President Jair Bolsanaro, US President Joe Biden and Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.

Here’s what you need to know:

Who will be present?

Each UN member is invited to send a delegation to the UNGA, the most representative body of the UN system. Each Member State is given an equal vote when making decisions on resolutions.

This year’s session will take place in person for the first time since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic in March 2020. For the past two years, heads of state have been allowed to submit video statements due to pandemic restrictions.

The list of speakers includes some notable absentees, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping among those who will send their foreign ministers to the UNGA.

A pre-recorded speech by Lebanon President Michel Aoun at the 76th session of the UN General Assembly at UN Headquarters in New York, September 24, 2021 [John Angelillo /Pool Photo via AP Photo]

Where is it held?

The first six sessions of the UNGA were held in different cities, starting with London, New York and then Paris.

Since 1952, almost all sessions have taken place at the UN headquarters in the American city of New York.

How do topics get on the agenda?

Each UNGA session has a fixed agenda with topics that will be discussed, voted on or referred to various subcommittees.

Topics include issues proposed by member states or other UN bodies, issues raised by the Secretary-General and procedural issues related to the operation of the assembly.

The UNGA General Committee sets the agenda and the meeting ultimately decides how each item on the agenda will be dealt with.

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks on the sidelines of the UNGA at the UN headquarters in New York City, US, September 19, 2022 during the Transforming Education Summit [Brendan McDermid/Reuters]

What will UNGA focus on this year?

The Russian invasion of Ukraine is expected to be a major focus of the annual meeting, including the global food crisis that has worsened as a result.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told Al Jazeera that UN Secretary-General Guterres saw no “immediate light at the end of the tunnel” when it came to ending the war.

“However, there are opportunities to alleviate the suffering in Ukraine and the UN is very present with our humanitarian aid in Ukraine, but also to mitigate the global impact of the war – especially the food crisis,” he added.

As in previous years, climate change will also be a major topic of discussion, especially the recent floods in Pakistan, which have ravaged the country and affected more than 30 million people.

While member states have lifted most or all of the coronavirus restrictions in their countries in an effort to return to pre-pandemic conditions, issues such as access to vaccines, financial recovery and other related concerns will be a key topic of conversation.

What are UNGA resolutions?

Resolutions are adopted throughout the year in all UN councils, such as the Human Rights Council, the Economic and Social Council and the Security Council. The composition of the individual councils changes cyclically.

UNGA resolutions are seen as an expression of the will of the international community on a particular subject, although they are non-binding, meaning they have no legal power, but have symbolic importance in world affairs.

By contrast, resolutions adopted by the 15-member UN Security Council are generally considered binding under international law and member states are required to act upon them.

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