Business as usual at the 74th UNGA

A week has passed since the opening of the annual General Debate of the UN General Assembly (UNGA). The time is just about right for a stocktake of what has been discussed.

National delegations took the stage at the UN Headquarters in New York on 24 September to address poverty reduction, inequalities, and violent conflicts. As in previous years, the debate took place amid rising conflicts around the world, the looming climate crisis, and stronger calls for action to attain the 2030 Agenda goals. Technology also featured prominently: benefits were lauded, while new challenges were raised.

Out with the old, in with the old?

Observing this year’s theme on ’Galvanizing multilateral efforts for poverty eradication, quality education, climate action and inclusion’, the programme included a rich agenda of side events, such as the Climate Action Summit 2019, the SDG Summit, and the High-level Dialogue on Financing for Development. In line with the theme, UNGA President Tijjani Muhammad-Bande from Nigeria – the 13th UNGA President hailing from Africa – stressed that ‘we have remained for too long at the crossroads of human development, and if we will propel humanity to attain its utmost capacity, then, we need to join efforts in finding solutions’.

As anticipated, sustainable development goals (SDGs) and climate action dominated most of the speeches. Countries reiterated their commitment to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement, and shared the actions they have undertaken in this regard.

Violent conflict in the Middle East including the protracted Israel-Palestine conflict, terrorism, and global migration also featured highly on the agenda of national delegations of most UN member states. Efforts and contributions of member states to the UN’s peacekeeping missions were also emphasised by a number of states.

As for digital policy, over a third of all national statements referred to ICTs, which is a noticeable increase over the past year. Most of the speeches were delivered by representatives of developed countries.

Almost half of the speeches emphasised the impact of these technologies on sustainable development. With regards to the application of innovative digital technologies in education systems, particular attention was given to e-learning and improving the quality of education.

Many national delegations also drew attention to cybersecurity, expressing concern about the use of digital technologies for war and the threat cybercrime poses to security. With regard to online violent extremism and terrorism, concerns were raised about the spread of extremist and terrorist content on the Internet and social media.

The issues which were prominent in this year’s speeches were also prominent in previous years. This goes to show that concerns remain pretty much the same. Next year, the UN will commemorate its 75th anniversary under the theme ‘The future we want, the United Nations we need: reaffirming our collective commitment to multilateralism’. Whether countries will be burdened by the same issues remains to be seen.

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