By Renata Koch Alvarenga
The 71st session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) opened on September 13, continuing a tradition of the international organization that has taken place every fall since 1946.
The opening ceremony was highlighted by a speech by the outgoing United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon. Mr. Ban stressed to the General Assembly the need for every member state of the U.N. to “align their policies, programs, and spending” with the 17 sustainable development goals, as well as the importance of enforcing the agreement the global signed at the Paris Climate Change Conference in December.
This year’s session of the General Assembly will be presided by the Permanent Representative of Fiji, Ambassador Peter Thomson, who was recently elected in June by 94 to 90 vote, beating Andreas Mavroyiannis of Cyprus.
The main topic on the agenda of this year’s UNGAis the SDGs, which are all interrelated, according to Fr. Brian Muzas, a professor at the School of Diplomacy, especially the goals of education and poverty reduction. “I expect climate change (with particular emphasis on concrete action), global health, gender equality, and sustainable development (both from the standpoint of harnessing innovations and leveraging data) to garner much attention,” Fr. Muzas said.
Another important theme of this year’s UNGA is the refugee crisis, the largest the world has had since World War II. On September 19, diplomats, heads of state and government, and civil society leaders attended the U.N. Summit on Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants in New York City. The summit will adopt a global agreement, to be called the New York Declaration, on the situation of displaced people. This agreement will focus on more than just humanitarian responses, including long-term solutions and development actors to aid refugees, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Fr. Muzas said he expects the New York Declaration to “refine how both crisis and crisis response are framed.” He believes the commitment to bring the International Organization for Migration into the U.N. system will be a remarkable institutional move, and could “improve global responsiveness to current and future patterns of population movement.”
Also regarding refugees was the Leader’s Summit on the Global Refugee Crisis on September 20, organized by President Barack Obama of the United States. This event has the goal of bringing together world leaders to discuss future actions to help the refugee crisis, financially, legally, and professionally. The 71st session will also see the elections for the new secretary general; Mr. Ban’s second term will expire on December 31.
The elections will take place in October, after multiple ballots cast by the United Nations Security Council. The 15 members of the Security Council have the choice of encouraging, discouraging, or not giving an opinion on the 10 candidates for secretary general, who will ultimately be chosen by the five permanent members of the Security Council — the United States, Britain, France, Russia, and China — according to Reuters.
Given recent straw polls, the chances of former Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Guterres of being elected are getting higher. “Nevertheless Russia – which holds a veto power – seems to prefer an Eastern European candidate,” said Fr. Muzas. “Guterres received a dozen ‘encourage’ votes, two ‘discourage’ votes and one ‘no opinion’ vote in the last straw poll,” he noted, but he does not know whether any of the “discourage” votes came from permanent members of the Security Council, who all hold veto power.