117th Plenary Meeting of General Assembly 72nd Session

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17-Sep-2018 00:28:05
Outgoing General Assembly President urges members to uphold multilateralism, invest more in tackling climate change threats ‘before window closes’ at 117th plenary meeting.

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Concluding the General Assembly’s seventy-second session today, the outgoing President spotlighted salient trends emerging over recent years — ranging from more robust support for conflict prevention efforts to intensifying attacks on multilateralism — before handing the gavel to the President-elect of the seventy‑third session.

President Miroslav Lajčák (Slovakia), addressing the 193-member organ for the last time in that capacity, welcomed a United Nations-wide paradigm shift towards conflict prevention and the new concept of “sustaining peace”. In the past, he said, the Organization was often too reactive, and by the time peacekeepers got on the ground it was often too late. In addition, the Organization sometimes left host countries too soon — before the roots of conflict were addressed. Recalling that the Assembly, during its seventy-first session, adopted a landmark resolution on “sustaining peace”, he said that many Heads of State and Government put their full weight behind that new concept over the course of the seventy-second session.

Another critical recent trend related to climate change, he said, emphasizing that world leaders now realize that “it is crunch time”. Over the last year, flooding, drought and hurricanes impacted communities all over the world, a trend which was reflected in more speeches throughout the session. In addition, he said, world leaders are increasingly outlining tangible steps towards implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“We still live in an unequal world,” he said, adding that while most international agreements are usually reached in conference rooms “by people like us”, the effects of climate change are largely felt “out there” by communities on the ground. Leaders need to keep their promises, he stressed, warning that the world is not yet on track to meet the targets of the Paris Agreement on climate change and the 2030 Agenda. Spotlighting the need for more financing to achieve those targets, he urged States to invest “before the window closes”.

Turning to the ability of the United Nations to adapt to major global shifts, he said a major increase in migration flows has shown that “we cannot continue with business as usual”. The Assembly, during its seventy-second session, decided to develop a global framework on migration, and a final compact document is slated to be adopted by Member States in Morocco in December. Emphasizing that the Assembly in particular must adapt to changes and “cannot be left behind”, he said remaining ahead of the curve in such emerging areas as artificial intelligence will be crucial, and will require close interaction with academics, journalists, the private sector, young people and many other partners.

Noting that the Assembly is responding to the Secretary-General’s proposals to reform the United Nations in the areas of peace and security, management and development, he declared: “We have raised our expectations, but we do not always have the budget to go with them.” The process of revitalizing the Assembly itself also continues, he said, recalling that the organ was — for the first time — integrally involved in the selection process of the Secretary-General. In the case of reforming the Security Council, he noted that he heard countless concerns raised about that matter from people around the world. “The eyes of the world are watching us,” he said, urging more action to reform the organ whose work “is a matter of life and death” for people around the globe.

Expressing concern that the space for dialogue in general is closing, he emphasized that talking leads to results. Recent dialogue processes led to a peace agreement in Colombia and prevented conflict from unfolding in the Gambia. Warning that States should avoid refusing to engage in dialogue, he said freezing out those with differing opinions will only lead to animosity or even more conflict. “Overall, we would get nowhere,” he stressed, adding that “our instincts for dialogue run deeper, and I hope they will prevail”.

Also expressing concern that multilateralism itself is increasingly under threat — with some of its most fundamental principles eroded — he cautioned that recent years have seen a return to the “exclusive clubs of the past” as well as a preference for bilateralism or small groupings of States. He warned States not to give in to the temptation to “pull up drawbridges” and go it alone. “There is still time to counter this trend,” he said, calling on delegations to work together against the backdrop of an uncertain and increasingly complex world.

Secretary-General António Guterres, also addressing the Assembly, recalled that last September’s high-level general debate was the first in more than a decade where all 193 Member States delivered speeches. The session was busy and active, he said, adding that “you demonstrated yet again the Assembly’s valuable role” in addressing the full spectrum of the world’s concerns. Decisions were taken to shift the peace and security paradigm, and the Assembly adopted an important resolution seeking to reposition the United Nations development system. Those changes, he said, will make the Organization more efficient in preserving peace and implementing the 2030 Agenda.

Commending President Lajčák’s skilful work in guiding the session, he said the latter took a wide range of steps to bring together many partners in the Assembly’s work. In another signature step, for example, the Assembly held the first-ever informal dialogue with candidates for the position of the Secretary-General. “The Assembly is our indispensable forum,” he stressed, thanking all those who engaged in its work over the course of the session.

As the meeting concluded, President-elect of the seventy-third session, María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés (Ecuador), took the Presidential Oath of Office, promising to discharge her functions and regulate her conduct in the sole interest of the United Nations, in view of and in accordance with the Charter.

The Assembly will reconvene at 10 a.m. Tuesday, 18 September, to formally open its seventy-third session.
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