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UN’s General Assembly 2023: the main topics

Photo: Basil D Soufi

Today marks the start of the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly. During the Assembly, world leaders from all over the world come together in New York to discuss the most urgent developments our civilization is facing. The meeting gives an indication of the international relations and it provides leaders a stage to present their priorities for the coming year. Among those present are American President Joe Biden, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Ukrainian President Zelensky. Russia’s President Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping have decided not to attend. During the high-level week, which will take place from 18 until 22 September, some major topics are on the agenda. This article will give a brief overview of the most important summits and what possible outcomes we may expect.


First of all, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will be a major topic during the summit. From 18 to 19 September the heads of state and government will review the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and it’s 17 SDGs. Research has shown that of the approximately 140 targets, only about 12 percent is on track. During this summit all eyes will be on the United States. The US has mostly neglected the SDG targets. There isn’t a big influence of them on the policy outcomes of the US and the country is one of only 5 countries which has not submitted a formal review to the UN of its progress concerning the SDGs. This year’s Assembly will provide the US with an opportunity to publicly embrace them and to establish their leadership in the fight against climate change. Future policy implementations, in line with the targets of the Agenda 2030, will have to show the US’s commitment both at home as well as abroad.

Global health

Another major topic discussed is the global public health. The focus on global public health continues to be an important topic in the aftermath of the Corona pandemic. The forum will host three high-level meetings focusing on this topic: pandemic prevention, universal health coverage and the challenge of tuberculosis. In the draft of the possible outcomes of the meeting, the UN urges for: “urgent and continued leadership, global solidarity, multilateral commitment and cooperation among Member States and with relevant United Nations entities and other relevant international organizations, to implement robust global, regional, national and local actions, driven by equity and the respect for human rights, to strengthen pandemic prevention, preparedness and response, and fully address the direct and indirect consequences of current and future pandemics”. To achieve this, the world should, according to the UN draft, scale up their efforts to strengthen pandemic prevention and ensure equitable, affordable and quality health services for people, without financial hardship.

General Debate

Next to the scheduled topics, there is a General Debate where all delegations give a speech of around 15 minutes to discuss several themes that a country thinks is important. For example, Joe Biden will give a speech during this part in which he, according to sources, will speak about the steps he and his administration have taken to ensure American leadership, building on the idea of working with others to solve the world’s problems. The war in Ukraine will most likely also be mentioned by Biden. Other world leaders will speech in this segment as well, after which other delegations can respond and debate statements of other participants. The summit also offers diplomats to network and have informal talks, as this is the first physical meeting after the Corona pandemic.

Joe Biden being the only leader of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council attending, shows the potential weakening position of the event and the UN itself. It will be interesting to see whether there will be statements made reaffirming the UN’s centrality in the world order. The theme of this year’s Assembly, ‘rebuilding trust and reigniting global solidarity’, shows the importance of this subject. The meeting will be a good indicator of the UN’s credibility as effective multilateral cooperation actor.