Key Takeaways from the United Nations General Assembly

An In-Depth Look at Last Month’s UN General Assembly

The United Nations held its annual General Assembly in September at the General Assembly Hall in New York City. All 193 Member States were on hand to discuss a variety of issues, including international security, mass migration, education, and the threat of climate change. We’ll look at two of the most pressing topics discussed during the UNGA, the organization’s goals and objectives, as well as how the UN plans to deal with these issues going forward.

The Treatment of Mass Migrants

Mass migration continues to be a major cause for concern for countries around the world. Humanitarian crises such as the Syrian Civil War and ongoing violence in the Middle East have led to a rapid influx of migrants pouring into the continent of Europe. Several European Member States were on hand to discuss the difficulties faced when trying to accommodate such large groups of people. Many developed nations around the world believe that it is their duty to welcome refugees as they seek a better life in another country. Yet, migration on such a massive scale presents a unique array of problems, including the threat of terrorism and economic concerns in the destination countries.

This year’s UNGA comes one year after the 2016 UN Summit on Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants, in which the New York Declaration was made. The New York Declaration represents the UN’s commitment to share the responsibility of mass migration, all the while protecting human rights as much as possible, and creating guidelines for how Member States should handle the mass migration of people.

Alfonso María Dastis Quecedo, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Spain, spoke to the need for solidarity within the international community with regard to the issue of mass migration. He touched on the terrorist attacks that took place in Barcelona and Cambrils on August 17, 2017. While expressing his gratitude for the support his country has received over the past few months, he reaffirmed his country’s commitment for the rule of law. Alfonso María Dastis Quecedo went on to address some of the direst humanitarian crises around the world that have contributed to mass migration, including the Syrian Civil, the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, and the formation of a new Iraq. He also spoke to Spain’s commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement as well as Spain’s ongoing support for nuclear nonproliferation.

Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn continued to speak to the many issues that contribute to mass migration, most notably economic instability as many migrants leave their home country in search of a better life. Jean Asselborn also expressed his opposition towards the UN Security Council’s ability to veto certain crimes against humanity such as genocide and war crimes. Jean Asselborn argued that such crimes against humanity are the leading causes of mass migration and should be punished using the full extent of the law.

Minister for Development Cooperation Ulla Tøernæs of Denmark spoke to the evolving complexity of many of the issues related to mass migration, including gender inequality, poverty, armed conflict and the interconnected nature of these issues. Ulla Tøernæs made her case as to why Denmark deserves a seat on the UN Human Rights Council for the upcoming 2019-2021 term. She advocated change on the part of the UN in four key areas, including reforming the UN Development System in which country-led engagements must be fully realized as opposed to a fragmented system of support, creating a stronger bridge between short-term relief in response to humanitarian crises and long-term relief, partnering with the private sector, academia, and civil society as Member States work towards their 2030 goals outlined in the Sustainable Development Goals, and, lastly, placing a renewed importance on the issue of gender inequality around the world.

Secretary-General António Guterres focused on the need to create lasting refugee pathways in order to better regulate the mass flow of migrants. With regard to migrant communities and their destination countries, he stated, “More safe and regular pathways for admission and the creation of a more tolerant and accepting environment, would bring important benefits for both groups.”

The Call for Environmental Regulations

The UNGA “Climate Change and the Sustainable Development Agenda” took place earlier this year in which the UNGA highlighted the many ways in which international leaders are working towards implementing 17 SDGs or Sustainable Development Goals and international climate change agreements. At this year’s UNGA, international leaders continued to speak out against the threat of climate change and the need for international cooperation. All 193 Member States of the UNGA have signed onto the SDGs, with each country working towards the goal of reducing carbon emissions and building a more sustainable infrastructure by 2030.

Prime Minister Lyonchoen Tshering Tobgay of the Kingdom of Bhutan began his address to the UNGA by commenting on the unique set of challenges that his country continues to face. He stated, “As a landlocked mountainous country, we are especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change. And that’s why we are particularly alarmed at unchecked environmental degradation, the root cause of climate change. We already experience flash floods, glacial lake outbursts, and severe and erratic weather patterns, the effects of which can be particularly devastating for a poor country.”

Prime Minister Lyonchoen Tshering Tobgay outlined Bhutan’s commitment to combating climate change. As the world’s only carbon neutral country, Bhutan has made significant investments in the clean energy market as well as sustainable farming and industry regulations. He made a point to comment on the increasing financial burden many countries must face as they work towards their 2030 goal of reducing carbon emissions. He highlighted the need for countries to create climate financing institutions as a way of raising capital for new clean energy projects. He went on to say, “These institutions are critical for those who have the will but may not have the resources to take action. I applaud the innovative strategies and interventions that they have supported.”

Secretary-General António Guterres presented his report on the work of the UNGA, including an update on the organization’s ongoing efforts to combat climate change. The report estimated that trillions of dollars will be needed annually if the UNGA were to meet its Sustainable Development Goals by the year 2030. The report also calls on Member States to significantly reform their individual tax systems as a way of generating more capital for these goals.

The Commitment to Investing in Education

Education was front and center at the UNGA in September. Numerous Member States were on hand to address the alarming number of children around the world that remain out of school. That number is currently estimated to be around 260 million. Yet, access to education continues to be an issue of gender. According to Humanium, a non-profit for the rights of children, girls make up 54% of all non-schooled children.

The UN outlined its intention to invest in education around the world in the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 it set in 2015. During the event, the UN promised to give all children access to primary and secondary education by the year 2030. They also agreed to make education equally accessible between men and women, to ensure that every child has the education they need to promote “sustainable development”, and to make existing schools and education centers safe and free of violence.

During the UNGA, Gordon Brown, the UN Special Envoy for Global Education, drew attention to the lack of access to education around the world as a humanitarian issue. He mentioned the ongoing refugee crisis in the Middle East and across Europe as a major cause for concern when it comes to providing education to young people. He stated, “With education receiving less than 2 per cent of humanitarian aid, it is vital we marshal the funds to provide an education for all children – especially those left out and left behind: refugee children.”

While the UNGA was going on, the UN released a new report stating that 32 countries around the world, most notable the U.S., lack one or more of the three basic government policies used to promote early childhood development. These polices include paid breastfeeding breaks for working mothers, ensuring that newborns get the nutrients they need without negatively affecting a mother’s career, two years of free pre-primary education, usually in the form of kindergarten or pre-school, and adequate paid maternity leave for new mothers. The report maintains that the first 1,000 days of a child’s life are among the most important as a newborn’s brain begins to develop.

As aggressive as the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 might be, some nations continue to struggle as they adapt to this progressive policy. Many nations simply do not have the funds to ensure free pre-primary education to every child. Despite these limitations, all Member States remain committed to the goal of making primary and secondary education universally accessible.

The UNGA and the Concerns of Tomorrow

The UNGA will continue to work towards its Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, relating to everything from climate change to the refugee crisis, education to infrastructure, and water and sanitation. As the world continues to grapple with a range of challenges, the UN will need the continued support of all its 183 Member States if it is going to have the resources to enact lasting change.

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