UN General Assembly: Who is attending, and what’s on the agenda?

World leaders will speak in person at the UN headquarters in New York for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic.

The United Nations General Assembly Hall sits empty before the start of the 76th Session of the General Assembly at U.N. headquarters, Monday, Sept. 20, 2021, in New York. (John Angelillo/Pool via AP)
The United Nations General Assembly Hall [File: John Angelillo/Pool via AP Photo]

World leaders will gather this week in New York to address the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).

The war in Ukraine, climate change and nuclear disarmament are likely to dominate speeches and discussions during the annual gathering that starts on Tuesday at the UN headquarters.

The theme for this year’s UNGA is, “A watershed moment: transformative solutions to interlocking challenges”.

According to the UN, it “stems from the recognition that the world is at a critical moment … due to complex and interconnected crises”.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the gathering was happening “at a time of great peril”, with the world “blighted by war, battered by climate chaos, scarred by hate, and shamed by poverty, hunger, and inequality”.

Speakers on Tuesday will include Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, French President Emmanuel Macron and Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. United States President Joe Biden will address the Assembly on Wednesday.

Here is what you need to know:

Who will be attending?

Every UN member is invited to send a delegation to the UNGA – the most representative body of the UN system. Each member state is allowed an equal vote when deciding on resolutions.

This year’s session will take place in person for the first time since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic in March 2020. For the past two years, heads of state were allowed to submit video statements due to pandemic restrictions.

The list of speakers includes some notable absentees, with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping among those who will send their foreign ministers to the UNGA.

President of the Lebanon Michel Aoun delivers a pre-recorded speech at the 76th Session of the U.N. General Assembly at United Nations headquarters in New York, on Friday, Sept. 24, 2021.
A pre-recorded speech by President of Lebanon Michel Aoun at the 76th Session of the UN General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York, September 24, 2021 [John Angelillo /Pool Photo via AP Photo]

Where is it held?

The first six sessions of the UNGA were held in different cities, starting with London, New York, and then Paris.

Since 1952, nearly all sessions have taken place at the UN headquarters in the US city of New York.

How do topics make it on the agenda?

Each UNGA session has a set agenda of topics that will be discussed, voted on or referred to various sub-committees.

The topics include matters suggested by member states or by other UN organs, matters put forward by the secretary-general, and procedural matters pertaining to the assembly’s operation.

The UNGA’s General Committee sets the agenda and the assembly ultimately decides how each agenda item will be addressed.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks during the Transforming Education Summit on the sidelines of the UNGA at UN headquarters in New York City, US, September 19, 2022 [Brendan McDermid/Reuters]

What will UNGA focus on this year?

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is expected to be a major focus at the annual gathering, including the global food crisis that has been aggravated as a result.

UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric told Al Jazeera UN Secretary-General Guterres did not not see an “immediate light at the end of the tunnel” when it came to ending the war.

“However, there are opportunities to mitigate the suffering in Ukraine and the UN is very present with our humanitarian assistance in Ukraine, but also to mitigate the global impact of the war – especially the food crisis,” he added.

Like previous years, climate change will also be a major topic of discussion – in particular the recent floods in Pakistan, which have ravaged the country and affected more than 30 million people.

While member states have lifted most or all coronavirus restrictions in their countries in an attempt to return to pre-pandemic conditions, issues such as access to vaccines, financial recovery and other related concerns will be a crucial talking point.

What are UNGA resolutions?

Resolutions are passed in all UN councils, such as the Human Rights Council, the Economic and Social Council and the Security Council, throughout the year. Membership of the individual councils changes cyclically.

UNGA resolutions are seen as an expression of the will of the international community on a given topic, although they are non-binding, which means they have no legal power but carry symbolic importance in world affairs.

In contrast, resolutions passed by the 15-member UN Security Council are generally considered binding under international law and member states are obliged to act on them.

Source: Al Jazeera