from The Internationalist and International Institutions and Global Governance Program

Can a Virtual UN General Assembly Deliver on Real World Problems?

President Sauli Niinisto of Finland addresses attendees during the seventieth session of the United Nations General Assembly at the UN headquarters in New York on September 29, 2015.
President Sauli Niinisto of Finland addresses attendees during the seventieth session of the United Nations General Assembly at the UN headquarters in New York on September 29, 2015. REUTERS/Mike Segar

Despite limitations, the UN will still sponsor a few notable events and initiatives at this year’s General Assembly, but do not expect any breakthroughs.

Originally published at World Politics Review

September 14, 2020

President Sauli Niinisto of Finland addresses attendees during the seventieth session of the United Nations General Assembly at the UN headquarters in New York on September 29, 2015.
President Sauli Niinisto of Finland addresses attendees during the seventieth session of the United Nations General Assembly at the UN headquarters in New York on September 29, 2015. REUTERS/Mike Segar
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In my weekly column for World Politics Review, I preview a few of the UN General Assembly's notable events and initiatives, which include advancing sustainable development, arresting biodiversity collapse and promoting gender equality.

Expectations will be low this week as the United Nations kicks off its first General Assembly by Zoom. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has come up with a catchy theme—“The Future We Want, the UN We Need”—but don’t expect any breakthroughs. The most significant accomplishment will be a general Declaration of Principles issued on Sept. 21, in which member states recommit themselves to multilateralism. Beyond that, the world body is in a holding pattern, awaiting the outcome of November’s U.S. presidential election and the eventual passing of the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s a pity, because the U.N.’s 75th anniversary finds the world racked not only by a deadly new pathogen, but by a global economic slump, growing geopolitical rivalries and a climate emergency. The moment demands something bigger from the U.N. than its members are prepared to deliver.

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Global Governance

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Unlike normal years, there will be no parade of statesmen and women to the U.N. dais to address the world’s annual town hall meeting—just a series of prerecorded speeches, so that bored online viewers can rate the speakers’ rooms. World leaders will have no opportunity to kibbitz on the margins of formal events in the typical General Assembly frenzy of “diplomatic speed dating.” The shift to Zoom will also frustrate the larger U.N.-industrial complex, comprised of countless NGOs, philanthropies, companies and academics that descend on New York each September to attend panels and lend their expertise to trying to solve global problems. Lacking the serendipity and spontaneity that only in-person events can provide, this year’s General Assembly promises to be a stilted affair.

Read the full World Politics Review article here.

More on:

United Nations General Assembly

Global Governance

United Nations

Sustainable Development Goals (UN)

Energy and Environment

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