During the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly’s high-level General Debate, leaders focused on the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement on climate change more than any other issue.
This policy brief summarizes the statements from 193 leaders on the role of multilateralism and achieving progress on the SDGs and tackling climate change, underscoring that these two agendas cannot be addressed by any one country or organization alone.
The policy brief also reflects on the necessity of UN reform to achieve the SDGs and provides an overview of the main points made on the SDGs.
Leaders addressing the 73rd UN General Assembly (UNGA 73) in September and October 2018 drew attention to the importance of multilateral efforts, linking multilateralism to implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on climate change. Bringing the annual general debate to a close on 1 October, UNGA President María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés observed that sustainable development and climate change were the most frequently mentioned topics. This policy brief summarizes the main messages raised by UN Member States in the six-day debate.
The 2018 debate featured 77 Heads of State, 44 Heads of Government, five Vice‑Presidents, four Deputy Prime Ministers, 54 Ministers, one Vice-Minister and eight Chairs of Delegation. The Debate ran from 25 September through 1 October 2018 at UN Headquarters in New York, US, and focused on the theme, ‘Making the UN relevant to all people: global leadership and shared responsibilities for peaceful, equitable and sustainable societies.’
Many advocated for multilateralism as critical to implementing the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement, including Albania, Andorra, Argentina, Barbados, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Brunei, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Canada, Chile, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Gabon, Germany, Jamaica, India, Indonesia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic (PDR), Liechtenstein, Philippines, Mauritius, Mozambique, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Saint Lucia, San Marino, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Solomon Islands, South Africa, Suriname, Sweden, Tanzania, Trinidad and Tobago, Tuvalu, Uganda and Viet Nam.
Elaborating on why multilateralism matters, Bulgaria underscored that global challenges such as conflict resolution and peacekeeping, strengthening global security and stability, countering climate change, terrorism and inequality, “cannot be addressed by one single country alone” and require “shared responsibility and everyone’s contribution.” Montenegro said multilateralism “is not an option, but the only effective means” for implementing the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement.
Burkina Faso identified poverty, exclusion and climate change as the root causes of conflict in his country, underscoring the importance of multilateralism to address dual socioeconomic and security challenges. The Gambia called for restoring faith in a rules-based international order to make progress on the global agenda, including climate change and development. Morocco stressed the need for a collective approach to address development challenges such as climate change and migration. Switzerland reflected that there is “a real crisis in multilateralism,” and stressed Member States’ shared responsibility to ensure that international institutions and organizations are able to support efforts to tackle global challenges, including climate change.
Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway and others underscored the integrated nature of the SDGs, with the Netherlands saying gender equality and education are essential for peace and development, and sustainability, climate resilience and international stability go hand-in-hand. Norway stressed that progress on one SDG “will stimulate progress on another.” Bosnia and Herzegovina described the 2030 Agenda as “the most powerful connector” among the pillars of the UN’s work and its implementation as “the most important pathway to global peace, security and prosperity.” Chile recognized that development must be comprehensive, inclusive and sustainable in line with the SDGs.
The Holy See highlighted the interconnectedness of the Addis Ababa Action Agenda on financing for development (FfD), the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement, as well as synergies among the SDGs. San Marino also underscored the deep synergies between the SDGs and the Paris Agreement. Monaco observed that the three “pillars” of sustainable development are inseparable.
Also on the SDGs, countries highlighted efforts to align national development plans with the 2030 Agenda, and shared national efforts on specific SDGs. Many countries prioritized SDG 1 (no poverty) and shared progress on poverty eradication and reduction of extreme poverty. On SDG 3 (good health and well-being), leaders focused on universal health coverage (UHC) and efforts to prevent non-communicable diseases (NCDs). Many countries expressed their commitment to gender equality and women’s empowerment (SDG 5). Countries also supported the principle of leave no one behind (LNOB) and outlined efforts to combat corruption and tackle illicit financial flows as part of efforts under SDG 10 (reduced inequalities) and SDG 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions).
Among the environment-focused SDGs, SDG 14 (life below water) received the most attention in statements at the debate. Leaders expressed support for creating a legally binding instrument on the use of marine biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ), shared marine protection progress, discussed the potential of the “blue economy,” shared efforts to reduce plastic pollution and tackle marine litter, and showcased high-level initiatives on the ocean. On SDG 15 (life on land), countries described the creation and management of efforts protected areas (PAs). Bhutan and Suriname showcased the contribution of their forest cover to climate mitigation as well as other environmental co-benefits.
Common refrains on climate change (SDG 13) underscored the need for accelerated action to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and recognition by many leaders that climate change is one of the greatest global challenges. Countries shared national climate action, with several countries describing efforts to increase their renewable energy as part of their nationally determined contributions (NDCs). Small island developing States (SIDS) in particular stressed the urgency of climate action for their very survival, with several reiterating their call for the UN Security Council (UNSC) to appoint a Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Climate and Security.
Another topic addressed by SIDS and other countries relates to the criteria and methodology used to qualify countries’ development. Several countries shared challenges related to graduation, with many middle-income countries (MICs) saying that their classification prevents them from accessing concessional finance to support their sustainable development efforts and build their capacity and resilience.
Many speakers underscored the importance of a strengthened UN as a global forum for addressing global challenges, including climate change, sustainable development, and peace and security. Algeria, Belarus, Czech Republic, the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), the Gambia, Ireland, Moldova, Nepal, Sweden, Thailand, Togo and Uganda said UN reform should facilitate successful implementation of the 2030 Agenda, with Belarus emphasizing the need for effective UN Country Teams to “support governments on their path to sustainable development with results oriented and reactional support.” Ireland pledged over US$1 million in support of the UN development system reform, in hopes of a successful reform to support SDG implementation.
Sweden said more than half of its official development assistance (ODA) is channeled through the multilateral system, reflecting its belief in multilateralism and the 2030 Agenda as the central plan for our common future. He said it will require a multilateral system that is cost-effective, coherent, accountable, agile and delivers results for people. Thailand announced a contribution to reinvigorate the Resident Coordinator (RC) system.
Indonesia said UN reform is essential to position countries to sustain peace and achieve the SDGs. FSM called for scaling up the UN Development Programme (UNDP) to support and enhance the capacity of island countries to implement the 2030 Agenda. Tunisia supported UN reform proposals to build peace and security, promote sustainable development and bridge inequality, which he said are a common responsibility of all people. Also on reform, several countries called for enlarging the UN Security Council, including to ensure representation from Africa and SIDS.
Also during the UNGA’s high-level week, Global Goals Week brought together the international community to focus on driving progress around the SDGs. Events around UN Headquarters and throughout New York City aimed to spur collaboration and raise awareness of SDG implementation challenges and innovations needed to achieve the 2030 Agenda. Global Goals Week included the launch of the UN’s youth strategy, Youth 2030, events focused on ending hunger and addressing NCDs, among other topics. A High-level Meeting on SDG financing called for focusing investments on long-term gains, the most vulnerable countries and sectors, and better data for measuring both the SDGs and sustainability more generally.
The tenth edition of Climate Week NYC also coincided with the UNGA debate. It featured a high-level discussion on scaling up financial flows to low-emissions and resilient infrastructure investments, the second One Planet Summit and the 2018 Momentum for Change award. [General Debate homepage] [UN News story on debate] [UN Meeting Coverage of final day of debate] [SDG Knowledge Hub story on opening of debate] [SDG Knowledge Hub primer on Global Goals Week] [SDG Knowledge Hub story on Youth 2030] [SDG Knowledge Hub story on High-level Meeting on SDG Financing] [SDG Knowledge Hub story on Climate Week]