Addressing the UN General Assembly (UNGA), UN Secretary-General António Guterres highlighted his priorities for 2023. Describing 2023 as “a year of reckoning,” he urged Member States to change the mindset of decision making from near-term thinking to long-term thinking and develop a strategic vision to act decisively “in deep and systemic ways.”

The Secretary-General began his speech before the General Assembly with a word of warning. “We have started 2023 staring down the barrel of a confluence of challenges unlike any other in our lifetimes,” including wars, the climate crisis, extreme poverty, and geopolitical divisions, he said, calling for a “course correction.”

Guterres outlined core elements of the proposed New Agenda for Peace, in line with the UN Charter, international law, and human rights, with prevention at the heart. He said “[w]e must work harder for peace everywhere” – in Ukraine, Palestine and Israel, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Haiti, the Sahel, and other parts of the worlds where two billion people are affected by conflict and humanitarian crises. Guterres assured Member Stated that the UN will increase its commitment to reform through the Action for Peacekeeping-Plus initiative, with the African Union as a partner.

The Secretary-General called for nuclear-armed countries to renounce the first use of such weapons, and highlighted the dangers posed by new technology, suggesting the New Agenda for Peace include, among other measures, international bans on cyberattacks on civilian infrastructure and internationally agreed limits on lethal autonomous weapons systems.

Guterres highlighted social and economic rights and the right to development as another priority. He said the global financial architecture needs “a new Bretton Woods moment” that would ensure its radical transformation towards a global financial system where the needs of developing countries are placed at the centre of every decision and mechanism. The Secretary-General called for multilateral development banks (MDBs) to change their business model, accept a new approach to risk, and massively leverage their funds to attract greater flows of private capital to invest in developing countries’ capacity to achieve the SDGs. 

Drawing attention to opportunities to “rescue” the SDGs, the Secretary-General highlighted the second part of the Fifth UN Conference on the Least Developed Countries (LDC5) in March and the SDG Summit in September, which he characterized as the “centrepiece moment of 2023.” He called for immediate resource mobilization towards the goals on poverty and exclusion, to ensure that “developing economies have the liquidity to fund investments in quality education, universal health care, pandemic preparedness, decent work and social protection.” Guterres urged the Group of 20 (G20) to agree on the global SDG Stimulus, proposed at the G20 Summit, to support the countries of the Global South. 

Underscoring the right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment, the Secretary-General implored Member States to “end the merciless, relentless and senseless war on nature” by using “disruption to end the destruction.” Guterres emphasized the need to cut emissions and achieve climate justice by accelerating the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy, de-carbonizing highest-emitting sectors, and delivering on the Just Energy Transitions Partnerships with South Africa, Indonesia, and Viet Nam. He called for expanding cooperation through a Climate Solidarity Pact among big emitters and wealthier countries “to keep 1.5°C alive,” and urged all actors that took a 2050 net-zero pledge to present credible plans for 2025 and 2030 to transition towards credible and ambitious targets that are aligned with the standards set by the UN High-Level Expert Group on the Net Zero Emissions Commitments of Non-State Entities.

Guterres invited leaders from government, business, or civil society to come his Climate Ambition Summit in September with renewed net-zero plans and accelerated action in this decade that will pave the way to the next UN Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC COP 28) and the first Global Stocktake. He further called for action on biodiversity, pollution, ocean – and water, with the UN 2023 Water Conference leading to a bold Water Action Agenda.

Guterres’ other priorities for the year are to ensure:

  • Respect for diversity and the universality of cultural rights;
  • The right to full gender equality;
  • Civil and political rights as the basis of inclusive societies; and
  • The rights of future generations.

The Secretary-General addressed the UNGA’s plenary meeting on 6 February. He will brief the General Assembly more fully on Our Common Agenda on 13 February. [UN Secretary-General’s Briefing to UNGA on Priorities of the Organization for 2023] [UN Meeting Coverage] [UN News Story]