Citing ‘Shifting Sands’, General Assembly President Says Future Generations Will Hold Member States Accountable for Their Response to Current Challenges

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Sixty-sixth General Assembly

Plight of Most Vulnerable People amid Global Recession, Climate Change, Sustainable Development among Key Concerns of Sixty-sixth Session

With the political situation throughout North Africa and the Middle East in flux after months of anti-Government protests, the dismal reality of climate change playing out across South-east Asia and the Horn of Africa, and the world’s major economic engines still mired in recession, the General Assembly opened its sixty-sixth session with a busy agenda reflecting many of the year’s most vital international issues.

“The sands are shifting,” Assembly President Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser of Qatar said as the 194-member body’s substantive session began. The United Nations had before it a unique opportunity to shape change and ensure “our next chapter will be safer for the most vulnerable, more prosperous for those in need and kinder to the planet,” he added, stressing that future generations would hold Member States accountable for their response to the current challenges.

Gathering at a critical juncture in the history of nations, “this is our opportunity to define our place in this decisive moment; to prove that we can work together to produce results,” he continued. “An increasingly interdependent and interconnected world is forcing us to rethink the way we do business at the [United Nations],” he said, outlining his four main areas of focus for the session: the peaceful settlement of disputes; United Nations reform and revitalization; improving disaster prevention and response; and sustainable development and global prosperity. The session would also aim for progress on strengthening the Organization’s peacebuilding architecture, and would include deliberations on sensitive issues regarding development, human rights, climate change and global safety and security.

At a press conference later in the session, Mr. Al-Nasser described the impact of the protests, calls for freedom and other events across the Arab world as one of the most dramatic developments during “an eventful and demanding year for the United Nations”, saying: “You call it the Arab Spring, but I think the more appropriate description should be the Arab Awakening.” The popular protests that had swept from Africa’s Maghreb region to the Persian Gulf had generated deep concern about the plight of people in the affected countries, especially human rights, and those of women and youth in particular. “Under my Presidency, the Assembly remains active in galvanizing the necessary global partnership to assist the Governments and people in the Arab world during this Arab Awakening,” he added.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon echoed the Assembly President’s opening address as he presented his annual report on the work of the Organization with a challenge to Member States to shape the world of tomorrow by taking decisive action on some of today’s most pressing issues. Flagging sustainable development as the most serious among them, he said: “We must connect the dots between climate change, water scarcity, energy shortages, global health, food security and women’s empowerment.” Stressing that the upcoming United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development — known as “Rio+20” — must succeed, he added: “We cannot burn our way to the future,” and called for early agreement on a binding climate deal with more ambitious national and global emission-reduction targets.