Greetings, UN delegates and UNGA watchers!
With flooding in Pakistan, a hurricane in Puerto Rico, and continued Russian aggression in Ukraine all serving as backdrop, this year’s UN General Assembly meeting offered a mixed experience for those following along.
There was, on the one hand, the noticeably heavy weight of the world’s most intractable problems—climate change, poverty, and geopolitical instability among them. But also there were green shoots—encouraging signs of resolve and, in the more startling moments, actual steps to improve the lot of people around the globe, not to mention the planet itself.
At an Oct. 6 virtual event co-hosted by Quartz and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Quartz journalists joined guests from the worlds of philanthropy and environmental advocacy to look back at UNGA 2022 and identify future themes in global development and climate-change preparedness. We’re recapping the virtual event for you here. We also invite you to watch along if you missed the live discussion.
One big takeaway
We asked the panelists: What was the most memorable moment of UNGA 2022?
Quartz senior reporter Annalisa Merelli revisited a particularly compelling panel at the Clinton Global Initiative, featuring Nobel prize-winning economist Abhijit Banerjee.
- “He constantly just drilled down on the point: money. We need more money, we need to give more money, we need to hand out more money. It was such a straightforward answer but also such a reminder that we know what works already. A lot of us wish there was another way to fix poverty other than moving money from rich parts of the world to poor parts of the world, but unfortunately we haven’t found a better way yet.”
Amiera Sawas, director of programmes and research at the climate change communications nonprofit Climate Outreach, said it was when the Danish government pledged 100 million kroner ($13 million) in loss-and-damage financing to countries most affected by climate change.
- “It isn’t anywhere near the scale that countries probably need to be putting down in the longer term. …But it was very symbolic as northern countries start to break away from this bloc of inaction on loss-and-damage finance.”
Blessing Omakwu, who monitors the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as deputy director of the Goalkeepers program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, appreciated hearing a renowned chef explain the use cases for fonio, a climate-resilient, nutrient-rich grain from west Africa.
- “Food security was a big topic across UNGA, and I think sometimes topics like that feel very overwhelming. [But I was reminded that] as a consumer, there’s a way that I can be part of addressing the problem.”
Quartz India reporter Niharika Sharma, who livestreamed UNGA speeches and events throughout the session, picked two highlights.
- “The first is how every stakeholder acknowledged how action around climate change couldn’t just be a long-term goal but is actually important now.”
The second, she said, was when US president Joe Biden advocated for expanding the number of permanent and non-permanent representatives on the UN Security Council—which other nations have long advocated for, with no support from the US until now.
Big (and little) themes you might have missed
There’s a lot to take in during UNGA. Sometimes it’s the small things you notice that can change your perception of how the world is approaching a particular task or problem.
👔 “It seems like these events are closer and closer to what Davos is—every year they’re more fun, more cool, bigger budgets,” said Quartz’s Merelli. And why shouldn’t it resemble a premier global business conference? As Merelli notes, “These people are discussing the best investment they can make”—i.e. the outsized returns on money put into sustainable development.
🌏 “At [UN secretary-general António] Guterres’ opening speech, he spoke straight away that he’d just come from Pakistan and seen the worst climate catastrophe in his career,” Climate Outreach’s Sawas recalls. Climate change, she says, “is front of mind, and there is a sense of urgency which just seemed to have come through in the performances of lots of world leaders. I think there are genuine intentions there—and a real sense of ‘it could be us’ as well.”
👭 “It was just so energizing to be around people,” says Omakwu, noting that she spent most of UNGA with the changemakers honored at the Gates Foundation’s Goalkeepers event. It was “a reminder that people are, amidst all the challenges, working toward so much global progress in different and diverse ways.”
🇮🇳 Quartz India’s Sharma was watching the fine line Indian officials were walking during UNGA, reticent as they’ve been to criticize Russian aggression in Ukraine while also trying to stay in good stead with the US and Europe. Staying neutral makes sense for a country deeply dependent on Russian commodities. After the failures of vaccine diplomacy early in the covid-19 pandemic, Sharma says, “there is a sense that the west will not help when the help is needed the most. So nations like India are trying to build their own back-up [alliances].” With climate change and the threat of a global recession looming large over India’s economy, Sharma says, “this balancing act is more of a necessity right now than a strategic choice for India.”
To-do items for the global development set
Now that UNGA is over, what issues should be kept top of mind?
📣 More input from more people. “We just cannot have progress on complex, systemic issues at the scale and ambition that we need, in a sustainable way, if we don’t put people at the heart of the response and solutions,” says Sawas, lamenting that the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals weren’t constructed with more public participation. “If we come to a time when they’re revised, that’s something we can advocate for and I’m sure we’d be successful in doing that.”
🌐 UN Security Council reform. “The UN, the WTO (World Trade Organization)—all these big international organizations were created at times when the world was different, and the world powers were different,” Merelli says. The UN should “reflect the way that the world works at the moment, which is no longer the same old four or five countries deciding what the world needs.”
👩 Focusing on women’s power instead of empowerment. “We need to go back to the root problems,” Omakwu says. “It’s one thing for cash to be transferred to a woman, and another thing for the woman to have direct control over how those cash transfers are spent… It’s one thing to ensure a woman has a job; it’s another thing to say, ‘Does that woman have the [child care and other] infrastructure that allows her to be successful in that job?’”
Thank you for joining us
Wishing you a productive year. See you at UNGA 2023! And stay tuned for our next Need to Know newsletter, Need to Know: COP27.
-Heather Landy, executive editor, Quartz
-Morgan Haefner, deputy email editor, Quartz