A Reinvigorated UNGA Addressed Compounded Challenges, Sought to Craft Global Solutions
After two years of a more reduced and largely virtual affair due to the COVID-19 pandemic, heads of state, business leaders, philanthropists, civil society, and activists converged in New York for the seventy-seventh session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), which took place from September 13-27, 2022, under this year’s theme: ‘A watershed moment: transformative solutions to interlocking challenges.’
The theme references the crossroads at which the world finds itself in terms of compounding global crises, including the COVID-19 pandemic, the Russian war in Ukraine, expanding food insecurity and other large-scale humanitarian challenges, the growing effects of climate change, and a declining global economy. UNGA convenes relevant parties across the geopolitical and development landscape to engage in dialogue and craft solutions to address the world’s most pressing issues.
The conference coincides with the halfway point to the 2030 sustainable development goals (SDGs) set in 2015. Spurred by the global COVID-19 pandemic, but further exacerbated by the complex and interconnected challenges the world currently faces, global development has taken a step back over the past two years. UNGA serves as an opportunity to revisit these goals and lay a path forward.
Below, the Donor Tracker outlines key UNGA announcements and highlights activity in agriculture, climate, education, gender equality, global health, and development finance that have emerged over the past two weeks of global cooperation and problem-solving:
UNGA discussions on agriculture focused primarily on alleviating food insecurities caused by the Russian war in Ukraine, as well as child malnutrition and sustainable agriculture issues. Key takeaways include:
- Canada, the Netherlands, the UK, and philanthropies raised US$280 million to bolster food security for children disproportionately affected by conflict and climate change at a conference on child malnutrition co-hosted by the US Agency for International Development (USAID);
- The EU committed US$634 million for countries in West and Central Africa, East Africa and the Great Lakes, Southern Africa, the Caribbean, and the Pacific, as well as toward investments in sustainable agriculture and poverty reduction;
- Norway announced US$4 million in funding for crop diversity and sustainable agriculture through the ‘Benefit-sharing fund’ at the ‘International Plant Treaty Members’ meeting;
- Spain pledged US$250 million in multilateral and bilateral grants and loans at the ‘Global Food Security summit,’ which it co-chaired; and
- The US pledged an additional US$2.9 billion for global food security, with allocations to small-holder farmers, meals for school children, and safe drinking water.
Conversations surrounding climate change and adaptation at UNGA emphasized the immediacy of the climate crisis while calling for increased collaboration in advance of COP27 and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) COP15 later this year. Key takeaways include:
- African Union Chairperson (AUC) Macky Sall emphasized the need for collaboration from high-income countries to combat climate change in vulnerable regions, calling on UN Member States to fundraise US$100 billion annually to build adaptation and mitigation capacity in low- and middle-income countries;
- Germany made a staggering annual commitment of US$1.5 billion annually to protect biodiversity—effectively doubling its spending relative to 2017-2021 levels; and
- Current Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi echoed calls for collaboration and increased commitment to combatting climate change while asserting that collaboration with African partner countries should be central to European climate assistance.
From September 16-19, 2022, world leaders convened at the Transforming Education Summit (TES), an UNGA side event. Debates centered on disparate educational outcomes for children learning in crisis situations, as well as priorities for equitable education transformation. Major events included:
- The Asian Development Bank (ADB), the African Development Bank (AfDB), the Netherlands, Sweden, and the UK, announced initial funding of US$2 billion for the International Financing Facility for Education (IFFEd). The partnership aims to offer up to US$10 billion for global education by 2030 to combat losses in learning due to crisis situations and build capacity for higher quality education globally;
- EU leaders reaffirmed the bloc’s commitment to increasing its official development assistance (ODA) allocation to education by at least 3% (an increase of US$540 million), while also promising an additional US$106 million for education recovery in Ukraine;
- Germany pledged an additional US$10 million to Education Cannot Wait (ECW) to support the rebuilding of educational capacity in Ukraine; and
- Norwegian Minister of International Development Anne Beathe Tvinnereim highlighted the necessity of bolstering gender equality and safety in education, as well as mechanisms for disaster response and climate adaptation.
Though UNGA’s focus on crises of food security, war, and climate change took the main stage at high-level meetings, discussions on gender equality were often woven through, with several key developments:
- Canada’s Minister of International Development and Minister Harjit S. Sajjan announced support equivalent to US$57 million to UN core organizations, including UN Women;
- During the Global Citizen event on the sidelines of UNGA, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen committed US$48 million over six years to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Supplies Partnership;
- In addition to his statement on Spain’s priorities for development at UNGA, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez committed support equivalent to US$100 million to gender equality organizations, including UN Women;
- USAID and Vodafone, a private company, announced US$15 million in funding for emergency maternal health transportation in Tanzania, with an additional US$5 million from the Vodafone Foundation to recreate the program in other countries in ‘Sub-Saharan Africa’ (SSA; meaning the regions of Eastern, Western, Central, and Southern Africa, as designated by the African Union); and
- US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken unveiled the US Alliance for Afghan Women’s Economic Resilience, a partnership with Boston University to increase educational and economic opportunities for Afghan women.
Though pledges to the seventh replenishment of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (Global Fund) fell short of the organization’s goal of US$18 billion, UNGA still included a series of high-profile pledges and developments in global health:
- Ahead of the UNGA High-Level Meetings, the World Bank Group announced the creation of its Pandemic Preparedness and Prevention Financial Intermediary Fund (FIF), which received US$1.4 billion in seed funding from donors including Norway and Spain; and
- The Global Fund’s Seventh Replenishment raised US$14.3 billion from private donors and states including Australia, Canada, the EU, Japan, and Spain. Notably, the UK and Italy did not participate in the replenishment.
In addition to sector-specific pledges, UNGA resulted in additional commitments and developments in ODA policy, particularly in response to the war in Ukraine and attempts to strengthen local partnerships in recipient countries:
- In the lead-up to UNGA, the EU announced renewed partnerships with local authority associations along with US$50 million in support for local SDG initiatives.
- At an UNGA side event, USAID Administrator Samantha Power announced the launch of a local partnership initiative for development in SSA modelled on the US$300 million ‘Centroamerica Locale initiative; and
- US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that USAID will receive US$55 million for democracy-building initiatives.
In the wake of a seemingly unprecedented series of global challenges, UNGA proved fruitful in reestablishing its platform as a place for global leaders and changemakers to convene in-person and take a step back to reevaluate the current geopolitical climate. From a development lens, stakeholders took major steps forward across core development sectors, making advancements in food security, commitments to combatting climate change, and significantly increasing funding for both the IFFEd and the Global Fund to strengthen education and health access. While the Russian war in Ukraine and its effects globally took center stage during development discussions at UNGA, it served as a marker for the need to ensure that development assistance is not lost within the wider global security context.