Remarks by H.E. Mr. Abdulla Shahid, President of the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly
21 September 2021
Heads of State and Government,
I am honoured to welcome you all to the opening of the General Debate as we kick off the High-Level Week of the seventy-sixth Session of the United Nations General Assembly.
I am even more pleased to welcome all of you back to an in-person session of the General Assembly.
A year and a half we have suffered in silence and in anxiety. A year and a half we have worried, we have grieved, we have waited.
Let us wait no more.
I would like to express my deep gratitude to His Excellency, Volkan Bozkir, President of the 75th session, for his stewardship of this august General Assembly hall during very trying times.
I would also like to thank the Secretary-General for his leadership and wisdom and look forward to working with him.
I must also express heartfelt gratitude to both President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih and the people of the Maldives for putting their faith and trust in me.
I am truly humbled and deeply proud to stand as a small islander at this great podium on behalf of our people. Our country may be small – and I may be even smaller – but today we are mighty; today we stand with giants. My standing here today in the General Assembly is a reflection of the success of President Solih’s foreign policy.
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
We have plenty of challenges, but for just a moment, let us celebrate all that we have achieved in the past two years.
In record time humanity has developed multiple viable vaccines for COVID-19. Scientists and researchers from dozens of countries collaborated on a remarkable feat of human ingenuity.
And the largest vaccine roll-out in the history of humankind is currently underway. While certainly not without flaws, it is monumental in its undertaking.
For these accomplishments alone we should be proud.
Before I outline the 76th session and the hopeful theme I have chosen to pursue, allow me to ask you this: where do we want to be at this time next year?
What is it that we, as a people, intend to achieve over the next 12-months?
From my discussions with many in this room; from social media; from the UN75 survey, and from the Secretary-General’s ‘Common Agenda’ report, the answer is clear: the world wants peace of mind. The people want solutions to the challenges we collectively face.
And challenges are not in short supply.
Fragility; conflict; COVID-19; climate change. The list goes on.
These issues and more keep our citizens awake at night; they fuel a collective anxiety and a worry that things are progressively getting worse.
They worry that we are not doing enough to solve the problems facing our world.
And my friends, they are not wrong. We can do more. We know this in our hearts.
On COVID-19, we have the vaccine, the know-how, the capacity for distribution, we lack only the political support.
On climate change, we have incredible innovations in renewable energy, in adaptive technologies, and in transitioning away from fossil fuels. We lack, again, only the political support and the related financing.
On conflict and instability, we have near universal desire for nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, yet we falter at the finish line, leaving treaties unratified.
On humanitarian concerns, we have enough food and water to provide for the planet many, many times over, yet there is genuine fear that we will see the return of famine and the impacts of drought. Hundreds of millions will require humanitarian assistance by year’s end.
My friends, there are moments in time that are turning points, and this is one such moment.
We can choose a path of isolationism, of mutual destruction, of a slow retreat of the human experiment, or we can forge together a new path, a sustainable and resilient path that changes the future of our planet.
COVID-19 may have been a tragedy of the grandest scale, but it may also have been a canary in the coal mine, warning us of the perils we face if we continue to drag our feet, to avoid making the hard but necessary choices.
I wholeheartedly believe in the power of humanity to overcome these challenges. You cannot live in the Maldives and face the existential threat of sea-level rise without having hope on humanity.
Well, that hope extends far. I am hopeful that we too can overcome differences, that we can bypass protocols and obstacles to transform our societies.
With this hopeful vision for a better tomorrow, I intend to pursue five ‘rays of hope’ that will direct the efforts of the General Assembly this year.
First, I will stand firmly behind the need to ensure vaccine equity – to vaccinate the world! As President of the General Assembly, I intend to host a high-level meeting on just this issue, and to address the practical obstacles that have emerged around supply, storage, and distribution.
Second, on the longer-term recovery from COVID-19, I will push for a recovery that builds back better, stronger, greener, and bluer. By following the paths laid out by Agenda 2030 we can pivot away from destructive practices and embrace a better future.
Third, we must return our attention to the climate crisis, which has taken a backseat to COVID-19. The IPCC report and others speak for themselves. We are no longer on the wrong path… excellencies, we are on the edge of the cliff.
I am pleased to note that I will host a series of events on climate action.
The first, in the lead-up to COP26, will help to build ambition and ensure that action is very much on the agenda. We must bridge the capacities needed to actually deliver on climate promises. It is one thing to have innovative renewable technologies, it is an entirely different thing if a country or community cannot absorb that technology. I believe we can close the gap.
Another event, later in the session, will acknowledge the other major environmental efforts underway – on the ocean, on desertification, on biodiversity – and will aim to address these interlocking issues during this ‘super session on the environment’.
My fourth ray of hope focuses on human rights, one of the fundamental pillars of our organization. We must uphold the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights above all else, particularly during moments of conflict or strife, as we have so recently seen.
We must also endeavour to always empower and support those most vulnerable and those who have been disadvantaged.
As President of the General Assembly, I am determined to have a cross-cutting gender approach to my presidency, including advocating for a build back better approach to COVID-19 that prioritizes gender-sensitive policies and initiatives.
Fifth, and finally, UN reform and revitalization must continue. And it must also continue here, in the General Assembly. This is not about a balance of power, this is about efficiency. Every organ of the UN must be at its peak, must be able to deliver as it was intended.
One of the first things I will do in this regard is to listen to our constituents. By engaging better with Civil Society Organizations, and by bringing more youth on board – such as through our Youth Fellowship Programme – we will hear about the priorities that matter to people and come to know new ways that the General Assembly can make a difference.
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
Before I close, allow me to remind you of what this Hall represents. Out of the ashes of the greatest war, of the greatest atrocities of human history, we came together and agreed to collaborate to tackle the challenges we face.
For the 7+ billion constituents around the world, this is what they see when they think of the United Nations – iconic world leaders standing before a marble green backdrop debating, not whether to help, but how to help. Let us not let them down.
We have never been so technologically advanced.
We have never been so connected.
We have never had the wealth, the resources, or the know-how that we have now.
There is nothing in our path to stop us but ourselves.
Let us be the UN that people want us to be.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
In the darkest days of the pandemic, when cities were shuttered and vaccines still a dream, the peoples of the world came together as never before.
They left messages of support on their windows.
They sang for each other from balconies.
They clapped in the evenings for their frontline workers, their heroes.
They prayed in unison asking for that miracle that could give us back the normalcy that we took for granted.
It was hope and a sense of shared humanity that allowed them to do this.
Let us give them hope now.
I thank you.
We have never been so technologically advanced. We have never been so connected. We have never had the wealth, the resources, or the know-how that we have now. There is nothing in our path to stop us but ourselves. Let us be the UN that people want us to be.