14 September 2021
Seventy-sixth Session, 1st Meeting (PM)

Incoming President Urges Member States to Embrace Hope, Begin New Chapter Shaped by Collective Strength, as General Assembly Opens Seventy-Sixth Session

Agenda to Focus on COVID-19 Vaccination, Post-Pandemic Green Recovery, Gender Equality

The General Assembly today opened its seventy-sixth session, with its newly elected President imploring Member States to embrace hope and initiate a new narrative after a challenging year of climate disasters, conflict and the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It has been a tragic and challenging year, but this is a new session,” Abdulla Shahid (Maldives) said.  “We can fall back on the comfort and predictability of systems and procedures, of the United Nations machinery that fills our days, or we can choose to push forward and turn the page.  We can choose to write a new chapter.  Let us choose the latter; let us dare to dream and let us dare to hope, to embrace the presidency of hope.”

Highlighting the challenges ahead, he said hundreds of millions have fallen ill, millions have died and billions have suffered from the pandemic, with news arriving daily to ignite the world’s collective anxiety about climate change, disasters, conflict and instability.  “The narrative must change, and we must be initiator for that change; the General Assembly must play a part of this,” he said, emphasizing that the United Nations is as relevant today as it was 76 years ago.  Declaring that he embraced hope as the theme of his presidency, he said:  “While the pandemic unleashed an unprecedented crisis, we have witnessed incredible acts of kindness and compassion, acts that reaffirmed our common humanity and collective strength as ‘nations united’.  This is the narrative we must tell.”  

Spotlighting five rays of hope that will shape the seventy-sixth session’s agenda, he said vaccinating the world is the top priority.  In this vein, he plans to convene a high-level thematic debate on vaccine equity, noting that the host country has offered vaccines to United Nations staff and delegates, and the City of New York is offering vaccinations to those attending the high-level week later this month.  The second ray is post-pandemic rebuilding that is bluer and greener, he said, adding that he will work with the Economic and Social Council in this regard.

He then announced plans to convene a climate conference and a related high-level thematic debate.  Gender equality is another priority, he continued, noting that he will only participate in gender-balanced panels and will lead efforts to bolster youth participation.  Concluding, he said the fifth ray of hope aims at ensuring that the United Nations remains a forum for all, including the robust participation of civil society and youth, and pointing out that his Office is gender balanced, with representatives from 30 countries from all regions.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, welcoming the incoming Assembly President, called on Member States to galvanize the spirit of multilateralism at a time when the world must stop wars and turn towards the bigger enemy:  COVID-19 and the deep, widespread challenges the pandemic brings.  Hailing the spirit of “uniting in common cause” as the beating heart of the work of the United Nations, he described the opening of the seventy-sixth session as a moment of “great challenge and division”, marked by conflict and climate change, deepening poverty, exclusion and inequality, and a pandemic that continues to threaten lives, livelihoods and futures.

“These challenges are worsened by the divisions scarring our world,” he said.  “Divisions between the rich and poor, between those who take basic services for granted — nutrition, running water, accessible health care — and those for whom these essentials remain a distant dream, between those with a seat in a classroom and skills to build a better future — and those denied this opportunity because of poverty or their gender, between those able to access lifesaving COVID‑19 vaccines — and those who cannot,” he said.

COVID-19 has placed the Sustainable Development Goals even further out of reach, he said, calling upon States to speed-up the response to the pandemic by ensuring vaccines, treatment and equipment for all; investing in essential services including health care, nutrition, water, education, protection and full equality for girls and women; and living up to climate goals.

“The wars on each other need to end; it’s time to focus on fighting humanity’s common enemy:  the pandemic,” he continued, calling on the Assembly to speak with one voice, and re-commit to the values of the United Nations — human rights, supporting the most vulnerable, peace through dialogue, solidarity in the face of challenges that threaten all of humanity, and to prove that multilateralism is the only pathway to a better future for all through actions and collaborations.

At the outset of the first plenary meeting, the Assembly observed a minute of silence, keeping with the rules of procedure.  Following the opening statements, it turned to its agenda, first taking note of the Secretary-General’s 13 September letter (document A/76/318) informing the Assembly that Comoros, Sao Tome and Principe and Somalia are behind in paying their financial contributions to the United Nations within the terms of Article 19 of the Organization’s Charter.

[Under Article 19, a United Nations member in arrears in the payment of its financial contributions to the Organization shall have no vote in the General Assembly if the amount equals or exceeds the amount of the contributions due from it for the preceding two full years.  The Assembly may, nevertheless, permit such a Member to vote if it is satisfied that the failure to pay is due to conditions beyond the control of the Member.]

The Assembly then appointed Bahamas, Bhutan, Chile, China, Namibia, Russian Federation, Sierra Leone, Sweden and United States to its Credentials Committee.

In its final order of business, it took note of a letter dated 7 September from the Chair of the Committee on Conferences to the President of the General Assembly (document A/76/316), authorizing the following entities to hold meetings at Headquarters during the main part of its regular session:  Open-ended working group on security of and in the use of information and communications technologies (2021–2025); Independent Audit Advisory Committee; Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People; Committee on Relations with the Host Country; and States parties to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The General Assembly’s seventy-sixth session will reconvene for its second plenary meeting at 10 a.m. on Friday, 17 September, to consider the reports of its General Committee and its organization of work.

For information media. Not an official record.