Remarks by Dennis Francis, President of the 78th session of the General Assembly: Opening of the 78th Session of the General Assembly

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5 September 2023

Deputy-Secretary-General Amina Mohamed,

Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates,

Dear Friends,

I am honoured to address you today for the first time as President of the General Assembly.

It is with immense gratitude – and a profound sense of responsibility – that I take up this charge.

I am committed to carrying out the functions of this esteemed Office with transparency, accountability and dedication, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.

As we launch this new session, I should like to thank my predecessor, President Csaba Kőrösi, for his steadfast and insightful leadership over the last year.

It is my intention to build on his accomplishments and those of others before him.

Let me express also my deep thanks to the Government of Trinidad and Tobago, firstly for entrusting me with the privilege of representing the diverse and dynamic people of our country at the United Nations and secondly, for reposing in me its confidence to acquit the Office of President with dignity, independence and fairness.

My Presidency will reflect the values of tolerance, inclusion, cooperation and unwavering respect for human dignity that Trinidad and Tobago has profoundly upheld and defended over 61 years of membership in the United Nations.

I also take this opportunity to acknowledge the contribution that Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed continues to make, especially in championing the development Agenda, which constitutes unarguably, the centrepiece of our work.

Through her, I also applaud the Secretary-General Guterres for his relentless leadership and advocacy to achieve a United Nations that is fit-for-purpose, as exemplified by his recent launch of the Our Common Agenda Report.


We begin the 78th session of the General Assembly amid a daunting global agenda, beset by a series of cascading challenges.

I have set out 4 priorities – four watchwords – to ensure the 78th session meaningfully addresses these challenges: Peace, Prosperity, Progress and Sustainability.

Let me begin with the first: Peace.

The intertwined challenges of climate, conflict, and poverty continue to make peace more elusive.

Sharp geopolitical divides have brought us to a dangerous new era of nuclear uncertainty.

They have bred scepticism of our multilateral system.

And they have forced many countries to navigate a narrow strategic space to drive change for their societies.

This is especially true for Small Island Developing States, Middle Income Nations and countries in the Global South struggling to meet their unique needs amid the evolving risks.

As the UN’s chief policy making body, the General Assembly bears a special responsibility to ensure that our efforts must be anchored in a robust multilateral system, faithful to the cherished values and principles enshrined in the Charter, our Charter.

One that draws its strength – and legitimacy – from greater inclusion and meaningful opportunities for enhanced engagement to shape decisions.

With open questions about whether the Security Council can fulfil its mandate, the General Assembly’s veto initiative is a welcome innovation.

It marks an important step towards greater transparency and accountability regarding the application of the veto.

One that must be interpreted within the ambit of system-wide UN reform.


This brings me on to my second priority for the session: Prosperity.

We know that the world’s poorest bear the steepest costs of violence – and that long-term investments are needed to leave no one behind.

To this end, we must find tailored solutions to the specific challenges of countries in conflict and post-conflict situations.

The General Assembly must lend its weight to enhancing financing, technology, debt sustainability and capacity building in places where development is in deficit and where assistance is most needed.

In this regard, I urge Member States to follow through on the Addis Ababa Action Agenda – and to take advantage of other key opportunities to scale up investment and expand financing for development.

In doing so, we must also accelerate the transition to clean energy and boost support for adaptation by making climate finance more available, more accessible, and more affordable.

In May, Antigua and Barbuda will host the Fourth International Conference on Small Island Developing States under the theme, “Charting the course toward resilient prosperity” in an effort to agree the successor to the Samoa Pathway, much of which remains even now, 8 years later, unimplemented.

And in June, the Third United Nations Conference on the Landlock Developing Countries will be held in Rwanda.

Along with full implementation of the Doha Programme of Action for Least Developed Countries, these events will help us ignite transformation across critical workstreams.

Throughout, the 78th session, I have committed to prioritizing the needs of countries in special situations, in particular the Least Developed Countries.

I will continue to champion efforts to enable a representative and enabling international financial architecture.

We can no longer tolerate unjust financial systems that keep countries trapped in vicious cycles of debt and deprivation.

The Secretary-General’s ambitious and forward-looking proposals for reforming our systems, moving beyond GDP and developing a Global Digital Compact, will require clear-eyed decisions by the General Assembly.


This brings me to my third priority: Progress.

We have a full toolkit containing all the elements we need to bolster massive progress on our development goals – but we have yet to employ these tools to their fullest potential.

The SDG Summit will be a critical opportunity to correct this, and to breathe new life into the entire SDG process.

How the Summit unfolds will set the tone for the rest of the General Assembly agenda this session; and for the 2030 Agenda over the next 7 years.

The importance of the Summit becomes all the more pronounced, when it is recalled that we have several equally momentous events happening in parallel.

We will have the opportunity to come together on the three major health processes that have been ongoing: the fight against Tuberculosis, Pandemic Prevention and Preparedness and Response, and Universal Health Coverage.

The Covid-19 pandemic has taught us that global solidarity and international cooperation remain imperative if collectively, we are to build resilient health systems and improve the global health architecture.

The High-Level Dialogue on Financing for Development, meanwhile, will be an occasion to make concrete financial commitments towards our goals.

Finally, the Ministerial level meeting on the Summit for the Future will be the opportunity for delegations to make a robust push towards delivering life-changing action by 2030.

All the pieces are in play for us to deliver transformational, accelerated progress; we should neither dither nor delay as to do so would be at our own peril.

As things stand – 680 million people – 8 per cent of the global population – will still be facing hunger in 2030.

Without a quantum leap in our commitments, without a radical transformation of our action, we risk sorely missing the mark on the promises we made to leave no one behind.

There are specific objectives that demand an immediate and essential reinforcement of our efforts, including through accelerating the implementation of our sustainable development agenda.

This is particularly important for already disadvantaged and marginalized groups.

Women and girls are systematically denied their most basic human rights – from education and employment to equal pay and land ownership.

It is time to confront the epidemic of violence against women – a virulent hate whose shadow is cast over many communities.

It is imperative that the multilateral system and its institutions be built for the advancement and success of women and men, not either or, not one or the other. And this means closing the gender gaps that have festered for far too long, to the detriment of far too many, and to society itself.

I therefore plan to continue working with the PGA Advisory Board on Gender, and my Special Envoy will have the dual role of also serving as Special Adviser on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment.

As a gender champion myself, I pledge to promote the high-level engagement and widespread awareness in gender-related events. As such, I will host another annual meeting of the women leaders on the sidelines of the General Debate.

Ethnic, racial, sexual and religious minorities, people with disabilities, Indigenous people, and others, are all vulnerable to intersectional forms of discrimination.

The General Assembly must redouble its efforts to tackle the insidious spread of human rights violations and extremism, in all their declinations – from hate speech to institutionalised discrimination.

We must firmly repudiate any ideology that seeks to sow fear and division.

We must, instead, lead the conversation on equality, equal rights, and non-discrimination as legitimate and imperative social norms that undergird strong, cohesive productive societies.

We set the standard.

And this must start by including those voices who are too often unheard.

By actively engaging young people, women and marginalised groups, whose inclusion will inevitably foster long-term peace, societal progress, and sustainability.

Indeed, in the tradition of my predecessors, I intend to continue and indeed, to expand, the PGA Fellowship Programme.


This brings me to my final watchword: Sustainability.

We have heard time and time again, the alarm regarding pollution, biodiversity loss, over-exploitation of finite resources, and climate change.

But have we truly taken heed?

It is critical that we build sustainable societies that are in harmony with each other and with nature – it is the only way to ensure humanity and the planet’s survival.

COP28 will see the conclusion of the Global Stock-take on the Paris Agreement, underscoring key gaps in implementation. This is a critical moment for the world to come together and align behind faster, more equitable and truly transformative climate action.

The General Assembly’s historic recognition of the newest human right – the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment – reinforces its key role in protecting our global commons.

With a population set to reach 9.5 billion by 2050, it is imperative that we transition to a mode of producing, consuming, and living, that is respectful of, and in equilibrium with all people, species and ecosystems.

Nowhere is this more evident than in our relationship with water. This common resource is fundamental to life on this planet, yet it remains inadequately conserved or prioritized.

We need a green “blue revolution” that addresses and indeed brings together concerns around water, climate, biodiversity, and land and soil degradation and global food security.

This is the only way to guarantee that the right to a clean and sustainable environment is upheld for all.

I am confident that we can reach this ideal.

The “future we want” requires a pre-emptive nurturing of Nature, that we work pro-actively and purposively, not just responsively.

That we embrace bold, progressive, and visionary action, that prioritises long-term strategies to promote sustainable development for future generations, ensuring both their well-being and quality of life.

Excellencies, colleagues, dear friends,

It is easy to fill up an agenda or a High-Level Week with many meetings and discussions; it is an entirely different thing to ensure that each of these gatherings culminates in meaningful, transformative outcomes.

That must be our modus operandi for the period ahead, and indeed for the entirety of this session.

We must not let any moment nor any opportunity evade us.

Let us push for and nurture peace, among other things, by empowering those most vulnerable.

Let us deliver shared prosperity by unlocking the resources required for transformational results.

Let us accelerate progress by capitalizing on the enablers of youth, innovation, and technology.

And let us drive sustainability by recommitting to the principles and processes that help to guide our way.

This session, I will commit to engaging regional and other groups to collectively collaborate to bring to life a renewed atmosphere of global cooperation and shared commitments.

My ambition is for the General Assembly to address the array of challenges it faces in the most effective and inclusive way possible.

Thank you once more for your confidence and for your words of encouragement and support.

I look forward, with great anticipation to working collaboratively with all my Colleagues and their delegations in addressing the several issues before us in the interests of all the people.

I, therefore, call upon you all to approach our work with a true spirit of multilateralism, for problem-solving so that we can better protect, if not guarantee, the security and dignity humankind.

Thank you.



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