Outgoing President Stresses Sustainability, as UN 71st General Assembly Closes

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President of the 71st session of the UN General Assembly, Thomson (left), passes the gavel on to President of the 72nd session Lajcák (right), as Secretary-General Guterres looks on…in New York, US

Abimbola Akosile

The United Nations General Assembly has closed its 71st session with a focus on sustainable development, as outgoing president Peter Thomson handed over the gavel to his successor, Miroslav Lajčák.

In his final address in New York, US on Monday, September 11, Mr. Thomson summarised the achievements of his one-year tenure, and urged the international community to raise awareness about the behavioural changes needed to create a more sustainable way of life and to combat climate change, as agreed to in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).

“We must embrace the power of innovation and technology to leverage SDG implementation and combat climate change at the speed and scale required,” he said. “We are witnessing exponential change in multiple areas of technology and we must manage the risks and seize the opportunities for the common good of humanity and the planet.”

Thomson, in a release issued by the UN, also underlined the importance of partnerships and a change in how development is financed, as requirements for achieving the SDGs by the 2030 deadline.

“We have not come this far as a species only to be defeated by greed,” Thomson said, echoing what he told the press in his final press conference on Friday.

In that press briefing, Thomson said he had written to all heads of government and to some 4,000 universities asking them to teach SDGs in school.

“We are stealing from our grandchildren’s future if we continue to take more from the planetary ecosystem than it can sustainably grant,” Thomson said in his statement.

Ahead of his address, Secretary-General António Guterres lauded the outgoing official for overseeing a “productive” session that included the adoption of a landmark declaration on refugees and migrants, the establishment of a technology bank for the least developed countries, and a momentum to save the oceans, among others.

“Thank you for helping to steer the Member States to a solid record of achievement over the past year. Day in and day out, you brought us together,” said the Secretary-General.

Paying homage to the 16th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center and other targets in Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., Mr. Guterres noted that this “spirit of unity has particular meaning today.”

“This was an assault on the United States. But so many of our Member States saw their citizens murdered that day,” he said. “I know you join me in expressing our sorrow and solidarity on this day.”
Following the remarks, the General Assembly stood for one minute of silent prayer or meditation, as is the custom, after which the incoming president, Mr. Lajčák, took the oath of office and received the symbolic gavel from Mr. Thomson.
Lajčák was billed to open the 72nd session of the General Assembly Tuesday afternoon.

Meanwhile, President Muhammadu Buhari is expected to address the UN General Assembly next week Thursday, September 21. According to reports, that would be the President’s first overseas official engagement since he travelled to London earlier in the year for a medical vacation.

The forum is also expected to examine the levels of realisation of the 17 SDGs and 165 targets adopted at the landmark 70th UNGA at the same venue in New York, which was witnessed by more than 190 member-countries and the Pope, among others.