FAO Liaison Office in New York

UNGA 76 highlights

24/09/2021

On 24 September, as part of the High-level Dialogue on Energy (HLDE) and under the theme “Accelerating action to achieve SDG 7 in support of the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement”, FAO Director-General QU Dongyu spoke at the Leadership Dialogue focused on scaling up action through Energy Compacts. He spoke of the double priority lines of action of making agri-food systems less dependent on fossil fuels while also tackling energy poverty across predominantly rural and isolated communities. 

Calling for an innovative use of renewable energy sources as part of our production and consumption practices, the Director-General said: “It's time to transform our agri-food systems to make them more efficient, inclusive, sustainable and resilient. Together, let us join efforts for the clean energy transition across agri-food systems for people, planet and prosperity”. Read the Director-General’s full statement or watch the event’s recording.

On 23 September, as part of the High-level Dialogue on Energy (HLDE), UN Secretary-General António Guterres spoke of the double imperative before us: one of ending energy poverty and limiting climate change and its harmful effects. He also outlined his four priorities for a sustainable energy future: closing the energy gap, shifting to decarbonized energy systems, mobilizing finance and promoting technology transfer to the developing world, and ensuring that no one is left behind. 

Against this backdrop, and under the guiding theme for the day on catalytic finance for universal energy access and advancing the energy transition, FAO Director-General QU Dongyu joined the Director-General of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), Francesco La Camera, at the HLDE session Celebrating bold ambition: Energy Compacts (Energy Transition, Innovation & Finance), during which FAO and IRENA joined forces to commit to an Energy Compact to strengthen the enabling environment for the adoption of renewables in agri-food systems. 

The FAO–IRENA Energy Compact “Energising Agri-food Systems with Renewable Energy” strives to carry out at least five agri-food system assessments to facilitate renewable energy adoption and support pilot projects in at least five countries or regions through strategic partnerships. In doing so, FAO and IRENA will work together to advocate for, and contribute to, the food–energy policy nexus. Watch the session’s recording.

On the sidelines of the high-level segment of the 76th Session of the UN General Assembly, 23 September also saw the 20th Annual Meeting of Foreign Ministers of Landlocked Developing Countries (LLDCs) served to provide an overview of the recurrent challenges among LLDCs in working towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Vienna Programme of Action for LLDCs.

A the event, the FAO Director-General QU Dongyu underscored FAO’s continued commitment to the Vienna Programme of Action, including but not limited to (i) the strengthening of national statistical systems specific to food security and nutrition; (ii) the acceleration of inclusive growth through innovations, such as blockchain and other digital technologies to explain linkages along agri-food value chains; and (iii) the enhancement of access to adequate, affordable, nutritious and healthy food for all. Read more here.

Shortly thereafter on 23 September, Part I of the World Biodiversity Summit took place on the sidelines of NYC Climate Week. As part of the Summit discussions, FAO’s Deputy-Director of the Office of Climate Change, Biodiversity and Environment, Zitouni Ould-Dada, took part in a panel discussion at the crossroads of natural resource management, climate change and food security. 

Entitled “Nature-Based Solutions, Finance and Regenerative Agriculture: How Can We Stimulate Resilient Food Production and Security?” the panel discussion was moderated by Deputy-Director Ould-Dada. It centered on science-based targets, ecosystem services, updated economic models, and public-private partnerships to mitigate ecosystem degradation with the aim of reforming agri-food systems to reduce pressure on biodiversity and the environment.

Also as part of NYC Climate Week on 23 September, Deputy-Director Ould-Dada spoke at a second panel discussion entitled “Peas, Trees and 1.5 Degrees: Nature and agriculture in the Climate Decade," as part of a round of discussions on food and health. The dialogue convened government leaders, farmer organizations and civil society around the shared commitment to discussing solutions, challenges and the regenerative potential of transforming our agri-food systems, from greenhouse gas emission sources to emission sinks. 

“Agriculture is highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, but it is also a fundamental part of the solution,” Ould-Dada said. The agriculture sector absorbs over 26 percent of all damages and losses from climate extreme events, a figure that rises to more than 80 percent in the specific case of drought, he added. Watch the panel discussion’s recording on Facebook Watch.

On 23 September and on the sidelines of UNGA 76 and the UN Food Systems Summit, the FAO Director-General, QU Dongyu, spoke at an event under the auspices of the World Economic Forum Sustainable Development Impact Summit 2021. The event, “Breaking Silos to Achieve Food and Climate Security,” helped make the case on the urgency of tackling climate crises and agri-food systems transformations in tandem, in turn challenging current food production and consumption paradigms and their harmful impacts on human and environmental health. 

The Director-General highlighted the need to provide more, nutritious food with a low carbon footprint, in a sustainable manner and with more socio-economic benefits. Green and climate resilient agri-food systems are key to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, he said. Read more or watch the recording.

Towards the end of 23 September, speaking at the closure of the UN Food Systems Summit was FAO Director-General QU Dongyu, alongside the heads of the other two Rome-based Agencies – IFAD and WFP. In his statement, the Director-General pledged in carrying forward the momentum and vision of the Food Systems Summit, echoing the Secretary-General’s Chair Summary and Statement of Action on the Summit.

"FAO will take a leadership role to ensure that the Summit's follow-up becomes a catalytic opportunity for all the stakeholders to rally behind the 5 Areas of Action, which were outlined by the UN Secretary-General," Qu said. “It is the time to turn this momentum into action and work together to follow through on transformative pathways based on national priorities and conditions," he added. Read more here and revisit the UN Secretary-General’s statement on the Summit.

Setting the scene for many key engagements and discussions during 22 September and for the remainder of UNGA 76 was FAO’s new report Tracking progress on food and agriculture-related SDG indicators 2021. It provides a statistical overview of progress made around the world towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) related to food and agriculture. The report is the third of a series of annual assessments of the SDG indicators under FAO’s responsibility. 

The report sounds the alarm on the current state of the SDGs, many of which seeing progress eroded on the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath. As predicted last year, the pandemic has undermined decades of development efforts. Still, having the most recent data and knowhow at hand is vital in identifying the most pressing challenges if the world is to revamp efforts, redouble investments and reorient action plans that are commensurate with the challenges before us, ensuring that no one is left behind by 2030. "As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold, and the world moves further off track in meeting the 2030 SDG deadline, timely and high-quality data are more essential than ever," Pietro Gennari, FAO Chief Statistician, said. 

On the humanitarian front, 22 September saw a high-level pledging event for Yemen. Organized by the European Union, Switzerland and Sweden, the pledging event stressed the unprecedented humanitarian needs in Yemen, advocating for urgent action from the international community and calling on resource partners to pledge and disburse additional funding that is commensurate with the alarming humanitarian needs on the ground. Under the theme “Yemen: Responding to the crises within the world’s largest humanitarian crisis,” the event centered on scaling up immediate and life-saving assistance, while still devising smart investments and responses for the long term. 

FAO’s work in Yemen entails responding the several, yet interconnect emergencies. The impacts of desert locust upsurge on crops and pastures, natural disasters and economic downturns associated with COVID-19 have exacerbated a country-wide crisis. This has led to a sharp increase in the already dangerously high levels of food insecurity and malnutrition, especially among agricultural and pastoral communities. “In a country where two out of three people depend on agricultural livelihoods, the need to restore and protect their ability to produce food and generate income cannot be overstated. Rural livelihoods remain the greatest defence against famine,” Hussein Gadain, FAO Representative in Yemen, said on the occasion of the pledging event. Read more about on FAO’s Humanitarian Response Plan for Yemen.

22 September likewise saw a video message from FAO Director-General QU Dongyu to the White House Global COVID-19 Summit, under the theme “Ending the Pandemic and Building Back Better to Prepare for the Next”. The high-level virtual event took place on the margins of UNGA 76.

“Even before the pandemic the world was not on track to achieve Zero Hunger and end extreme poverty by 2030,” the Director-General said, noting that 811 million people in the world went to bed hungry in 2020. The toll from the pandemic have been further exacerbated by extreme weather, conflicts and invasive pests such as desert locusts and other additional shocks, affecting the livelihoods of rural households in particular, he added, pointing to the Organization’s efforts through FAO’s COVID-19 Response and Recovery Programme and the Hand-in-Hand Initiative.

On 22 September, the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) convened the AOSIS Leaders’ Summit to discuss the development and sustainability issues that are increasingly and disproportionately affecting Small Island Developing States (SIDS). Addressing the Summit was FAO Director-General QU Dongyu, who emphasized FAO’s commitment to SIDS and the multifaceted sustainable development challenges before them, especially in a post-COVID-19 era. This support, he said, is exemplified through the recently launched SIDS Solutions Platform, which creates a space for knowledge exchange and transfer, the 1 000 Digital Villages Initiative, whereby FAO is working to transform villages into digital hubs in favour of agri-food systems transformation, and the Hand-in-Hand Initiative, FAO’s flagship knowledge exchange platform.

“Small Island States face numerous challenges due to the impacts of the climate crisis, such as frequent natural disasters, land degradation and overexploitation of marine resources,” the Director-General said, pointing to how these challenges and the necessary response mechanisms are at the heart of FAO’s new Strategic Framework 2022–2031 and underscore his recent call to close the digital divide. The Summit endorsed a renewed declaration climate change, sustainable development and ocean issues. Watch the recording of the FAO Director-General’s message or read more here.

Also taking place on 22 September was a virtual meeting of foreign ministers held in view of an extraordinary G20 summit on Afghanistan announced by Mario Draghi, Prime Minister of Italy, holder of the G20 Presidency. UN Secretary-General, António Guterres and the head of the UN's Office for the Coordination of Human Affairs (OCHA), Martin Griffiths, also spoke at the event. Also inattendance was FAO Director-General, QU Dongyu, who emphasized the need to urgently support Afghanistan's farmers who have been suffering from an unprecedented drought. Millions need access to agricultural inputs for the winter wheat season, a mainstay for food security and livelihoods and source of more than half of the average daily calorie intake in the country.  

"Failure to step up and speed up efforts immediately to support and salvage rural agricultural livelihoods will lead to enormous increases in hunger and malnutrition, massive displacement and vast increases in acute humanitarian situations going into the winter season," he said, pointing to the importance of prioritizing agriculture and food production. This echoes FAO’s urgent call for support in mobilizing USD 36 million to support the agricultural livelihoods of 3.5 million Afghans through the end of the year. 

The final noteworthy engagement of 22 September featured the participation of FAO Director of Land and Water, Lifeng LI, who spoke at the Aid and Trade Roundtable discussion on the water-energy-food security nexus, taking place under the auspices of the World Humanitarian Forum on the sidelines of UNGA 76. The panel discussion “Water-Energy-Food Security Nexus: Practical Planning and Risk Management” discussed the interlinkages between SDG 2 – zero hunger, SDG 6 – clean water and sanitation for all, and SDG 7 – affordable and clean energy to join forces and optimize synergies. 

“To address the twin challenge of increasing productivity to feed a growing population and reducing agriculture's environmental footprint, you have to sustain water, soil energy and other resources required for food production,” Li said, pointing to FAO’s work on promoting evidence-based synergies and analysing tradeoffs through cross-sectoral policies at the heart of water, energy and food security. “We strongly believe that agriculture is part of the solution,” he added, citing the water-food-energy and environment nexus approach as a useful concept to balance different resources, objectives and interests, while maintaining the integrity and the sustainability of our ecosystems, in the context of growing population and rapid urbanization.

On 21 September, the UN General Assembly Hall saw the opening of the general debate of UNGA 76. UN Secretary-General António Guterres addressed world leaders and the international community at large to work together to solve our generation’s most pressing issues, based on the shared values of solidarity, dignity, equality, justice and human rights. 

Speaking of his Our Common Agenda report presented earlier this month, the UN Secretary-General stressed the need to equip a UN that is fit for a new era, especially in relation to what he referred to as the six divides of our time: the peace, climate, inter and intra-country, gender, digital, and generational divides. The UNGA general debate will continue through 25 September, coming to a close on 27 September. Access the list of scheduled speakers.

Also taking place on 21 September, FAO Deputy Director-General Maria Helena Semedo took part in a panel discussion “A fighting change: The intersection of climate change and food systems” as part of the DEVEX @UNGA series of events. Speaking on the global hunger, food insecurity and climate action challenges before us, Semedo called for a shift in how we understand our economies, pointing out: “Agri-food systems contribute to around more than 30 percent of GHG emissions, and the challenge ahead is how to feed the population, how to produce and to consume in a sustainable way, such that we reduce the effects of climate change”.

FAO sees valuable room for synergies between the Food Systems Summit, the COP26 Climate Conference and the COP15 Biodiversity Conference, understanding these three agendas through a cross-sectoral policy lens, including, for instance, discussions on climate financehealthy diets and One Health, the Deputy Director-General explained. The climate agenda and the sustainable development agenda are very much interlinked in FAO’s work, she said, especially when it comes to bringing innovative approaches in favour of those most in need of resilient livelihoods, such as smallholder farmers. Watch the recording of the panel discussion here.

On 20 September, the SDG Moment marked the start of the General Assembly High-level Week. It was an opportunity to take stock on the status of the Sustainable Development Goals, especially as the world redoubles efforts and commitments during the Decade of Action through 2030. Convened by the UN Secretary-General, the SDG Moment served to discuss the underlying causes and implications of the structural inequalities that the COVID-19 pandemic has made evident. Aiming a spotlight on what is still needed to get the SDGs back on track, contributions from Member States and SDG champions and advocates from civil society and the private sector, in addition to a call to action by the Secretary-General, helped put the transformative and catalytic nature of the SDGs at the forefront of discussions.

The meeting was a timely opportunity to reinforce actions and pledges to continue building political momentum ahead of major summits and intergovernmental meeting slated in the near future, not least the UN Food Systems Summit, the COP26 Climate Conference and the COP15 Biodiversity Conference. Watch the recording here.

Also on 20 September, FAO Chief Economist Máximo Torero participated in a UNGA side event on bridging the digital divide by 2030, convened by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), under the theme “Road to Addis: Partner2Connect”. “The returns of access to ICTs and digital agriculture are enormous,” Torero said, making the case that multi-stakeholder cooperation and the provision of interoperable data services as a digital public good is vital. With this, digital technologies remain key to de-risk livelihoods and to increase the resilience of the most vulnerable, provide digital financial services, and attract investments for rural transformation, he explained. 

Speaking on FAO’s work on digital agriculture and on the wide array of implementation-ready initiatives for digital transformation out there, “it is essential that we work together to convert [them] into investment plans to deploy these types of technologies so that everybody can have access,” the Chief Economist added. Watch the recording here.

On 16 September, the FAO Director-General, QU Dongyu, held a virtual meeting with the newly elected President of the 76th Session of the UN General Assembly (PGA), Abdulla Shahid. The PGA stressed the vital role that agri-food systems should play in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including for Small Island Developing States (SIDS). Echoing this sentiment, the FAO Director-General reaffirmed FAO's role on the follow-up of the UN Food Systems Summit outcomes.

On 14 September, the 76th Session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA 76) officially opened, with H.E. Abdulla Shahid of Maldives assuming his role as President for the upcoming session.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres paid special thanks to the outgoing President of the 75th Session of the UN General Assembly, Volkan Bozkir. He called for unity, hope and trust in the collective capacity to work together with direction, urgency and responsibility for human and planetary health, especially ahead of the COP26 Climate Conference.

Outgoing President Bozkir spoke of the importance of recognizing the UN General Assembly as a constructive, inclusive and transparent platform that has the capacity to rise up to the world’s most pressing issues. He cited the opportunities for enhanced cooperation and joint efforts during and after a globally tumultuous pandemic period. He stressed that more must be done to improve gender equality and provide greater protection of the rights of women. He also spoke of the greater attention paid to those countries in particular need for support moving forward towards 2030, such as Least Developed Counties (LDCs), Land-Locked Developing Countries (LLDCs) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS). 

In turn, the newly elected President of the UN General Assembly spoke of his office’s priorities for his mandate in the year ahead, including the continuation of support and attention to the plights of countries in particular need of support, such as LDCs, LLDCs and SIDS. President Shahid also outlined his office’s commitment to empowering youth and young diplomats in multilateralism, as well as ensuring a gender-balanced agenda and office structure. He spoke of the UN as a forum for the people, which must be revitalized and anchored in actions fuelled by hope and our collective aspirations for a more prosperous future for all.