Established in 1945 under the Charter of the United Nations, the General Assembly consisted of only 51 member states. After the first sessions, which were held in White Hall (London), the General Assembly moved its premises to the UN Headquarters in New York – where it still stands today. The total amount of members also changed throughout the centuries, because former colonized parts of the world became sovereign nation states. Today the General Assembly counts 193 member states.
Since the General Assembly’s foundation, each member state sends its delegates into the Assembly to debate and resolve contemporary issues or crises. The Assembly meets each year from September to December, although urgent meetings can be held in an instant. During the meetings, the principle of one-country-one-vote applies, in most cases, a simple majority decides whether or not a resolution is adopted. Therefore, the General Assembly is a unique platform for international debates.
All resolutions passed by the General Assembly are mere recommendations and, therefore, are not legally binding for member states. Nevertheless, these resolutions can encourage action if a broad coalition supports and implements its recommendations. Vice versa, it should be clear that many resolutions fail because they lack support and implementation.
To improve efficiency, the General Assembly created subsidiary bodies, which work on specific topics – as many modern parliaments do.
There are six Main Committees:
- The First Committee (Disarmament and International Security Committee)
- The Second Committee (Economic and Financial Committee)
- The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Committee)
- The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization Committee)
- The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary Committee)
- The Sixth Committee (Legal Committee)
Each member state may send one representative to each of the six Main Committees. In addition, member states may assign advisers, technical advisers, experts or people of equal status, but not only member states attend the General Assembly or its subsidiary bodies. Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) also send envoys to attend meetings. Ever since the number of NGOs has risen, there is a broad network of NGOs all over the world, being involved on a regular basis.
Topic I: Protection of Migrants
While a migrant as a term is used differently, the UN describes it as „any person who lives temporarily or permanently in a country where he or she was not born and has acquired some significant social ties to this country.“ It is not allowed to identify migrants with refugees and internally displaced persons. Migration has always been an integral part of cultures and peoples.
This issue has become more important in the 21st century and reached the highest levels in human history as a consequence of the globalization. Nevertheless, migrant’s rights are not completely guaranteed.
In 2016, the UN General Assembly (UNGA) adopted the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants to protect their human rights. Furthermore, through the adoption of this declaration, the UNGA decided to develop a global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration. The process ended in summer 2018 when the UN Member States finalized the Global Compact for Migration (GCM) as the first ever UN Agreement on promoting decent work and labour migration.
Protection of migrants is not only of particular importance for the human being but also for sustainable development. The contribution of migration is recognized as relevant to all of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). There are several areas where the protection of migrants should be ensured: improving the labour market integration of migrants; ensuring fair and equal access to education opportunities for migrants, their children, and families; better protecting of migrants from human trafficking and smuggling; and many other areas.
Topic II: Harnessing Climate Engineering for Equitable Climate Change Mitigation
Negative consequences of Climate Change continue to be felt all around the world. At the same time global carbon emissions are expected to increase by a further 2,7% in 2018, when compared to 2017 – yet another all-time high. Apparently, by the end of the year, the international community will yet again have failed to reduce carbon emissions, despite having pledged to do so significantly, in order to limit the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C, when it adopted the Paris Climate Agreement with overwhelming support in 2016.
In the light of this continued failure to produce conclusive results on carbon emissions reductions another strategy might become increasingly pertinent that so far has mostly been shunned by the international community: climate engineering, i.e. the „deliberate large-scale manipulation of the planetary environment to counteract anthropogenic climate change“. Instead of focusing on reducing the primary source of global warming, i.e. greenhouse gas emissions, climate engineering comprises two very different strategies to counteract or mitigate the effects of global warming: Solar Radiation Management (SRM) & carbon dioxide Removal (CDR).
SRM aims at producing a global cooling effect by either artificially enhancing Earth’s natural reflectivity of sunlight (albedo) or by intercepting and reflecting solar radiation outside Earth’s atmosphere, e.g. by installing massive mirror-like shielding in space. CDR refers to the removal of greenhouse gases during or after the process of emission through carbon sinks. There are natural carbon sinks, such as forests and other vegetation that reduce carbon dioxide levels through photosynthesis and oceans that can store vast amounts of chemically transformed carbons. And there are technologies to produce artificial carbon sinks such as carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies, carbon dioxide air capture and the use of biochar, all serving to capture greenhouse gas during the process of emission, chemically transform it to a solid state and store it underground.
Climate engineering bears the prospect of offsetting the detrimental side effects of anthropogenic climate change and global warming, without the need to adapt earth’s economies to low-carbon or zero-carbon patterns of production. They are also estimated to be much less expensive than reducing carbon emissions significantly. This appears especially true in the case of SRM technologies which are estimated to be easy to develop, cheap to deploy on a large scale and quick to show significant effects on temperature pattern. However, both approaches are only poorly researched and come with potentially detrimental side-effects on the Earth system that are not fully understood today.
Moreover, the very limited research on climate engineering is centered in a few industrialized countries who are in the best position to make use of climate engineering unilaterally due to their technological advance and vast economic and financial resources. However, unilateral deployment of climate engineering technologies, that might have detrimental effects on the fragile environmental system on a global scale, contradicts the spirit of equity inherent in the Paris Climate Agreement. The General Assembly as the United Nations most inclusive body will, therefore, take up the topic of climate engineering in order to find a common understanding of the risks and benefits of different climate engineering technologies and to decide multilaterally on the steps necessary to ensure that this technology is harnessed for climate change mitigation in an equitable manner.