NEW YORK: More than 150 world leaders are gathering here as the 78th Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) kicked off on Tuesday without leaders of four of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (UNSC).

This year’s UNGA, which is the main policy-making organ of the United Nations, is once again focusing on issues such as the global food crisis, rising food prices, global warming and the Ukraine-Russia conflict.

In keeping up with decades-long traditions, Brazil President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was the first leader to present his National Statement at the General Debate, followed by US President Joe Biden as the host country.

In his speech, the US President, the only leader of the permanent members of UNSC in attendance here, urged the rest of the world to stand up to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak skipped the week-long gathering.

But the annual gathering will see the return of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as the country’s conflict with Russia remains one of the key talking points at the UNGA.

Besides State and Government Leaders, hundreds of representatives from the various UN agencies and civil society organisations are taking part in dozens of events scheduled throughout the week.

Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim is expected to arrive in New York at 10 am on Wednesday (10 pm Malaysian time) to make his maiden appearance at UNGA, with his statement scheduled to be delivered at 10am Friday (10pm Malaysian time).

This year’s theme for the General Debate is “Rebuilding trust and reigniting global solidarity: Accelerating action on the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) towards peace, prosperity, progress and sustainability for all”.

Commenting on the absence of the four high-profile leaders, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said that he cares less about who comes to New York and more about what gets done, especially to revive the lagging SDGs.

“This is not a vanity fair. This is a political body in which governments are represented,” he told UN News.

On Monday, world leaders at the SDG Summit 2023 adopted a sweeping Political Declaration to reaffirm their shared commitment to end poverty and hunger, combat inequalities within and among countries and build peaceful societies that leave no one behind.

According to UN General Assembly President Dennis Francis, 1.2 billion people were still living in poverty as of 2022, and roughly eight per cent of the global population, or 680 million people, will still be facing hunger by the end of the decade. - Bernama