EVERY September, world leaders from United Nations member states gather at the UN headquarters in New York to debate the most important issues facing the world.

UNGA 77 opened on Tuesday 13 September, with the first day of the high-level General Debate on Tuesday 20 September.

The theme this year is: “A watershed moment: transformative solutions to interlocking challenges,” to reflect the many connected issues we face today including the war in Ukraine, the energy and cost-of-living crises, the COVID-19 pandemic and humanitarian disasters caused by climate change. All of these will be on the agenda.

Here's what you need to know about the UN General Assembly.

What is the UN General Assembly?

The UNGA, the main policy-making body of the UN, was created under Chapter IV of the Charter of the United Nations, signed in San Francisco on 26 June 1945.

The Charter outlines its key functions, including “promoting international co-operation in the economic, social, cultural, educational and health fields, and assisting in the realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion”.

The assembly meets from September to December each year and then again from January to August, if required. Representatives debate and make decisions on issues such as peace and security and the admittance of new members.

As outlined in the charter, the assembly may approve the UN budget, elect non-permanent members of the UN Security Council, and appoint the secretary-general, among other things.

What happens during the UNGA and General Debate?

The UN General Assembly starts on 13 September with a minute of prayer or meditation and then the formal election of the President.

This year, the president of the 77th session of the General Assembly will be Hungarian diplomat Csaba Kőrösi who is focusing his presidency on 'Solutions through Solidarity, Sustainability and Science'.

The main event at the UNGA, which generates most of the headlines, is the General Debate, this year scheduled from Tuesday 20 September, and during which world leaders take turns to speak for approximately 20 minutes each.

After two years of disruption due to COVID-19, in which the General Debate went virtual for the first time and featured pre-recorded speeches, world leaders are meeting in person once more this year.

UNGA 2022: What is in the spotlight?

The General Assembly votes on resolutions brought forward by member countries, which can be referred to the Security Council to be made binding.

One of the General Assembly’s earliest achievements was to agree on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, outlining global standards for human rights.

This year will mark the 30th anniversary of the UN Declaration on Minority Rights and on 26 September, there will be a high-level plenary meeting to commemorate the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons.

Yesterday, 22 September, world leaders addressed the Security Council for a high-level debate on Ukraine, while the multiple challenges facing the Sahel will be the focus of a high-level General Assembly meeting later that day.

Perhaps the biggest win of the UN General Assembly in recent years was in September 2015, when the Assembly agreed on a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be achieved by 2030. All countries pledged to work together to eradicate poverty and hunger, protect the planet, foster peace and ensure gender equality.

This year, the focus will be firmly on the SDGs once more. Biodiversity and climate change will also be in the spotlight, ahead of the COP27 Summit set for later this year.

On 21 September, the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the President of Egypt, which will host COP27, will lead a roundtable on climate action for heads of state.

Achieving the SDGs on education will be the focus of the three-day Transforming Education Summit to "mobilize solidarity and solutions to recover pandemic-related learning losses" and ending the COVID-19 pandemic will also feature on the agenda.