Quotes That Defined the UN General Assembly in 2023

By Jill Isenbarger on September 28, 2023

Leaders gather at United Nations Headquarters in New York City for the 78th UN General Assembly – the largest diplomatic gathering since the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: UN Foundation/Diane Bondareff

The largest diplomatic gathering since the COVID-19 global pandemic just wrapped up in New York City. The 78th Session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) brought together thousands of world leaders, entrepreneurs, philanthropists, activists, scientists, and young people with shared urgency and renewed determination to tackle pressing global challenges, and track progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

UNGA 78 offered us precious time to reflect, learn, see what others see, and contemplate how we can work together to solve the wicked problems confounding us now and threatening future generations.

From cross-cutting dialogues at UN HQ to grassroots protests on the streets of Manhattan, we heard from people of all backgrounds and beliefs about why global solidarity and sustainability matter more now than ever.

One message in particular rang loud and clear: Time is running out.

As a lifelong environmentalist, I was energized by the cheeky signs at the March to End Fossil Fuels: “Science not Silence,” “What if Climate Change isn’t Real and We’re Creating a Better World for Nothing?,” “We Don’t Have Time,” and finally, “The Climate is Changing; Why Aren’t We?” I was eager to see UNGA raise the bar for climate action and ambition and glad to see blunt statements from no-nonsense leaders who tell it like it is and aren’t backing down from this fight. The Secretary-General’s conclusion at the Climate Ambition Summit simply and elegantly summed up the task at hand: “Scale up. Bring together all those that you can bring together with you. Go for it. Take no prisoners.”

Throughout the week, I was heartened by the voices of young people who face a steep and uncertain climb on their journey to a more sustainable future — and I hope the growing collective of intergenerational voices at UNGA offered fuel and fortitude for the tough moments to come, when they might give up hope and consider turning back because the path ahead is simply too difficult.

Reflecting on some of the words of the assembled leaders, I find the bright promise of a more sustainable and resilient future. Our prospects for a more peaceful, just, and equitable world are strong. There are big challenges and many obstacles ahead, but UNGA effectively, thoughtfully, and boldly challenged us to do more — faster. It’s time to lean into those challenges. Take no prisoners.

Photo: UN Foundation/Carbon Stories

"I demand a just transition, unbound by race, culture, class, or country. Because if we want peace, if we want justice, it takes just us."

Climate activist Saad Amer, during the International Peace Day youth observance at the UN demanding action for peace and the SDGs through poetry, music, photography, fashion, gaming, and activism


Photo: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

"The SDGs aren’t just a list of goals. They carry the hopes, dreams, rights, and expectations of people everywhere."

UN Secretary-General António Guterres, speaking at this year’s SDG Summit, where world leaders adopted a declaration to accelerate action on the Global Goals at a crucial halfway point for the 2030 Agenda

Photo: Courtesy of UN Web TV

"If you don’t take corrective action now, you will have to tell us where you have been keeping all of your scientific research to relocate you and your families to the planet Mars or Pluto."

Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley at the Climate Ambition Summit, calling out the absurdity of climate inaction from the transportation, fossil fuel, and financial sectors given decades of insider, industry knowledge on global warming’s devastating impact, as well as their outsized roles in contributing to greenhouse gas emissions

Photo: UN Photo/Laura Jarriel

"Developing economy countries must participate equally and meaningfully in the decision-making process of the international economic order."

South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa, declaring his support at a High-Level Meeting on financing for development for the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, a new global framework that seeks to align financing flows and policies with economic, social, and environmental priorities

Photo: UN Photo/Mark Garten

"The United States seeks a more secure, more prosperous, more equitable world for all people because we know our future is bound to yours. Let me repeat that again: We know our future is bound to yours and no nation can meet the challenges of today alone."

U.S. President Joe Biden, addressing world leaders during the annual debate at the UN General Assembly, explaining his Administration’s renewed support for multilateral cooperation and international institutions such as the UN

Photo: UN Photo/Laura Jarriel

"All of us have our own experiences of the pain of the pandemic. Many of us may have lost loved ones. Those memories should drive us forward. Together, we can do better. Today is a chance to ensure we do. Let’s make the most of it."

UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed, delivering the remarks of UN Secretary-General António Guterres at a High-Level meeting on pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response, saying the global reaction to COVID-19 was both “a story of human ingenuity and human failure” and warning world leaders to avoid making the same mistakes during the next major outbreak

Photo: UN Photo/Cia Pak

"To ensure dignity for everyone, including women and girls, we all must pursue this goal — whether in the West or East, the North or South, or anywhere in between. We should start at home, also in our UN home."

Slovenia President Nataša Pirc Musar, spotlighting gender equality as one of four key issues for the international community to prioritize, along with climate change, Security Council reform, and artificial intelligence, during one of the few speeches by a woman head of state at this year’s General Debate

Photo: UN Foundation/Carbon Stories

"We can make decisive gains for people and planet if we set our mind, our money, and our politics to it."

UN Foundation President and CEO Elizabeth Cousens, during SDG Action Weekend at the Civil Society Dialogue on enhancing advocacy, financing, and accountability toward the Global Goals

Catch Up on UNGA 78

For the latest news, event recaps, and expert inputs from the 78th UN General Assembly, visit our UNGA 78 Hub.