Demystifying the Language of the UN General Assembly: A Comprehensive Glossary

by Chloe Baker
UN General Assembly Glossary

The annual gathering of the United Nations General Assembly is underway, and it brings with it a lexicon of specialized terminology, abbreviations, and acronyms that can be bewildering to those who are not well-acquainted with the event. Below is a guide that unravels key terms and phrases that you might encounter.

Starting Points

UNGA: An acronym for the “High-level Week” of the United Nations General Assembly, which is often pronounced as “U-N-gah.” This is the most significant annual event for the international body and is attended by heads of state, prime ministers, monarchs, and other leading dignitaries from all 193 member nations of the UN. While some New York residents refer to this merely as the “General Assembly,” causing local street closures and increased motorcade activity, the assembly is actually a year-round entity where ambassadors of member states convene to discuss a broad spectrum of global issues and vote on resolutions.

General Debate: This is the focal point of the high-level week, providing a platform for each member country’s leader or appointed representative to offer a perspective on the state of the world. The president of the assembly chooses an annual theme—this year’s theme is “Rebuilding Trust and Reigniting Global Solidarity” to accelerate progress on essential UN objectives. Speakers avail themselves of this opportunity to address global issues, spotlight national achievements and challenges, voice complaints, and exhibit diplomatic acumen. Although they are encouraged to conclude within 15 minutes, there are no strict time penalties like buzzers or musical cues. The “debate” is essentially a succession of monologues, although rebuttals are permitted at the day’s end, leading to repeated exchanges between adversarial nations.

Key Concepts

Bilateral or “Bilat”: These are confidential interactions between the leaders of two nations. Many argue that the real value of the UNGA is encapsulated in these private conversations and other off-the-record discussions among policymakers.

Ministerial: This term refers to gatherings involving cabinet-level officials, like foreign ministers, from various countries.

Security Council: This is the most potent arm of the UN, tasked with the responsibility of maintaining global peace and security. The council, composed of 15 members, has the authority to pass binding resolutions, impose sanctions, and send peacekeeping forces. While the General Assembly occupies center stage during this week, the Security Council also holds a meeting—this year focused on Ukraine—with prominent figures present for the adjacent events.

Numerical Designations

P5: This term refers to the five permanent members of the Security Council who have veto power. Established in 1945, they include China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

E10: These are the Security Council’s 10 non-permanent members, elected by the General Assembly for two-year terms with seats designated by geographical region. The call for reforms in the council’s structure is a regular feature at the UNGA, notably regarding the absence of permanent members from Africa and the Latin America-Caribbean zone.

G77: This denotes the “Group of 77,” a coalition of developing nations originally formed within the UN in 1964. The group has expanded and now includes 134 countries despite its initial name.

COP28: This is a significant global climate summit scheduled to take place in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, this December.

1.5 Degrees: This is a crucial temperature limit agreed upon under the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. Nations committed to curbing global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels. The Earth has already experienced at least a 1.1-degree (2-degree Fahrenheit) rise since the 19th century.

Initialisms and Acronyms

SDGs: This stands for the United Nations’ “Sustainable Development Goals,” a set of objectives ranging from addressing climate change to eradicating poverty and achieving gender equality. Adopted in 2015, these goals constitute a 15-year plan, although progress has been slow.

SIDS: In the UN context, this acronym represents 39 “Small Island Developing States.” The UNGA serves as an essential platform for them to bring attention to pressing issues like climate change, which poses an existential risk due to rising sea levels and intensifying storms.

BRICS: This coalition of emerging economies currently comprises Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, with plans to include additional nations such as Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. BRICS has recently gained attention as a platform for increasing Chinese-Russian influence at a time when they are in conflict with Western powers.

LDCs: This acronym stands for “Least-Developed Countries,” which currently includes 46 nations meeting specific economic criteria, including a gross national income of $1,088 or less per capita annually.

Special Terms

Multilateralism: This embodies the notion of worldwide partnership aimed at collaboratively developing lasting rules and shared norms, a principle upon which the UN was founded but is now perceived as being in jeopardy.

Multipolar: This describes a global structure in which multiple, sometimes conflicting, power centers exist as opposed to a unipolar or bipolar world.

Bretton Woods Institutions: These are the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, established during a 1944 UN conference in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire.

Two-State Solution: This is a proposed framework for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by creating an independent Palestinian nation that coexists peacefully with Israel. The idea, rooted in the 1993 Oslo Accords and endorsed by the UN, has yet to see substantial progress.

South-South Cooperation: This refers to collaborative efforts among countries, organizations, and individuals in the Southern Hemisphere with the aim of amplifying their influence in their own development and on the global stage.

Unilateral Coercive Measures: This term is often used critically to describe sanctions imposed by one nation in an attempt to influence actions in another country.

For in-depth coverage of the United Nations General Assembly, please visit United Nations General Assembly Comprehensive Coverage.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about UN General Assembly Glossary

What is the primary purpose of this text?

The primary purpose of this text is to provide a comprehensive glossary that explains key terms, acronyms, and phrases commonly used during the annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly. It serves as an educational resource for those who wish to better understand the language and proceedings of this significant international event.

Who is the target audience for this glossary?

The target audience for this glossary includes diplomats, policy analysts, academics, journalists, and the general public interested in international relations and the workings of the United Nations.

What does the term “UNGA” refer to?

UNGA is an acronym for the United Nations General Assembly’s “High-level Week.” This is the UN’s largest annual gathering, where world leaders, including presidents, prime ministers, and monarchs from all 193 UN member countries, convene to address global issues.

What is the “General Debate” at the UN General Assembly?

The General Debate is the main event of the UNGA High-level Week. It provides a platform for each country’s leader or their designated representative to deliver a state-of-the-world address. While there is a theme chosen by the assembly’s president, speakers are free to discuss a wide range of global issues, spotlight domestic accomplishments, and express grievances.

What is meant by “Bilateral” meetings during the UNGA?

“Bilateral” refers to private, one-on-one meetings between the leaders of two different countries. These meetings are considered by some to be the real value of the UNGA, as they offer opportunities for personal, off-camera discussions among decision-makers.

What is the Security Council’s role in the UNGA?

The Security Council is the most powerful arm of the UN, responsible for maintaining international peace and security. Although the UNGA is the main focus of the week, the Security Council generally holds at least one meeting on the sidelines, often attended by high-profile dignitaries.

What are the SDGs?

SDGs stand for the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, which are a set of objectives aimed at addressing global challenges like poverty, climate change, and gender inequality. These goals were adopted by UN member countries in 2015 as a 15-year action plan.

What do the acronyms P5, E10, and G77 signify?

P5 refers to the five permanent members of the Security Council with veto power: China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. E10 signifies the 10 elected, non-permanent members of the Security Council. G77 stands for the “Group of 77,” an interest group of developing countries within the UN.

How is the text organized?

The text is organized into sections that cover various aspects of UNGA vocabulary. It begins with basic terms, moves on to numerically identified groups like the P5 and E10, and concludes with a phrasebook section that defines specialized terms in international relations.

More about UN General Assembly Glossary

  • United Nations General Assembly Official Website
  • United Nations Sustainable Development Goals
  • Overview of the UN Security Council
  • History and Role of G77
  • Understanding Bilateral and Multilateral Diplomacy
  • Bretton Woods Institutions: An Introduction
  • The Two-State Solution: An Overview
  • South-South Cooperation in Global Development
  • Explanation of the 1.5 Degrees Climate Goal in the Paris Agreement
  • UN Glossary of Terms and Abbreviations

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Michael Brown September 19, 2023 - 6:12 am

This is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand whats happening at the UNGA. So many terms I didnt know before.

Sarah Johnson September 19, 2023 - 7:11 am

Honestly, why can’t they make it simple from the start. But thanks for decoding it all, makes a lot more sense now.

John Smith September 19, 2023 - 11:38 am

Wow, this is super informative. Wish I had this guide when I first started covering UN events. really breaks down the jargon.

Robert Lee September 19, 2023 - 12:40 pm

Good stuff! I’ve been following UN politics for years and still learned something new. Keep it up.

Emily Williams September 19, 2023 - 4:01 pm

great read! Always wondered what those acronyms stood for. Now I can sound smart at dinner parties lol


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