The United Nations General Assembly opened its annual session on September 17 with its gaze firmly fixed on the decades ahead as its new President outlined the need to lay the groundwork for global sustainable development in the years following the end of the current development cycle in 2015.

"The upcoming year will be pivotal for this Assembly as we seek to identify the parameters of the post-2015 development agenda," 68th General Assembly President John William Ashe of Antigua and Barbuda said in his opening address to the 193-member body, where scores of heads of state will take to the podium next week in the annual general debate.

"The magnitude of the task before us will require decisive action and the highest levels of collaboration and we must prove ourselves and our efforts to be equal to the enormity of the task," he said.

The year 2015 is the deadline for achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the eight anti-poverty targets agreed upon by world leaders at a UN summit in 2000, setting specific goals on poverty alleviation, education, gender equality, child and maternal health, environmental stability, HIV/AIDS reduction, and a global partnership for development.

To this end, the 68th General Assembly President has declared "The Post-2015 Development Agenda: Setting the Stage" the theme for the ongoing assembly.

"We will intensify our efforts to define a post-2015 development agenda, including with a single set of goals for sustainable development that we hope will address the complex challenges of this new era and capture the imagination of the people of the world, as the MDGs did, " Ban Ki-moon told the gathering, adding that attention would also be focussed on speeding up the achievement of the MDG in the 1,000 days to the deadline.

He said he also intended to convene a high-level meeting on climate change, with the exact date to be decided in close consultation with the President of the General Assembly.

Ashe said he planned to convene three high-level events and thematic debates on the post-2015 development agenda. They will deal with the role of women, the young and civil society in the post-2015 development agenda, the role of human rights and cooperation among developing countries, as well between developing countries and their partners.

One of the thematic debates will focus on the roles of water, sanitation and sustainable energy in the post-2015 development agenda. "With some 1.4 billion people without reliable electricity, 900 million lacking access to clean water and 2.6 billion without adequate sanitation, action is urgently needed to address these persistent challenges," he stressed.

"With so many initiatives in these three fields, let us try and draw upon and share the existing knowledge, while scaling up initiatives that have already worked in the areas of integrated water management, sustainable energy and sanitation services for the proposed post-2015 development agenda."

Other items in the Assembly’s docket for the coming year include migration, nuclear disarmament, the MDGs and disabilities as well as a high-level thematic debate, mandated by the Assembly, on investment in Africa and its role in achieving development objectives.-VNA