United Nations


General Assembly

1 April 1997


                         Note by the Secretary-General

     The Secretary-General has the honour to transmit herewith a
statement by the Administrative Committee on Coordination for
consideration by the General Assembly at its special session.


           Statement by the Administrative Committee on Coordination
                to the General Assembly at its special session

1.   Sustainable development remains one of the most important
challenges facing humanity as it approaches the twenty-first century. 
Yet there is growing concern that failure to accelerate economic
growth and development in vast areas of the world, to resolve burning
social problems, to correct unsustainable production and consumption
patterns and increasing inequity, and to halt deterioration of the
environment will irreversibly limit national capacities to respond to
future challenges.

2.   It is the collective view of the executive heads of the
organizations of the United Nations system participating in the
Administrative Committee on Coordination that the concept of
sustainable development provides an over-arching policy framework for
the entire spectrum of United Nations system-wide activities at the
global, regional and country levels.  Sustainable development, as set
out in Agenda 21, the action plan of the United Nations Conference on
Environment and Development held at Rio de Janeiro, calls for the
implementation of inter-related policies promoting economic
development, improved social equity and environmental sustainability. 
As such, it requires a more integrated approach to policy development,
involving new ways of thinking, new institutional mechanisms and new
partnerships with a wide variety of governmental and non-governmental

3.   A renewed system-wide effort is called for to address the
implications of globalization and liberalization in the world economy,
bearing in mind the major new opportunities being opened up for trade
and investment and information and technology flows, but also the
risks of marginalization of the poorest countries, and the poorest
groups, especially women and children, within countries.

4.   International commitments to achieving sustainable development
have been strengthened by the outcomes of the series of major world
development conferences held during the 1990s. 1/  These meetings have
focused attention on the social dimension of sustainable development,
in particular the overwhelming priority of poverty alleviation. 
Widespread poverty is a core factor in perpetuating economic
stagnation, social deprivation, ill health and environmental
degradation.  Other conferences have increased attention to the
socio-economic aspects of sustainable development. 2/ 

5.   Successful efforts have been made to sensitize public opinion and
to mobilize international cooperation, as well as to adopt specific
programmes to implement Agenda 21 and to establish relevant
institutional mechanisms at the international, regional, national and
local levels.  However, much remains to be done to restore the
momentum generated at the Rio Conference and fulfil the commitments
made there.  Greater political leadership is needed to forge global
partnership to advance Agenda 21.

6.   The Administrative Committee on Coordination is resolved to meet
the major challenges involved in effective implementation of
commitments made at the Rio Conference.  Follow-up will require a high
degree of policy integration and the Committee is intent on continuing
its development of effective tools and techniques to improve
system-wide coordination within the United Nations system.  Major
change and adaptation have already been undertaken in this regard to
support effective implementation at the international and national

7.   The Administrative Committee on Coordination attaches the greatest
importance to the improvement of field-level implementation of the Rio
commitments, through a coordinated approach at the country level.  It
particularly supports the strengthening of inter-agency cooperation at
the regional level, which has great potential for practical programme
delivery.  Enhanced cooperation will include regional organizations
outside the United Nations system.  

8.   The Administrative Committee on Coordination is committed to the
further enhancement of cooperation among organizations of the United
Nations system and a wide variety of non-governmental stakeholders,
including non-governmental organizations, major groups and other
components of civil society.  Linkages among functional
responsibilities for information resources, policy development and
operational programmes will be explored in the period following the
1997 review. 

9.   The Administrative Committee on Coordination believes that the
task manager system of the Inter-Agency Committee on Sustainable
Development has led to more effective use of resources and expertise
within the United Nations system and is a promising improvement over
previous efforts at inter-agency cooperation.  However, the system has
not yet reached its full potential in terms of defining policy
linkages and the sharing of responsibilities to achieve full programme
synergy.  The Administrative Committee on Coordination will continue
to strengthen inter-agency coordination with the aim of advancing more
integrated and cost-efficient policy approaches.  The Inter-Agency
Committee will play an important role in this regard.

10.  Coordination cannot be achieved at the secretariat level alone,
however. The executive heads of the organizations of the United
Nations system participating in the Administrative Committee on
Coordination would welcome the development of clearer and more
consistent intergovernmental and national level policies for
sustainable development.  Clear guidance at the international and
national levels would greatly facilitate the efforts of United Nations
agencies to carry out their mandates effectively, and reduce the
possibility of dissipation of scarce financial resources.

11.  An important constraint is the financial crisis affecting the
United Nations and many of the specialized agencies, which leaves
little room for expanded initiatives.  The expectations of additional
resources raised at Rio have not been fulfilled.  As a result, many
organizations are having difficulty in carrying out the important
activities resulting from the Conference and responding to the
additional work requirements of the Commission on Sustainable

12.  Experience gained since the Conference has led the Administrative
Committee on Coordination to the firm belief that the time has come
for a new approach to policy-making which stresses practical actions
to achieve sustainable development.  Intergovernmental policy
discussions could usefully be reoriented to focus on a limited number
of strategic priority issues, the emphasis being on linkages between
resource management and the role of economic actors and major groups. 
Such an approach would stimulate greater attention to cross-cutting
issues such as population, gender, health, impact on children,
production and consumption patterns, and to means of implementation,
in particular financing mechanisms and technology transfer, capacity-
building and education.


     1/  The World Summit for Children, the World Conference on Education
for All, the World Conference on Human Rights, the International
Conference on Population and Development, the World Summit for Social
Development, the World Conference on Natural Disaster Reduction, the
Global Conference on the Sustainable Development of Small Island
Developing States, the Fourth World Conference on Women and the United
Nations Conference on Human Settlements.

     2/  The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (ninth
session), the World Trade Organization Ministerial Meeting in
Singapore and the World Food Summit.


             Sustainable development in the United Nations system:
                              an explanatory note


1.   The commitments made at the United Nations Conference on
Environment and Development and other conferences have presented a
major challenge to the entire system of United Nations programmes and
institutions.  Effective implementation of Agenda 21 and other Rio
agreements, as well as the need for coherent multidisciplinary support
to intergovernmental processes in the area of sustainable development,
particularly to the Commission on Sustainable Development, have had a
significant effect on virtually all organizations and programmes of
the United Nations system, both jointly - in particular through the
Inter-Agency Committee on Sustainable Development - and individually. 
The Administrative Committee on Coordination believes that the
challenge has generally been met with enthusiasm and a solid
commitment by the United Nations system.  The specialized agencies and
the programmes have proved flexible enough to make structural,
programme and budget changes to enable them to provide support for the
implementation of Agenda 21.

2.   However, a key difficulty faced by the United Nations system is
that not all governing and policy-making bodies have the same
understanding of the concept of sustainable development.  In some
cases, sustainability is equated with environmentally sound management
of natural resources, to the neglect of broader social and economic
issues.  Improved policy coordination across various governing bodies
within the United Nations system is essential to ensuring policy
coherence, more effective joint programming, more efficient deployment
of resources and the avoidance of duplication resulting from
overlapping tasks which might be mandated to different secretariats by
their governing bodies. 

3.   Sustainable development demands a qualitatively different approach
to coordination at both policy-making and programme implementation
levels.  United Nations agencies and secretariats of conventions have
had to develop new institutional arrangements which can facilitate
intersectoral cooperation, and new programming techniques within and
between organizations.  Institutional innovation is also occurring in
national aid agencies.  Greater cooperation between bilateral and
multilateral agencies would enhance and encourage the wider adoption
of these approaches.

4.   In addition, Member States should promote effective coordination
at the level of intergovernmental decision-making.  In the language of
Agenda 21, the Commission on Sustainable Development is to
"rationalize the intergovernmental decision-making capacity for the
integration of environment and development issues".  This mandate has
not been fully realized.  The Commission's role is political; it does
not have decision-making authority with respect to other
intergovernmental processes, but it can promote common policy
approaches, geared to cross-sectoral issues, to advance sustainable
development if relevant responses are ensured throughout the United
Nations system.


A new approach to international policy-making

5.   Experience with policy development and implementation in the years
since the Rio Conference has made clear the need for new approaches
which stress the operational aspects of sustainable development. 
Intergovernmental dialogue on sustainable development could usefully
be reorganized to consider a limited number of strategic priority
issues, so as to develop a more focused approach to relevant
activities in the United Nations system both at the international and
at the regional and country levels.  The Administrative Committee on
Coordination supports the proposals concerning the work programme of
the Commission on Sustainable Development after 1997 contained in the
report of the Secretary-General on overall progress achieved since
Rio. a/  The new work programme would subject a limited number of
thematic areas to in-depth consideration, highlighting the linkages
with relevant chapters of Agenda 21 and the role of relevant economic
sectors and major groups.  This approach would promote a new emphasis
on cross-cutting issues such as production and consumption patterns,
population, health, impacts on gender and children and means of
implementation, including finance and technology transfer, capacity-
building and education, which will be essential to the development of
practical and integrated policies.

Operations at the regional level

6.   Since the Conference new forms of inter-agency cooperation have
emerged at the regional level.  They include cooperation between the
regional commissions and regional representatives of the global United
Nations agencies and programmes.  Examples are the adoption of the
Regional Action Programme for Asia and the Pacific, the establishment
by the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, in cooperation
with United Nations Environment Programme and the Food and Agriculture
Organization of the United Nations, of the Joint Committee on
Environment and Development in the Arab Region and the upcoming
memorandum of understanding between the United Nations Children's Fund
and the World Bank on collaboration in water supply, environment and
sanitation in Africa.  Moreover, regional organizations outside the
United Nations system have taken an active role in some regions in
preparing regional plans and programmes to follow up on United Nations
conferences and other international programme activities, and
implementation of conventions.  However, achieving a better balance
between work at the global level and work at the regional level will
be essential for success in the next stage of Agenda 21
implementation.  In those areas of sustainable development where
regional approaches may prove to be most promising, possibilities for
entrusting the United Nations regional commission with a more active
coordination role should also be explored.

7.   It is necessary to intensify regional implementation of the three
Rio conventions, namely, the United Nations Framework Convention on
Climate Change, the Convention on Biological Diversity and the United
Nations Convention to Combat Desertification in those Countries
Experiencing Serious Drought and/or Desertification, Particularly in
Africa, particularly through undertaking initiatives aimed at linking
activities and projects in the areas of drought and desertification,
climate change, forests and biodiversity.  Regional cooperation is
also vital in implementing related conventions and the commitments
stemming from the series of global conferences organized by the United
Nations since 1990, all of which have incorporated the fundamental
principles and policy goals of Agenda 21.  Regional cooperation will
continue to be of great importance in implementing regional
environmental agreements.

Operations at the national level

8.   It is recognized that institutional cooperation at the national
level should be based on country needs and requirements and an
appropriate enabling context.  Where national sustainable development
strategies exist, and national institutional arrangements promote an
integrated approach, this facilitates inter-agency cooperation and
partnership.  Progress in these areas, however, has been slow. 
Organizations with mainly analytical or normative roles and no country
representation have no direct access at the country level and few
means of interaction with potential partners. 

9.   Improved country-level coordination is needed not only among the
international and regional organizations but also, in particular,
among the donor programmes and activities, which are sometimes carried
out in isolation from relevant inter-agency activities and national
coordination mechanisms.  Such coordination is needed both for the
implementation of Agenda 21 initiatives, and for effective follow-up
among focal points dealing with the major environmental, social and
developmental conventions.  Country strategy notes, which were
proposed as a basis for country-level coordination, have not yet
emerged as a mechanism that can ensure effective interorganizational
cooperation, and the resident coordinator system has not yet realized
its full potential and needs further strengthening and commitment by
the system as a whole.


(** The Administrative Committee on Coordination undertook a review of
the functioning of the Inter-Agency Committee on Sustainable
Development as part of its preparations for the special session of the
General Assembly.  A summary of the results of the review exercise is
given in this section of the statement.)

The Inter-Agency Committee on Sustainable Development and its task
manager system

10.  Almost immediately after the Rio Conference, the Administrative
Committee on Coordination, taking into account provisions of Agenda
21, decided on an institutional framework for promoting a coherent
system-wide response to Conference follow-up requirements.  That
framework was built on an innovative model that combined central
coordination functions, vested in the mandates of the Administrative
Committee on Coordination and the newly established Inter-Agency
Committee on Sustainable Development, and decentralized allocation of
specific responsibilities to relevant organizations of the United
Nations system, based on their comparative strengths, to act as task
managers for various programme components of Agenda 21. 

11.  As more experience has been gained in the implementation of Agenda
21 and in the work of the Commission on Sustainable Development,
modalities for inter-agency collaboration have evolved considerably. 
The Inter-Agency Committee has gained in importance as an umbrella for
coordination initiatives, which at the same time give full rein to
numerous, more specialized inter-agency mechanisms.  Experience shows
that those mechanisms have worked best when taking a focused, thematic
approach.  That permits them to draw more deeply on each agency's
expertise and resources and promotes detailed, technical collaboration
related to data and information, policy and practice, or operational
programmes.  This has to be taken fully into account in future work,
which includes improving the effectiveness of the Administrative
Committee on Coordination's subcommittees on freshwater and on oceans
and coastal areas; the latter subcommittee was called for by the
Commission on Sustainable Development.

12.  System-wide work aimed at further broadening and deepening
existing inter-agency collaboration and coordination in follow-up to
the Rio Conference has become an ongoing process in the United Nations
system.  It includes continuing consideration of measures aimed at
improving the delivery capacity and coordination at the field level,
enhancing policy coordination at the global, regional and country
levels, better interaction between the Inter-Agency Committee and
other bodies and mechanisms of the Administrative Committee on
Coordination for inter-agency coordination, streamlining requests for
reporting, and involvement of organizations outside the United Nations
system, among others.

13.  The task manager system should continue to promote greater
interaction with other inter-agency arrangements, including those
established to follow up other recent United Nations conferences.  It
has furthered outreach beyond the framework of the United Nations
system, with a view to involving other relevant intergovernmental
organizations and processes, as well as partners from major groups and
the non-governmental organizations.

14.  Task managers should continue to expand their efforts to involve
major groups more widely in consultations regarding the preparation of
reports for the Commission and implementation of sustainable
development activities and, when appropriate, to invite experts from
major groups to participate in inter-agency expert meetings. 

15.  In the view of the Administrative Committee on Coordination, these
evolving arrangements have generally allowed the United Nations system
to provide a flexible, collaborative and participatory mechanism to
support the implementation of Agenda 21 and coordination of various
sustainable development activities.  Successful examples of
system-wide collaboration, particularly at the programme/country
levels, include the Interorganizational Programme on the Sound
Management of Chemicals, established as an inter-agency partnership
arrangement in support of the Intergovernmental Forum on Chemical
Safety; the informal Inter-Agency Task Force on Forests, established
to respond to the needs of the Ad Hoc Intergovernmental Panel on
Forests; and cooperation in the context of the Commission's programme
on indicators for sustainable development.  Several cooperative
inter-agency programmes which preceded the Conference, particularly in
the area of science, information and analysis, have now been linked to
the Inter-Agency Committee through its task manager system, such as
the World Climate Programme.
16.  The Administrative Committee on Coordination believes that the
task manager system of the Inter-Agency Committee has generally led to
more effective use of resources and expertise within the United
Nations system and is a promising improvement over previous efforts at
inter-agency cooperation and joint action.  It has rationalized the
preparation of reports for the Commission and facilitated
contributions among organizations based on their specialized mandates. 
By encouraging systematic communication and information exchange, it
has helped disseminate knowledge of means to promote sustainable
development and reduced duplication of effort.

17.  Nevertheless, it is the view of the Administrative Committee on
Coordination that the task manager system has not yet realized its
full potential in fostering coordination among all the agencies.  The
review of the functioning of the Inter-Agency Committee conducted by
the Administrative Committee on Coordination led to the conclusion
that a better balance is needed in coordination at global, regional
and country/field levels.  Cooperation remains underdeveloped at the
regional level - although in some instances, such as in the region of
the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, agencies
have been designated as coordinators for specific programme areas of
the regional action programme.

18.  Further specification of task manager roles will be necessary, to
distinguish between ongoing data and information functions, for
example, and cooperation at regional or national levels on programme
delivery.  Task managers should be encouraged to promote joint
programming at the regional and subregional levels, and to foster a
more integrated approach which incorporates the social and economic
dimensions of sustainable development.

Resource Issues

19.  Inter-agency coordination entails both benefits and costs.  Its
goal is to combine the expert skills and financial resources of
individual agencies so that policies, information resources, and
operational programmes better integrate specific sustainable
development concerns.  Moreover, resources may be deployed more
cost-effectively when agencies collaborate in a mutually reinforcing
manner, or when they accept a division of labour which avoids
programme duplication.  Yet consultations and networking among
specialists in different fields take time, and, in spite of the fact
that modern communications technology can facilitate and expedite
communications, face-to-face interactions remain essential in
generating responsiveness and improving results.  Meetings require
staff time for preparing discussion papers and reports, as well as
travel expenses. 

20.  The task manager system therefore has its costs.  System-wide
reporting responsibilities have placed a considerable strain on
individual organizations, as they have been borne within existing
human and financial resources.  It has been difficult financially to
keep up representation in the Commission, the Inter-Agency Committee
and Agenda 21-related meetings and with those relevant to the agency's
mandate. Further operationalization of new political agreements
reached at the intergovernmental level and moving towards joint
programming would give rise to additional demands. 

21.  The financial crisis affecting the United Nations and many of the
specialized agencies and programmes leaves little room for innovative
and more cooperative initiatives by individual agencies or throughout
the system.  The expectations raised by the Rio Conference of an
increase in available resources have not been met, while the
activities that had to be carried out have expanded considerably. The
organizations and agencies of the United Nations system are therefore
hard-pressed to carry out both their original mandates and those
stemming from the Conference and the work requirements of the
Commission.  At the same time, as changes in programmes and procedures
yield appreciable improvements, they offer new opportunities and
invite further commitments and requests on the part of Member States.

22.  Joint programming, directly involving a limited number of the most
concerned agencies, needs to be further fostered.  Policy integration
and the need for coordinated action are the central messages of Agenda
21.  However, it is becoming urgently apparent that efforts to promote
integrated approaches to coordination at policy-making and programme
implementation levels are not matched by coordinated funding
mechanisms.  United Nations agencies involved in joint programmes are
generally required to seek funding from their own funding bodies, with
adverse effects on resource efficiency.  In this context, efforts
should be increased to enhance the effectiveness of cooperation
between various agencies of the United Nations system with
international financial institutions, including those outside the
United Nations system such as regional development banks.  There is,
moreover, a need for further development of joint funding
arrangements, so that joint funding proposals can be presented for
more effective consideration by appropriate funding institutions and


     a/  E/CN.17/1997/2.



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