Mr. Wu Hongbo Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, Secretary-General for the International Conference on Small Island Developing States
Introduction of Secretary-General’s report, Informal consultations on the Strengthening of the Economic and Social Council
8 February 2013, New York
Co-facilitators, Ambassador Grauls and Ambassador Talbot,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I congratulate you, Co-facilitators and Member States, for the progress to date in these informal consultations on the strengthening of the Economic and Social Council. I understand that your on-going dialogue has been open, frank, and rich in forward-looking ideas.
I wish to convey our appreciation for your “food for thought” papers. They have laid the foundation for making sound decisions about the future of ECOSOC.
At Rio last June, Member States made a firm commitment to the strengthening of ECOSOC. They recognized the Council’s key role in achieving a balanced integration of the three dimensions of sustainable development.
This commitment was made against the backdrop of a dynamic and changing development agenda. Strengthening ECOSOC is just one of several concurrent, on-going processes. These include creating the High-level Political Forum, defining sustainable development goals, and elaborating a post-2015 development agenda.
I believe it is no coincidence that there is a confluence of these processes with the strengthening of ECOSOC. Indeed, they are all inter-related. The Council will have a significant role in all the three initiatives.
The Council mandated the Secretary-General to submit to the General Assembly, a report containing proposals for strengthening ECOSOC, within the framework of the current review of General Assembly resolution 61/16.
I have the honour to introduce the report of the Secretary-General.
I wish to thank those Member States who provided inputs for the preparation of this report. I also wish to acknowledge contributions of the functional and regional commissions, other subsidiary bodies of the Council, and from the United Nations system.
Let me highlight some of the key messages of the report.
ECOSOC has several comparative advantages, which include its political legitimacy and significant convening power.
These advantages also include:
- the accumulated substantive expertise of the ECOSOC system;
- its growing role as multi-stakeholder forum, thanks to the Annual Ministerial Review and Development Cooperation Forum; and
- the Council’s ability to promote consensus on global development priorities.
The report’s proposals and recommendations are organized around three main areas:
First, with respect to enhancing the substantive role and coherence of the ECOSOC system itself.
One particular criticism is that the Council is weak on agenda-setting, and therefore lacking in relevance and impact.
To address this, the report recommends that the Council should shift to a more issues-based approach. Such a change would begin by taking up a main theme to be addressed by all relevant parts of the system, according to their areas of specialization.
The annual theme format has served well for the Annual Ministerial Review. It could be extended to the full ECOSOC agenda, which would bring to the discussion perspectives from all three dimensions of sustainable development.
A stronger issues-based focus would also position the Council to serve as a platform for increased multi-stakeholder engagement among Member States, the private sector, foundations and NGOs.
Secondly, a major critique and challenge has been with respect to the Council’s relations with other relevant bodies.
Harnessing the collective strengths of the ECOSOC system requires building synergies, and working in harmony built around substantive issues.
There are specific proposals to streamline relations of the Council with other intergovernmental bodies.
For example, the Presidents of the General Assembly and ECOSOC, should bring together the Bureau of ECOSOC and the Bureaux of the relevant Functional Commissions with the Bureaux of the Second and Third Committees of the General Assembly. This would help to ensure greater synergies in their work. It should also help in reducing duplication of agenda items and resolutions.
The report recommends exploring more structured and well-defined interactions with the Security Council and the Peacebuilding Commission.
There is no doubt that ECOSOC and the High-Level Political Forum should have a close relationship. However, the details have to be worked out by Member States. I understand that Co-facilitators for both processes are having regular exchanges on this aspect of their work.
The report also presents specific proposals regarding relations with such entities as the Regional Commissions, the specialized agencies, the Bretton Woods institutions as well as with its own subsidiary machinery.
Thirdly, improving the way ECOSOC works has been identified as an essential step. This includes the Council’s working methods, issues of coordination and coherence, and institutional mechanisms.
The Council’s monitoring role vis-à-vis the United Nations development agenda was strengthened by the 2005 World Summit, with the establishment of the Annual Ministerial Review and Development Cooperation Forum. These mechanisms have worked well, but admittedly, possess unrealized potential.
Several other challenges exist, particularly with respect to focus, visibility, timing and engagement of ECOSOC’s Substantive Session and work programme.
The back-to-back placement of the five segments has tended to dilute the Council’s focus. And, for many, the timing of some of the segments is not conducive to high level participation.
In response, the report suggests that the Council should consider shorter sessions and meetings, focused on specific issues throughout the calendar year. These recommendations also provide two tracks for ECOSOC’s work – the high-level political engagement on substantive issues, and expert-level participation through “coordination and management session.”
The report also proposes:
- multi-stakeholder engagement on the integration of the three dimensions of sustainable development;
- inclusion of regional perspectives on integration;
- replacing the current National Voluntary Presentations with Voluntary Mutual Reviews; and
- making the DCF an accountability platform for the post-2015 development agenda.
With regard to institutional considerations, the report recommends a full-time ECOSOC Presidency, with appropriate support.
Last but not least, the report proposes recommendations to enhance ECOSOC’s coordination role at the programmatic level. And, to improve oversight and coherence of the United Nations operational activities for development.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am confident that your work to strengthen the Economic and Social Council will succeed in effecting lasting improvements. This would enable it to better fulfill its mandate and serve the international community more effectively.
The real change will happen when the Council is truly empowered to make authoritative decisions. This would require extraordinary political will but we do not have a choice. A stronger ECOSOC system will be a centerpiece of a stronger United Nations that can deal with the challenges of sustainable development in an effective manner.
The Secretariat stands ready to support you in this important endeavour.