DESA News Vol. 12, No. 08 August 2008

Global dialogue on development

ECOSOC urges renewed commitment to sustainable development

The Economic and Social Council concluded its annual substantive session on 25 July with action on sustainable development, energy, the global food crisis and a range of other issues

The 2008 substantive session of the Economic and Social Council concluded its work on 25 July in New York. Among other matters, the Council addressed the soaring costs of food and fuel, global financial turmoil, climate change, and enhancing the effectiveness and impact of development aid.

Of special note this year was the convening of the inaugural Development Cooperation Forum, strengthening the Council’s role in guiding international development cooperation. Giving voice to a wide range of stakeholders, the Forum also gave promise of becoming the global platform for representative, participatory and multi-stakeholder dialogue on development cooperation issues. The 2008 deliberations particularly served to provide input to the Doha Review Conference on Financing for Development and the Accra High-level Forum on Aid Effectiveness which will bring further attention to aid delivery and management and making development assistance work better for improving the lives of the poor.

Sustainable development: A top priority

This year, the theme for the Annual Ministerial Review was sustainable development with a focus on the related issue of integrated rural development. The delegations underscored that it will not be possible to achieve the Millennium Development Goals without a more sustainable path to development. The Ministerial Declaration adopted by the Council acknowledges that the current confluence of crises – global financial instability, rising food and fuel prices, environmental degradation and climate change – threatens to undermine progress towards the Millennium Development Goals and requires early concerted action. Yet, such assistance must be undertaken in parallel with longer-term solutions with increased investment in rural development and promotion of agricultural productivity as part of the approach.

There was strong support for clean, affordable, renewable energy sources to be developed and shared in order to reduce the world’s carbon footprint and shield economies from the increase of oil prices. At the same time, the Declaration underscores that the need to address the challenges and opportunities posed by biofuels, in view of the world’s food security, energy and sustainable development needs. While the global food crisis represents a serious threat to the fight against poverty and hunger as well as to the efforts by developing countries to attain food security, its multiple and complex causes require a comprehensive and coordinated response by national Governments and the international community.

The National Voluntary Presentations, now in their second year, continued to generate rich discussions and added national dimension to the Annual Ministerial Review. Eight countries, four developing and four developed countries, participated and Ministers from Belgium, Chile, Finland, Kazakhstan, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Luxemburg, United Kingdom and United Republic of Tanzania delivered presentations on national experiences in implementing development policies and strategies.

Addressing the global food crisis

During the thematic discussion of the Council, it was noted that the global food crisis threatens the modest progress achieved in recent years to lift millions of people out of poverty, particularly the urban poor, rural landless peasants, women and children. At the same time, it provides an opportunity for a “renaissance” in agriculture, and the importance of smallholder farmers in that process must not be underestimated.

In their addresses to the Council, leading experts on the issue of food crisis and government representatives spoke about the increased problem of urbanization and the need to create incentive systems to encourage people to stay on their farms. It was also stressed that the world community must invest in agro-ecological research and integrate traditional and academic knowledge. In that context, it was urged that all such measures in the small-scale farmer sector, and increasing public investment in extension systems should be targeted. Providing credit lines for purchasing or leasing land should be considered. It was mentioned that trade barriers for agriculture products be reduced, taxes be earmarked for a fund to support domestic prices when they collapsed, and international commodity exchanges be more closely monitored. The issue of empowering women was also addressed by involving them more actively in public-decision making.

As a successful country in the areas of agriculture and food security with 36 to 40 percent of GDP coming from agriculture, the experience of the Republic of Malawi was highlighted. The Government is focusing on improving the agricultural productivity of smallholder farmers by ensuring easy access to inputs. Having attained food self-sufficiency for three consecutive years, the Government’s priorities are to ensure food security and enhance returns on investment by preventing commodity smuggling, among other things.

Participants in the discussions highlighted a series of key messages. They recognized the complex relationship between rising food prices and biofuel production. They also stressed that even though biofuel has risks, it can contribute to a country’s development by reducing poverty, providing opportunities to strengthen gender equality and diversifying a country’s energy mix. They urged Governments to play a role in developing policy frameworks to ensure that poor people could benefit from biofuels both for their energy needs as well as to increase their incomes. Biofuels are only part of the solution to rural development and should be integrated into an overall poverty reduction strategy.

Strengthening efforts to eradicate poverty and hunger

This year’s coordination segment focused on the role of the United Nations system in implementing the 2007 Ministerial Declaration on strengthening efforts to eradicate poverty and hunger, including through the global partnership for development. It also considered the Council’s role in the integrated follow up to global conferences.

A resolution on the theme of the segment recognized the complex and multidimensional nature of the challenge of eradicating poverty and hunger and requested the UN system to strengthen its efforts to promote a comprehensive response. In particular, it encouraged the system to promote policy coherence and cooperation on science and technology and on urban and rural development. It stressed the role of the Chief Executives Board in promoting system-wide policy coherence in all areas vital to the eradication of poverty and hunger. It also encouraged the UN system to continue to accord highest priority to MDG1 in the formulation of the common country assessments, UN development assistance frameworks and other relevant strategic documents for country-level operation and to promote the global partnership for development.

A resolution on the integrated conference follow up further reiterated the need to implement the internationally agreed development goals. It reasserted the central role of the Council in system-wide coordination and balanced integration of the economic, social and environmental dimensions of UN policies and programmes. It reaffirmed the need to strengthen this role through the Council’s subsidiary bodies and new functions and requested its subsidiary bodies to contribute to the Annual Ministerial Declaration and the Development Cooperation Forum. It also stressed that the preparation of the AMR should be fully supported by the UN system, welcomed the improved cooperation with the Bretton Woods Institutions, WTO and UNCTAD and the enhanced role of civil society. The resolution requested the Secretary-General to report on the follow up to the Ministerial Declaration the following year during the coordination segment.

The general debate stressed the need for a UN system coordinated and comprehensive response to the eradication of poverty and hunger, particularly at the country level. It emphasized the role of CEB as critical to promote comprehensive approaches to MDG1 and called for greater interaction between the CEB and the Council through the coordination segment. Emphasis was also given to the need for a coordinated response to needs arising from new and emerging challenges. In particular, some delegations stressed the need for greater progress in coordinating early, collective responses, at both the normative and operational levels.

During the four panel discussions, consensus emerged on: The need for a comprehensive UN system approach to food security that addresses both urgent needs and long-term challenges to sustainable food security; the need for the UN system to promote a balanced approach to agricultural and social development, as essential condition for their sustainability; the important role of the Council in streamlining the work of its functional commission on violence against women and the need to strengthen this role, and; the benefit of enhancing dialogue between the normative and operational bodies of the Council to enhance coherence between the normative and operational work of the UN on rural employment and other critical dimensions of poverty and hunger.

Triennial Comprehensive Policy Review

The Economic and Social Council concluded the operational activities segment having articulated further guidance on the implementation of General Assembly resolution 62/208 on the triennial comprehensive policy review of operational activities of the United Nations development system. The segment held two panel discussions, focusing on the role of the UN system in a changing aid environment, and strengthening the UN development system's responsiveness to the different needs of programme countries.

In opening the segment, the Deputy Secretary-General expressed full support for the Council’s coordination role in motivating actions on the TCPR resolution. During the ensuing discussions, delegations reaffirmed their commitment to the full and timely implementation of the resolution, while encouraging the UN development system to take concrete measures to improve the effectiveness, efficiency, coherence and impact of its operational activities. In this connection, Member States supported dialogue with executive heads of UN funds and programmes during the segment, and invited the Council to explore new channels to strengthen its monitoring and coordination function. While welcoming the recent progress on coherence, several delegations urged the UN system to explore alternative models to the “Delivering as One” initiative. There were repeated calls on the donor community to work with the UN development system to reverse the imbalance between core and non-core resources with a view to aligning the UN’s development work with its comparative advantages.

As the outcome of the segment, the Council adopted a resolution which invited the UN system to identify more targets, benchmarks and timeframes in the management plan for the implementation of the TCPR. It was also suggested that the Secretary-General’s report on the resident coordinator system place a special emphasis on participation in and support to the RCS by the UN system at large, and that methodologies be developed to assess the costs and benefits of coordination. In addition, the Secretary-General was requested to prepare a report on human resource challenges at country level in consultation with the IASC. The draft resolution largely reiterates existing mandates, while reflecting the above observations.

Humanitarian assistance and disaster risk reduction

This year’s humanitarian affairs segment focused on building capabilities and capacities at all levels for timely humanitarian assistance, including disaster risk reduction. Member States and partners agreed on the need for concerted, coordinated and rapid action to address today’s two main humanitarian challenges: humanitarian impact of climate change and the global food security crisis. National capacity building for local institutions – governmental and non-governmental – remains a priority.

As part of the segment, two panel discussions were held, one on disaster risk reduction and preparedness, and a second on the humanitarian challenges of global food aid. The panel on climate change highlighted the importance of streamlining disaster preparedness and response, climate change management and humanitarian response, to be able to effectively address the adverse effects of natural hazards associated with climate change.

Prior to the formal opening of the humanitarian affairs segment, a joint informal event of the operational activities and humanitarian affairs segments was held on coordination in the transition phase between emergency relief and sustainable recovery. The informal event featured Liberia and Sudan as country case studies.

Peacebuilding and post-conflict development

The Council also advanced its work in the area of peacebuilding and post-conflict development, most notably by extending the mandate of its Ad Hoc Advisory Group on Haiti in recognition of the role that the Council can play in supporting the country’s long-term development.

Panelists participating in a discussion on peacebuilding in Guinea-Bissau were of the view that the Council to continue its oversight function on countries emerging from conflict and that modalities should be found to ensure the Council formally engages in dialogue with the Peacebuilding Commission. Nikhil Seth, Director of the DESA Office for Economic and Social Council Support and Coordination and one of the discussants, suggested that a special window in the AMR process could be created for national voluntary reviews of countries emerging from conflict, using an MDG-based approach. Within the DCF, a special window could also address the special needs and concerns for “good donorship” for such countries.

A separate panel on climate change featured Robert Orr, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Planning in the Executive Office of the Secretary-General, and Thomas Stelzer, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Interagency Affairs. Mr. Orr reiterated the recent message of the Secretary General that the food/fuel, climate and development crises are linked and should be addressed simultaneously. Noting that the UNFCCC process was proceeding at a “business as usual pace”, he highlighted the implementation challenges, including building the capacity of Member States, and insisted that implementation should not wait for a negotiated outcome. In his capacity as Secretary of the CEB, Mr. Stelzer focused on the cooperation within the UN system and identified the areas of support among the UN system in support of the UNFCCC process.

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Financing for development regional consultations

To ensure regional input to preparations for the Doha review conference on financing for development, the UN regional commissions organized a series of multilateral consultations between March and June of this year, in coordination with DESA’s Financing for Development Office.

African countries, meeting in Addis Ababa from 31 March to 2 April, adopted a ministerial statement and passed ECA resolution 854 (XLI) in which donors are called upon to adopt more flexible eligibility criteria in financing for development in the case of least developed countries. Ministers also invited donors to consider more flexibility in providing debt relief under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries and Multilateral Debt Relief Initiatives. The resolution includes an appeal to ECA Member States and their UN representatives to participate actively in the preparatory process leading to the Doha Conference.

In the European region, where consultations were held on Geneva on 13 May, ECE Member States reiterated their belief in the principles enshrined in the Monterrey Consensus and reaffirmed their commitment to it. In response to the developmental challenges facing their economies, countries of the region have relied on extensive domestic reform as well as external assistance, two of the basic themes of the Monterrey Consensus. According to an executive summary of the meeting, while privatization can enhance economic efficiency, equity concerns need to be taken into account in privatization initiatives. In addition, while low taxes can lead to increased economic activity, capital could be attracted away from higher tax localities. Regional preferential trade areas were further seen as a way of stimulating investment and growth.

Asian and Pacific countries took up the financing for development issue during ESCAP’s ministerial segment from 28 to 30 April in Bangkok and again during a regional policy dialogue on 18 and 19 June. The uneven rise in average savings, the higher but also uneven foreign direct investment flows, and the fall in official development assistance to the region were among the many concerns raised.

The countries of Western Asia concluded a draft declaration on financing for development in Doha 30 April that was further discussed, updated and adopted as ESCWA resolution 290 (XXV) in Sana’a on 29 May. The declaration encourages banks to increase their participation in economic development, calls for the creation of an attractive investment climate, and says that it is vital for developing countries that the Doha Round be brought to a successful conclusion. Resolution 290 (XXV) affirmed the need for all developing countries to be more involved in the management of the global, monetary and trade systems.

ECLAC held its regional consultation during the thirty-second session of the Commission in Santo Domingo from 9 to 13 June. The final report of this consultation is forthcoming.

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