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UN Role

In many respects, the recent conference process reflects the rethinking of the role of the United Nations in international affairs. The continuum of conferences has underscored the need for changes in the UN’s work and structure, and heavy emphasis has been placed on revitalizing existing bodies, including the General Assembly, which is seen to require a more focused agenda to facilitate its executive decision-making for the Organization. The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), the regional commissions and the departments within the UN Secretariat dealing with economic and social affairs are all undertaking reforms to advance their capacity to respond to the demands outlined by the conferences.

The plans of action all acknowledge that the United Nations, by virtue of its global reach, its universal membership, its impartiality and the unique and comprehensive mandate reflected in its Charter, remains the centrepiece of the international community. Because of this central role, the international community has pledged repeatedly to ensure that the United Nations system is equipped to lead in development efforts, to serve as a forum for the expression of global goals, to be an advocate for core values such as human rights and environmental soundness, to respond to humanitarian needs when they arise – and to prevent their emergence – as well as to maintain peace and international security. Enhancing the UN role requires an ongoing focus on development issues as a priority concern, while ensuring its sound financial basis and improving its efficiency and effectiveness.

The UN and its Member States also recognize the clear need for an integrated, interrelated and coherent follow-up to the conferences. The UN is expected to compile these commitments, recommendations and agreements, estimate their costs, order and sequence their implementation, and propose schedules for putting them into effect. As there has been a reluctance to set up new international machinery, each conference has designated existing mechanisms to help implement its plan of action. Governments have clear reporting channels through the various UN Commissions – on Human Rights, the Status of Women, Social Development and Population and Development.

Within the UN system, ECOSOC – the UN body that oversees the Organization’s development work – has the primary responsibility for the coordinated and integrated follow-up to and implementation of major international conferences. As “An Agenda for Development” and the conferences have made clear, a revitalized ECOSOC is expected to oversee the implementation of the action plans effectively and efficiently.

The Administrative Committee on Coordination (ACC), headed by the Secretary-General and comprised of the heads of the autonomous UN agencies and programmes, including the Bretton Woods institutions – the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank – has been designated by ECOSOC to organize the system around the priorities and goals of the conferences and provide guidance to UN development operations at the national level.

Inter-agency Task Forces

The ACC has set up three inter-agency task forces (IATFs) and an inter-agency committee. They are: the ACC Inter-Agency Task Forces on Basic Social Services for All; on an Enabling Environment for Economic and Social Development; and on Employment and Sustainable Livelihoods; and the Inter-Agency Committee on Women and Gender Equality. The primary objective of the IATFs is to assure that, from the headquarters level, support is provided to UN Resident Coordinators, usually the Director of the United Nations Development Programme in the field, and the UN team in each country so that they may effectively assist Governments and national institutions in their pursuit of conference goals and commitments. The IATFs also help the ACC define the broad themes on which the global coordination machinery should focus. This IATF initiative represents a strong shift to a new type of coordination – not “general coordination” for exchanging information about what each part of the system has done or is planning to do, but “goal-oriented collaboration” for maximizing the comparative advantages of the respective agencies and organizations of the UN system to act in concert at the country level in the implementation of concrete action plans.

Inter-Agency Task Forces of the Administrative Committee on Coordination (ACC)
Three task forces have been established by ACC to support country-level follow-up to UN conference agreements, especially those action plans decided at Cairo, Copenhagen, and Beijing. The task forces, their areas of concern and participants follow.

Employment and Sustainable Livelihoods

  • A diagnosis of the major characteristics of the situation of employment and sustainable livelihoods, including the impact of global and regional factors;
  • Identification of key elements in a future strategy for employment and sustainable livelihoods;
  • The impact of globalization and technological change on employment and sustainable livelihoods;
  • Clarification of the relationship between employment and sustainable livelihoods;
  • Indicators for employment and sustainable livelihoods.

Chair - ILO
Participating agencies


Basic Social Services for All

In the areas of “primary health care” and “basic education”,
the task force will approach its work so as to include the
following dimensions:

  • Selection/use of indicators;
  • Financing and resource mobilization;
  • Gender perspective;
  • Targeting specific groups, including in post-crisis and emergency situations;
  • Policy;
  • Involvement of civil society;
  • Hunger/nutrition;
  • Environment;
  • Reproductive health;
  • International migration;
  • Child and maternal mortality.

Chair - UNFPA
Participating agencies

Regional commissions,

Enabling Environment for Economic and Social Development

  • Capacity-building for governance (chair: UNDP)
  • Macroeconomic and social framework (chair: World Bank)

Chair - World Bank
Participating agencies



The United Nations, of course, is not alone in the profound transformation that is required to meet the expectations raised by the world conferences. The Organization is taking very seriously the question whether existing UN institutions can and should be revitalized and reshaped to enable them to promote and support new approaches to economic and social development. But it is a debate that is mirrored within other intergovernmental bodies and national Governments and among NGOs around the world. The conferences have made clear, however, that all of these entities, including Governments, must reorganize themselves and work together if significant progress is to be made in implementing the action plans.

In this spirit, all of the Conferences emphasized the need to draw on the support of other sectors of society – in particular the non-governmental organizations, the private sector, academia and the media – to implement effectively their action plans. The call for genuine partnerships in development has been reiterated and the conference process accelerated efforts to include NGOs in the negotiating process and follow-up. While the agendas of Governments and NGOs differ in fundamental ways – NGOs themselves are also very diverse – NGO input into the plans of action increased with each successive meeting. Both the UN system and Governments see NGO participation and the access they provide to the targeted populations as essential to the broad-based changes that are required for poverty eradication and the provision of basic social services. Similarly, the conferences, particularly the Earth Summit and Habitat II, have taken important steps in exploring the positive roles that the diverse private sector can play in the implementation of action plans.


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