Commission for Social Development Discusses Ways to Ensure Greater Relevance in Engaging with Economic and Social Council, Wider United Nations System

13 February 2013
SOC/4805

Commission for Social Development Discusses Ways to Ensure Greater Relevance in Engaging with Economic and Social Council, Wider United Nations System

13 February 2013
Economic and Social Council
SOC/4805
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Commission for Social Development

Fifty-first Session

12th Meeting (AM)


Commission for Social Development Discusses Ways to Ensure Greater Relevance


In Engaging with Economic and Social Council, Wider United Nations System


Members Nominate 8 to Board of UN Research Institute for Social Development


Meeting briefly today, the Commission for Social Development took up a number of issues that would set the tone for its upcoming work and, more broadly, allow it to engage in more relevant ways within the United Nations system, especially the Economic and Social Council, whose principal role in the follow-up to major United Nations meetings was elevated by the landmark 2012 Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development.


Daniela Bas, Director of the Division for Social Policy and Development, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, presented the Secretary-General’s report “Review of methods of work of the Commission for Social Development”, containing Member States’ ideas for strengthening the 46-member body.  It examined how themes and emerging issues were selected and the extent to which the Commission, a functional commission of the Economic and Social Council, fulfilled its duties.


Anticipating a “new wave of reform”, Economic and Social Council President Néstor Osorio ( Colombia) said he expected changes to play out in relation to the 54-member Council’s work, convening power, outreach, visibility and capacity to promote greater coherence.  A strengthened Council should have strong thematic focuses and be able to tap into the expertise of well-recognized specialized bodies, he said.  “A stronger relation of the Council with its functional commissions is of utmost importance.”


To ensure compliance with the Rio+20 mandate, he proposed that the Council review its functional commissions from the perspective of integrating the three pillars of sustainable development — social, economic and environmental — pointing out that the Commission had an important role to play as the embodiment of the social pillar.  In addition to the intergovernmental process under way in the General Assembly, such proposals would be discussed during meetings between the Bureau of the Economic and Social Council and chairpersons of its subsidiary bodies, he added.


In that context, the Commission also heard from the two co-facilitators of the Assembly’s informal consultations to review the implementation of resolution 61/16 on the strengthening of the Economic and Social Council, Jan Grauls (Belgium) and George Wilfred Talbot (Guyana).


Mr. Grauls noted that the Rio+20 outcome document tasked the Council with approaching the sustainable development pillars in a fully integrated manner and ensuring the follow-up to all major United Nations conferences in the social sphere, including the 1995 World Summit for Social Development, held in Copenhagen, Denmark.  One proposal to streamline the work of United Nations bodies would see the creation of a team that would focus on “issue coherence”, rather than simply “structural coherence”, he said.


Mr. Talbot added that United Nations bodies, including the Commission, would be evolving in the coming months, and he invited members to contribute their observations on that process.


In the ensuing debate, speakers emphasized that the main goal of reforming the Commission’s working methods should be to strengthen its relevance as the body in charge of the follow-up to and implementation of the Copenhagen Declaration and Programme of Action.  Switzerland’s representative noted its lack of institutionalized dialogue with other bodies and suggested adding such an item to its agenda.


The Russian Federation’s representative, pointing out that only eight Governments had weighed in on the matter, expressed hope that a fuller picture would emerge of how States assessed the Commission.  Having noted the effectiveness of the Commission’s cycle, the Russian Government considered as unfounded the notion advanced by some about duplication between the Commission and the Assembly.


In its final business today, the Commission nominated eight members to the Board of the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development.  Nominated to four-year terms beginning on the date of confirmation by the Economic and Social Council and expiring on 30 June 2017 were:  Jìmí O. Adésínà, Asef Bayat, David Hulme, Joakim Palme and Onalenna Doo Selolwane.  The following current Board members were also nominated to serve an additional two years:  Bina Agarwal, Evelina Dagnino and Julia Szalai.  Their terms would begin on the date of confirmation by the Council and expire on 30 June 2015.


The Commission also took note of the Secretary-General’s report on the review of the Commission’s working methods, deciding to transmit it to its fifty-second session.


Speakers in today’s discussion were representatives of Ireland and Mexico.


Representatives of the International Council on Social Welfare and Triglav Circle also delivered statements.


Ms. Bas introduced her Division’s draft programme of work for the biennium 2014-2015, while Sarah Cook, Director of the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development, presented that entity’s report.


The Commission will reconvene at 11:30 a.m. on Friday, 15 February, to take action on several draft resolutions as it concludes its fifty-first session.


Background


The Commission for Social Development met this morning to consider the report of the Secretary-General “Review of methods of work of the Commission on Social Development” (document E/CN.5/2013/12), and that of the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (document E/CN.5/2013/13).  It was also expected to nominate five new members to the Board of the Institute, and to re-nominate three current members.


Introduction of Report


DANIELA BAS, Director, Division for Social Policy and Development, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, introduced the Secretary-General’s report “Review of methods of work of the Commission for Social Development” (document E/CN.5/2013/12).  She said the report contained the responses of Member States to a note verbale circulated with a view to identifying ways and means to strengthen the Commission’s work.  It covered three main issues, the first examining how themes and emerging issues were selected, and how they helped the Commission execute its mandate.  It also examined how to improve interactions between delegations and United Nations representatives.  Finally, it discussed the extent to which the Commission fulfilled its mandate, and presented suggestions for enhancing its collaboration with other commissions and with the Economic and Social Council.


Introductory Remarks


NÉSTOR OSORIO (Colombia), President of the Economic and Social Council, sharing reflections on the ongoing strengthening of that organ, reviewed the history of the process, highlighting the Rio+20 outcome document’s specific commitment to that goal, and its recognition of the Council’s role in “achieving a balanced integration of the three dimensions of sustainable development”.


He went on to note that the Council had, in its resolution 2012/30, requested the Secretary-General to submit to the sixty-seventh session of the General Assembly a report containing proposals to strengthen the Council, including its working methods.  That process had now begun, he said, expressing hope that it would bring about a “new wave of reform” in respect of its work, convening power, outreach, visibility and capacity to promote greater coherence.


A strengthened Council should have strong thematic focuses and be able to tap into the knowledge and expertise of well-recognized specialized bodies, he continued.  “In that context, a stronger relation of the Council with its functional commissions is of utmost importance.”  To that end, the definition of an annual main theme for the whole Council machinery would increase coherence and foster coordinated contributions, he said.


Secondly, in order to comply with the Rio+20 mandate, the Council could review the work of its functional commissions from the perspective of integrating the three dimensions of sustainable development, he said.  In that context, the Commission for Social Development had a particularly important role to play as the embodiment of the social pillar.  Thirdly, a strengthened Economic and Social Council should mean regular dialogue and engagement between the Council and the entities constituting that system among its functional commissions and expert bodies.


That sort of engagement would help to avoid fragmentation of intergovernmental processes and promote a more integrated programme of work, he explained.  Chairpersons should be more systematically invited to the sessions of other intergovernmental bodies, for example, and joint meetings of the functional commissions could be organized, he said.  “That should lead to a cross-pollination of ideas and recommendations to the benefit of the system as a whole.”


He said that, in addition to the intergovernmental process under way in the General Assembly, those broad proposals for reform would be discussed during the joint meeting between the Bureau of the Economic and Social Council and the chairpersons of its subsidiary bodies.  The periodicity of the meetings could be increased with a view to discussing various issues of relevance to the entire Council machinery.


Reports by Co-facilitators


JAN GRAULS ( Belgium) co-facilitator of the General Assembly’s informal consultations on further review of the implementation of resolution 61/16, on strengthening of the Economic and Social Council, said the Rio+20 outcome document offered a starting point for the facilitation.  The text mentioned the Council from two angles, tasking it first with approaching the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development in a fully integrated and balanced manner.  “Integrating these three dimensions is going to be a very important mandate of [the Economic and Social Council],” he stressed.


Secondly, the Council was tasked with ensuring the follow-up to all major United Nations conferences and High-level meetings, he continued, noting that for the Commission, that meant the Council would ensure follow-up to the World Summit for Social Development and the Copenhagen Programme of Action.  He recalled that, following the Rio+20 mandate, and in line with resolution 61/16, the General Assembly President had appointed himself and the Permanent Representative of Guyana as co-facilitators of the Economic and Social Council reform process, which had held its first meeting last December.


Since then, four rounds of consultation had been held, he continued, citing two meetings and three focused meetings, the latter of which had covered improving the Council’s relevance, enhancing its coordination role and discussing its follow up to Rio+20.  During the meetings, the co-facilitators had introduced “food for thought” papers, and the idea now was to move towards producing deliverables, or “food for progress”.  He reiterated that States were still in “reflection mode” and nothing had yet been decided.


He went on to say that the co-facilitators had observed some general tendencies among the United Nations membership, the first being that the Council needed a more relevant agenda and should produce more added value.  Secondly, it must work on the sequencing of activities on its annual agenda, which meant perhaps revisiting existing segments and improving the spread of those activities.  Another tendency was to create greater coherence and reduce duplication of work, as the Council often produced the same resolutions as the General Assembly and its Second Committee (Economic and Financial).  “That is producing a lot of paper, not necessarily added value,” he pointed out.  The questions of integrating the three sustainable development pillars and linking the Council with the high-level political forum must also be examined, he added.


In conclusion, he said that in order to improve coherence and coordination, it was important to streamline the content of the various bodies’ discussions and agendas.  There had been a proposal to create an annual team to organize dialogues that would capture challenges faced across the United Nations system — a focus on “issue coherence” rather than simply “structural coherence”.  That team could help improve the Council’s capacity to complement the work of the Assembly, funds and programmes, the Bretton Woods institutions and other entities, he noted, describing that process as “cross-pollination”.  The Council should have a greater ability to respond to crises, he said, underlining also the need for more focused “executive reporting”, by which the Council would offer reports highlighting main issues that linked to a main theme.  That would help improve discussions with its subsidiary bodies, he said.


GEORGE WILFRED TALBOT ( Guyana), co-facilitator, agreed that “taking a new look at [the Economic and Social Council]” and its new role in integrating the three dimensions of sustainable development was a critical exercise.  Noting that bodies such as the Commissions would be undergoing some evolution in future months, he invited its members to contribute their thoughts and observations on that process.


Statements


JOHN GILROY (Ireland), speaking on behalf of the European Union, said the social dimension of sustainable development was more important than ever, and the Commission should use its mandate to better advise the Economic and Social Council on matters relating to social development.  Emphasizing that poverty eradication, employment and social integration were not separate issues, he said the Commission should, therefore, review its three-pillar approach with a view to integrating it and with a human rights-based approach.  It was also worthwhile considering a multi-year work programme of work more closely linked to that of the Council, he added.


He suggested that the Commission consider whether there was added value to the negotiation and adoption of the “double resolutions” that were also regularly adopted by other bodies, such as the Main Committees of the General Assembly.  It was also necessary to make the Commission more dynamic and to help it attract wider interest.  To that end, the chairpersons or bureaus of different bodies should meet regularly to share information and explore synergies.  They could better document best practices shared by Member States during the Commission’s meetings, and improve interactions between the Commission and the Economic and Social Council.  Finally, he welcomed the increased use of webcasting, social media tools and the Commission’s website to reduce its paper workload.


ROBERT DE LEON ( Mexico) said the Commission should ask itself what role it should play in strengthening the Economic and Social Council and in elaborating the post-2015 development agenda.  New schemes for cooperation and the positive exchanges of views would be critical in that respect.  There must also be regional and national follow-up to the Commission’s deliberations.  Like other speakers, he voiced concern over the duplication between the Commission’s resolutions on social development and those of the General Assembly, adding that, as the Economic and Social Council President had said, it could be useful to review the biennial cycle of work and improve the identification of themes.  In that respect, one option could be to give a greater focus to the priority theme and hold a preliminary session in which members could exchange views via videoconference.


To strengthen the Economic and Social Council and the Rio+20 process, he suggested, the Council could adopt a theme annually and each functional commission could provide its input on the basis of its mandate.  Such an “intercessional integration session” would help integrate the three pillars of sustainable development, he added.  Indeed, the Council should not just be a place for exchange, but for evaluating agreed objectives, discussing development priorities and contributing to discussions on the post-2015 agenda, he stressed.  More direct and substantive contributions on priority themes were needed from other players, including civil society, academia and research institutions, among others.  Lastly, he invited delegations to take up their responsibility to the Commission by participating more actively in such discussions.


ELMAR D. LEDERGERBER (Switzerland) said the main goal of changing working methods should be to strengthen the Commission and enhance the relevance of its work, noting that his delegation had responded to the Secretary-General’s questionnaire on ways and means to strengthen the Commission’s work.  “Our priority must be to examine how our Commission cooperates with the [Economic and Social Council] and its other functional commissions”, as well as with other international organizations, he said.  There was a lack of institutionalized dialogue between the Commission and the other bodies, he said, noting that adding such an item to its agenda would allow them to present their recent work.


He said he favoured keeping the annual agenda item “Emerging issues” while also discussing how to improve the selection of issues to be covered.  It would be interesting, for example, to link the item with a question to be discussed by the Economic and Social Council later in the year, which would make the Commission’s work more relevant to the Council.  In sum, the regular review of working methods could contribute to the relevance of the Commission’s work in the United Nations, he said.  The decisive factor in that regard was not the technical detail of working methods, but rather the belief that the Commission had an important role to play.


NIKOLAY RAKOVSKIY ( Russian Federation) expressed hope that the Commission would continue to be an effective coordinator in the social field.  Like any entity, it required a review of its working methods, he said, expressing regret that only eight Member States had responded to the questionnaire.  He voiced hope that a fuller picture would emerge of how States assessed the body, adding that his Government had noted the effectiveness of the Commission’s cycle.  The idea advanced by some about duplication between the Commission and the Assembly was unfounded, he said.


Indeed, the Commission added a social perspective to the development agenda, he continued, emphasizing that the United Nations was only as effective as Member States allowed it to be.  Concerning documentation, he said the exchange of thematic reports could be reduced and their statistical bases expanded.  Finally, he said discussions should be held in a genuinely interactive manner and “not turn into lectures”.  The Russian Federation was keen to strengthen the Commission as a unique mechanism for dialogue on important social issues.


JAMES COLLINS, International Council on Social Welfare, expressed concern that, for the first time, he had been unable to observe informal sessions of the General Assembly’s Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) and of the Commission for Social Development.  That was ironic considering that the Commission’s priority theme was empowering people, he noted.


CHARLES COURTNEY, Triglav Circle, said the Secretary-General’s report on the priority theme highlighted the importance of participation, freedom, respect for human dignity, and the full development of human capacity.  However, it was silent on specific proposals for progress.  Suggesting several ways in which to fill that gap, he said it was necessary to remove barriers erected by society so that people living in poverty could use their own skills and talents to work their way out of it.  Also critical to that struggle were allies who would stand by those living in poverty, he said, citing several examples of projects undertaken by such partners.  The Triglav Circle held that all human needs, including material and spiritual ones, must be met, he said.  Therefore, empowerment, social integration and participation by the poorest were best achieved when society drew upon all its resources — public officials, academic experts, activists and, perhaps most importantly, the poor themselves.


Programme Questions and Other Matters


Ms. BAS then introduced her Division’s draft programme of work for the biennium 2014-2015 (document E/CN.5/2013/CRP.1).  The strategy behind the proposed work of subprogramme 2 — social policy and development — included promoting increased awareness among Governments, civil society, the United Nations and the private sector about trends and analysis.  It also included promoting more social inclusion.  With regard to programme performance and implementation for the biennium 2010-2011, she had provided copies of the relevant extract from the Secretary-General’s report on that matter.


SARAH COOK, Director, United Nations Research Institute for Social Development, presented an overview of that entity’s Commission-related activities during the 2011-2012 biennium.  She recalled that in the lead-up to Rio+20, the Institute had launched an inquiry intended to shed light on how the social dimensions of sustainable development should be integrated into debates on the green economy.  In October 2011, it had convened a conference titled “Green Economy and Sustainable Development:  Bringing Back the Social Dimension”, which had outlined the potentially negative social effects of some approaches to the green economy.


She said the Institute’s future work would focus on understanding how social and environmental policies could be mutually reinforcing in achieving sustainability and equity goals, and how the policies and practices of groups — small farmers, workers in the informal economy and social enterprises — were organizing to transform production and consumption the relations for a sustainable economy.  Relevant to that was the Institute’s work on social policy, which sought to understand how countries were responding to changing global and domestic challenges, she continued.  Its research went beyond examining the symptoms of disadvantage to looking at the drivers underpinning persistent disadvantage.  She expressed hope that the research would help shape policy on social protection floors and other issues.


In the coming year, the Institute would examine how emerging economies were expanding their welfare systems to address new risks, including climate change, and whether “new social contracts” would merge to support inclusive, sustainable and equitable societies.  Turning to gender, she said the Institute played a leading role in researching gender issues.  It had co-hosted a workshop in Geneva to help United Nations agencies understand how to better coordinate research taking place within the system.  It had also examined how policy changes that strengthened women’s rights occurred, and analysed why some issues were picked up by national and global policy actors, while others were not.  Finally, she said that proposals by the Secretary-General’s Change Implementation Team would significantly change the Institute’s status, since it proposed merging its research and training institutes and libraries into a single entity under the Secretariat.  That would profoundly affect the Institute’s governance, its scope for independent research and its relationship with the Commission, she said.


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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.