The Economic and Social Council concluded its dialogue on the longer-term positioning of the United Nations development system in the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development today, with Member States underscoring their consensus on the need for reform, despite differences on how to undertake that task.
“An ambitious agenda requires even more ambitious changes,” said Alejandro Palma Cerna (Honduras), Vice-President of the Council, noting how the Organization’s development system would need a strong capacity to deliver policy, technical and implementation support in an integrated and coordinated manner.
Currently, he said, United Nations development activities often suffered from duplication, overlap and other inefficiencies. There was also a fragmentation in funding, where some 75 per cent of the total contributions came from earmarked sources. A lack of substantive debate within the system’s governing bodies meanwhile had given Member States limited incentives to provide adequate or increased funding for strategic plans and resource frameworks.
Several proposals and recommendations came out of the Council’s dialogue, he said. One would establish a sustainable development board; another would see the position of Deputy Secretary-General become that of Deputy Secretary-General for Sustainable Development. A third called for a global strategic framework to facilitate the overview of the system’s work. Going forward, Mr. Cerna proposed that Member States used the time leading up to the General Assembly’s forthcoming quadrennial comprehensive policy review process as a “turning point” in intergovernmental decision-making on reform of the United Nations development system.
Thomas Gass, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency, Department of Economic and Social Affairs said “we know what to do. The task at hand is how to do it.” Change would require time, perseverance and more investment to create a development system fit for purpose, he said, noting that the Economic and Social Council should play a more active role in the quadrennial review, which he called a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to align the development system with the 2030 Agenda.
Amir Abdulla, Vice-Chair of the United Nations Development Group and Deputy Executive Director of the World Food Programme, drew attention to initiatives already in place, such as a new mainstreaming, acceleration and policy support plan, a new United Nations development assistance framework and a pooled funding mechanism. The quadrennial review was an opportunity to build on what had been achieved to date, he said, adding that the Group would focus on areas where it could add the most value, namely support for the implementation and monitoring of standards and to countries to embed the Sustainable Development Goals into local and national plans and budgets.
During the general discussion, speakers hailed the spirit of consensus, saying “business as usual” could no longer suffice. The time had come, they said, to reshape the United Nations development system to help Member States implement the 2030 Agenda. Many also called for a strengthening of the role of United Nations Resident Coordinators in overseeing the Organization’s efforts on the ground while respecting national priorities.
Speakers said change was the way forward. Thailand’s representative, on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said the system required a “recalibration” with a continued focus on all countries with the goal of eradicating poverty. In a similar vein, Mexico’s delegate said it would be a historic error to adapt the 2030 Agenda to the current development system, rather than the other way around. Progress would involve breaking silos and overcoming fragmentation while preserving peace and ensuring the creation of a healthy human environment in which everyone enjoyed their rights fully.
Many delegates said financing was an area that needed attention. The representative of Maldives, speaking on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island Developing States, expressed both concern and optimism that funding challenges would be addressed. She said it appeared that entities within the United Nations development system were competing for funds from the same donor pool. South Africa’s representative was among several to question an imbalance between core and non-core resources. The Council’s dialogue had been a good precursor for the quadrennial review, he said, adding that the work ahead, while demanding, was not insurmountable.
Many agreed that time for those and other changes was now. Calling the “2030” era a unique opportunity to comprehensively review funding, the representative of the United States said there were many intriguing ideas on the table, including partnerships with multiple stakeholders that could mobilize the resources needed to tackle development challenges. The Organization had to be creative and flexible in deciding how best it could deliver results, she said, noting that 1,200 offices worldwide was probably not the most effective and efficient structure.
Also speaking during the general discussion were the representatives of Germany, Brazil, Cuba, Norway, China, Kazakhstan, Trinidad and Tobago, Serbia, Japan, Canada, Netherlands, Republic of Korea, Sweden, Chile, Switzerland, France, United Kingdom, Pakistan and Indonesia.
ALEJANDRO PALMA CERNA (Honduras), Vice-President of the Council, said interlinkages among functions, funding, governance, organizational arrangements, capacity and partnership approaches were critical for ensuring that the United Nations development system was prepared to support the implementation of the transformative 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. “An ambitious agenda requires even more ambitious changes,” he said, adding that Member States supported the system’s five emerging core functions identified during last week’s dialogue. As development challenges became more complex and interconnected while the capacity of programme countries was characterized by greater diversity, the United Nations development system would need to create a strong capacity to deliver policy, technical and implementation support in an integrated and coordinated manner.
That system, however, was not currently characterized by effective interlinkages and alignment, he continued. The delivery of operational activities had often suffered from duplication, overlap and other inefficiencies. There was also a fragmentation in funding, where some 75 per cent of the total contributions came from earmarked sources. Those trends undermined the multilateral character of the Organization bringing to the fore the strong interlinkages that existed between funding and governance. The lack of substantive debate at the levels of the United Nations development system’s governing bodies meant that Member States had limited incentives to provide adequate or increased funding for the implementation of strategic plans and resource frameworks. “If we want to increase the quantity and quality of funding for United Nations operational activities,” he stressed, “it will require corresponding improvements in the quantity and quality of governance at entity and system-wide levels.”
A number of related concrete recommendations had emanated from the Council’s dialogue, he said. Those had included a proposal to establish a sustainable development board, redesigning the post of Deputy Secretary-General to Deputy Secretary-General for Sustainable Development and introducing a global strategic framework to facilitate the overview of the work of the United Nations development system. In addition, it had been pointed out that such governance, management and planning mechanisms at the global level needed to be mirrored in similar institutional arrangements at the country level. He proposed that Member States used the time leading up to the quadrennial comprehensive policy review process as a “turning point” in intergovernmental decision-making on reform of the United Nations development system.
THOMAS GASS, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, speaking on behalf of Wu Hongbo, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, said the 2030 Agenda posed very different demands on the United Nations development system. “We must rise to the challenge,” he said, noting that could only be addressed through collective action. Through dialogue, Member States had understood that the system needed to reform itself, based on its unique advantages.
Summarizing some of the key messages heard during the dialogue, he said the system must focus on results on the ground. It needed to bring fundamental changes to the way it operated at country and regional levels. Change needed to happen at all levels. While considerable reforms had taken place at the country level, changes were needed at Headquarters. Governments must change the way they funded and governed the system, adopting a more integrated approach. Interlinkages between different approaches must be addressed in a comprehensive manner. Change would not happen overnight night, but would require time, perseverance and more investment to make a system fit for purpose. The Council should have a more active role in the quadrennial comprehensive policy review, which he called a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to align the development system with the Sustainable Development Goals. “We know what to do,” he said. “The task at hand is how to do it.”
AMIR ABDULLA, Vice-Chair of the United Nations Development Group and Deputy Executive Director of the World Food Programme, delivered a statement on behalf of Helen Clark, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). As the 2030 Agenda was bold in its ambitions to end poverty, reduce inequality and leave no one behind, there was a need for a strong global development system that rose to the challenge of “doing business differently”. The United Nations Development Group embraced that vision, he said, highlighting some of its recent work, including the new Mainstreaming, Acceleration and Policy Support plan and new United Nations Development Assistance Framework to guide better collaboration, as well as a pooled funding mechanism to support national Sustainable Development Goal responses. The Group had also worked to strengthen the Resident Coordinator system and had implemented a plan of action at Headquarters to remove bottlenecks.
The forthcoming quadrennial review was an opportunity to build on what had been achieved to date, he said, adding that the Group would focus on areas where it could add the most value, namely support for the implementation and monitoring of standards and to countries to embed the Sustainable Development Goals into local and national plans and budgets. It would also focus on support for critical capacity-building and actual service delivery, where appropriate.
“We are not a single entity, and our strength lies in our diversity,” he said, expressing his hope that a “new kind” of review and a “new generation” of United Nations development assistance frameworks would emerge. Resident Coordinators must have the authority to fully carry out their respective functions and should be the best and brightest from across the system. The Group would also pursue new partnerships with international financial institutions, regional entities and other partners to expand platforms for collective actions for the Sustainable Development Goals at country, regional and global levels. “There is no looking back and there is certainly no turning back on this journey,” he concluded.
REINHARD JOSEF KRAPP (Germany) said that with much “food for thought” in the Council and in the General Assembly’s Second Committee (Economic and Financial), there was an urgent need for improved cooperation within the United Nations development system, with an aim to improve the Organization’s capacity to react to countries’ needs. The principle of “delivering as one” was a good starting point, together with strengthening the Resident Coordinator system. There was a need for measures to be taken that would overcome the fragmentation of system-wide development efforts, which would contribute to transparency, efficiency and the optimal use of resources. Noting that the system had grown over the decades, he said “we cannot change everything in one year”. The system’s diversity had important added value and therefore reform must build on the expertise of its various elements. Alternatives should be discussed in an open and inclusive manner, he said, adding that much would depend on the new United Nations Secretary-General, who would hopefully put the matter on his priority agenda.
EPHRAIM LESHALA MMINELE (South Africa) emphasized that country-level interventions should be based on the host country’s requests. He reiterated a call to address the imbalance between core and non-core resources. The dialogue had been a good precursor for the quadrennial review, which should focus on development issues, especially the eradication of poverty in all its forms. There was no doubt that the system needed to be strengthened so as to respond to different needs and contexts. The work ahead was demanding, but not insurmountable, he concluded.
CARLOS SERGIO SOBRAL DUARTE (Brazil) said it was widely recognized that the development system needed to change. Underscoring the need for universality, saying the system should enhance the ability to implement goals in all countries, including developing States, he said graduation from a group of countries should not be a means of preventing them from getting assistance. The system should reflect a multisectoral approach. With regard to funding, he said increased earmarking undermined flexibility. Brazil was open to proposals for soft earmarking with the aim of reducing funding-induced fragmentation. A review of the current governance architecture should be oriented in a way that would make the development system coherent, building on what was working properly, enhancing accountability and ensuring the equitable participation of developing countries.
LILIANNE SÁNCHEZ RODRÍGUEZ (Cuba) said that while the United Nations Development Group’s proposals had raised several questions that were necessary for the evolution of the system, more analysis was needed. The main current challenge was the system’s inability to respond to realities on the ground, she said, noting that the proposals on the table would move the system further away from addressing them. Appealing for coherence and synergy should not lead to overlooking the importance of singularity and specialization, she said, adding that the need to involve all actors should not result in “simplistic solutions” that would dilute development efforts. Such ideas would only make development conditional, biased and partial. Any actions to improve sustainable development should respect national sovereignty and align themselves with national policies and strategies. In particular, the Resident Coordinator system must be led by countries, be based on the principle of national ownership, and never follow a “one-size-fits-all” model.
THAWEECHOT TATIYAPERMPOON (Thailand), on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said the United Nations development system required a “recalibration” in order to support the meaningful implementation of the 2030 Agenda. That system must continue to focus on serving all countries, in particular developing countries, and any recalibration should be based on the goal of eradicating poverty. To achieve its shared objectives, the system needed to help lift the millions of people living in poverty out of their current situations, he stressed.
Expressing particular concern about the imbalance in the United Nations development system’s core and non-core resources, he said broadening the donor base and collecting less earmarked funds remained central challenges. In addition, the Group was concerned about a trend of underrepresentation of developing countries on the governing bodies of United Nations development system entities. Further, the Resident Coordinator system should be revisited and strengthened and it should become more representative and accountable.
ALF HÅVARD VESTRHEIM (Norway) said the United Nations development system needed to concentrate efforts on those functions where it could add the most value. The next step would be to clarify how those functions would be adapted to different country contexts. He welcomed the emphasis on further joint analysis and integrated planning and moving to a “one country, one framework” principle. There now needed to be a plan for how the system would take that forward. Proposals to maximize synergies within the development system did not respond to Member States’ demands for more accountability. The quadrennial review should become a high-level strategic framework that would focus on outcomes, he said.
JUAN SANDOVAL MENDIOLEA (Mexico) said a consensus was being forged today. No longer could it be thought that the 2030 Agenda should be adapted to the current system and structure, which would be a historic error. There was no doubt that a new United Nations was being built, with development as the new focus for its work amid a fast-changing landscape. The new development agenda must break silos and overcome fragmentation while preserving peace and ensuring the creation of a healthy human environment in which everyone enjoyed their rights fully. The concept of sustaining peace must be taken up in the Secretary-General’s report ahead of the quadrennial review, he concluded.
LUO JIN (China), aligning herself with the Group of 77, said the 2030 Agenda had set a clear direction for development over the next 15 years. Noting that poverty remained the foremost challenge facing the achievement of sustainable development, she said targets should be put in place for each phase of the Agenda in order to avoid “doing everything everywhere”. National ownership and leadership were critical and the needs of programme countries should continue to form the basis of the work of the United Nations development system, she said, adding that the Organization’s agencies should work to minimize humanitarian crises caused by conflict and build up the resilience of developing countries. The resources for development must be scaled up and core resources must be guaranteed. The team of advisors had regrettably failed to make any proposals on the imbalance in resources, she noted, expressing hope that developed countries would fulfil their official development assistance (ODA) commitments and become more flexible on the use of non-core resources. China had taken note of the proposals made, many of which were time-consuming and could restrict the dynamics of the United Nations development system. The views of Member States must be respected and risks and benefits must be fully analysed, she said.
KAIRAT ABDRAKHMANOV (Kazakhstan), expressing support for some of the proposals, said the Council should play a stronger role in integrating and coordinating the United Nations development system. For that reason, Kazakhstan had proposed transforming the Council into a “global development council” tasked with promoting global economic growth and supporting the implementation of the 2030 Agenda at the national level. While such an initiative would take significant time and effort, it was “high time” to address those important issues. In addition, Kazakhstan supported the adoption of a global strategic framework that would enable United Nations development system entities to link their work with each other and with national development strategies, providing a “comprehensive map” of sustainable development strategies. Kazakhstan also proposed to host the United Nations regional hub in Almaty, which would work towards the region’s sustainable development and resilience. Reforms should build on the existing United Nations development system and reflect, in particular, the needs of least developed countries, landlocked developing countries, small island developing States and the African continent.
VLADAMIR BUDHU (Trinidad and Tobago), associating himself with the Group of 77 and with the Alliance of Small Island States, said the implementation of the 2030 Agenda hinged on the development system’s working methods. It was important not to lose sight of the unique situation and vulnerabilities of small island States. Any proposals going forward must reflect the underlying principles of the 2030 Agenda, including universality and diversity. Income per capita was an outdated measure of development. The United Nations development system should be driven by a multidimensional approach, he said, emphasizing the need to avoid the trap of a one-size-fits-all approach to sustainable development. He favoured strengthening the role of Resident Coordinators, empowering them with the authority to coordinate all United Nations activities under their purview. Better links were also needed between Resident Coordinators and regional commissions.
MILAN MILANOVIĆ (Serbia) said it was not the time for business as usual. A stronger, better coordinated and effective development system was needed. That system must be nimble and reflect specific national circumstances. He emphasized the system’s vital role in framing statistical indicators. It should also be ready to promote multi-stakeholder partnerships, bringing together Governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), civil society and others. The Resident Coordinator system should be strengthened. “We do not need a revolution, but an evolution,” he said, citing the response of the United Nations country team to floods in Serbia as a good example.
NOBORU SEKIGUCHI (Japan) said it was vitally important for the United Nations development system to provide a better breakdown of its budget. He did not see how a “mega-board” such as the proposed sustainable development board would result in more efficiency and effectiveness. A more thorough cost-benefit analysis was needed for such a board. All Member States could agree on the need to improve the current fragmented development system, but it had already achieved some remarkable outcomes. Japan would like to find ways to improve the system, taking into consideration its challenges and its achievements.
ISABELLE HENTIC (Canada) said reforms should build on existing structures and should aim at removing bottlenecks and achieving results on the ground. Calling for improvements in the governance of the development system at Headquarters, particularly with regards to accountability and transparency, she welcomed the United Nations Development Group’s paper and proposals. The structure of the upcoming resolution should be revisited and should include key elements such as organizational arrangements, the Resident Coordinator system, United Nations country team coherence and issues of partnership and system-wide coherence. Calling for clear instructions on the necessity of a mandate review and mapping exercise for the system’s field presence, she stressed the need for a robust performance and monitoring framework and enhanced follow-up mechanisms. The zero draft of the resolution should be a joint exercise, she said, underscoring the need to maintain the constructive spirit that had prevailed since 2014.
SANDRA PELLEGROM (Netherlands) emphasized the importance of scaling up the effort of “delivering as one”, moving towards more flexible, predictable and pooled funding and respecting national ownership. The importance of finding more synergies to improve delivery in the nexus between development and humanitarian work was also crucial and more discussion was needed on how to strengthen leadership and governance at the Headquarters level. There was a strong agreement on the need to examine the quadrennial review in a more integrated way and to make it a more strategic instrument that more closely reflected the priorities of the 2030 Agenda. Indeed, that review should become a guide for the system, she said, expressing her hope that the drafting exercise would be a fully inclusive process.
CHO YEONGMOO (Republic of Korea) said the United Nations development system should be reshaped so that it could be fit for multiple purposes. Recognizing the importance of resources for the system, he said the growing imbalance between core and non-core resources must be addressed in the upcoming review. Efforts to ensure more value for money would restore confidence in the United Nations system. He underscored the need to strengthen the Resident Coordinator system and suggested that the development system engaged with Member States through informal updates. Noting how conflict could reverse development gains, he emphasized the need to address root causes of conflict and hoped that the review would address collaboration between the humanitarian, peacebuilding and development pillars.
MARIYAM MIDHFA NAEEM (Maldives), speaking on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island Developing States, associated herself with the Group of 77. She said that small island developing States needed the United Nations development system to fully assist with implementation of the 2030 Agenda while recognizing their unique vulnerabilities. Strengthening the scope and effectiveness of the review was a high priority for the Alliance, she said. It was also important to have a clearer insight into which entities did what and to identify gaps. The role of Resident Coordinators should be strengthened.
Expressing concern and optimism that funding challenges would be addressed, she said it seemed as if system entities were all competing for funds from the same donor pool, exacerbating the need to work in silos. Assistance should be driven by the needs of developing countries, not their income levels, and capacities within the system must be able to adapt to those needs, moving away from a rigid and routine manner of operating.
HANNA STENBERG (Sweden) said the 2030 Agenda called for important changes, with United Nations entities to be reformed to create a coherent system capable of responding to Member States’ demands and needs. Interesting proposals had been put forward to modernize the United Nations development system. Rational, quality and predictable financing would be the cornerstone of the new system, she said, adding that, in Sweden’s view, strengthening the quadrennial review — whatever its future name might be — would make it more effective and efficient.
PATRICIO AGUIRRE VACCHIERI (Chile) said the proposals of the independent team of advisers had been both provocative and feasible, with some that could be implemented immediately. They were not meant to respond to all questions in detail, but instead to indicate the direction of change. He aligned himself with the Group of 77, with the exception of its statement on a Deputy Secretary-General for Sustainable Development, which constituted a repositioning of an existing office. In addition, the Mexican proposal was interesting and could be further explored in the future, he concluded.
NICOLAS MANUEL RANDIN (Switzerland) said the independent team of advisers’ proposals had been comprehensive and interesting. Spotlighting the upcoming quadrennial review process as an opportunity for a long-term vision, he expressed support for the approach that had been presented last week by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), which had helped to prioritize goals, and for the open and inclusive process, which he hoped would continue. The quadrennial review could be a milestone for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, but more discussion was needed to clarify its scope, focus and modalities.
ESTHER PAN SLOANE (United States) said that, in the new global development paradigm, all countries would be working together to achieve the 2030 Agenda. The United Nations had to be creative and flexible in deciding how best it could deliver results, she said, noting that 1,200 offices worldwide was likely not the most effective and efficient structure. The United Nations development system should provide different support in different contexts, she said, stressing that functions should drive funding. The “2030” era provided a unique opportunity to comprehensively review the system’s funding architecture and to consider new options. There were many intriguing ideas on the table, she said, noting in particular that partnerships with multiple stakeholders would be critical to mobilizing the resources necessary to meet development challenges. The idea of expanding issue-based coalitions was of particular interest. On impact, she called for consistent, high-quality reporting. Noting that the system was already evolving in important ways, she said she looked forward to a strategic, effective quadrennial review resolution that would help to better position the United Nations development system to support the 2030 Agenda.
HÉLÈNE MERLOT (France) said she was pleased to see consensus on the need to reform the United Nations development system. France supported an ambitious vision for reform and encouraged the streamlining of existing structures. The dialogue had brought together many countries to discuss ways to redefine the functions and modalities of the United Nations development system while rejecting over-centralization. Welcoming proposals to strengthen the role of Resident Coordinators, she said the United Nations needed to be given the means to adapt to the demands of the 2030 Agenda.
FAYE O’CONNER (United Kingdom) noted the wide agreement, even consensus, for a more effective and better coordinated United Nations development system. While there might not be agreement on how to do that, many good ideas had been put forward. Many proposals could be carried out immediately, she said, “so let’s not drag our feet”. Stressing the importance of early engagement, she looked forward to a summary of the dialogue and to the Secretary-General’s report. Everyone would be looking to see how the 2030 Agenda would be delivered, she said, adding that “business as usual won’t do”. She hoped that, come September, Member States would avoid the temptation of negotiation as usual.
NAUMAN BASHIR BHATTI (Pakistan) said that, while the challenges were very complex, the development system was not starting from scratch. It was necessary to build on successes and to use strategic thinking. He thanked the independent team of advisers for their contribution and took note of its proposals. Keeping the focus on development would be critical for reforming the system, whose function must respond to national needs and priorities. While strengthening the scope of the quadrennial review was important, measures were needed to ensure the implementation of measures resulting from the review. The fundamental issue of core and non-core resources needed to be addressed. National capacities needed to be strengthened alongside the role of Resident Coordinators, he said, noting also the need to address competition for resources, which was a major challenge.
NARA MASISTA RAKHMATIA (Indonesia), associating herself with the Group of 77, said the changes that had been made to the United Nations development system should be sufficient to support countries in their implementation of the 2030 Agenda. The Economic and Social Council and the Resident Coordinator system, in particular, needed to be strengthened. Reiterating the importance of national ownership, especially in ensuring that the work of the United Nations was aligned with the priorities of developing countries, she said it was now up to Member States to consider the proposals on the table.