Revamp United Nations Development System to Better Help States Meet 2030 Agenda Goals, Delegates Tell Economic and Social Council, as Operational Segment Opens

ECOSOC/6817
28 February 2017
2017 Session, 10th & 11th Meetings (AM & PM)

Revamp United Nations Development System to Better Help States Meet 2030 Agenda Goals, Delegates Tell Economic and Social Council, as Operational Segment Opens

Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals was not an option, but an imperative for a safe and security future of prosperity, opportunity and human rights for all, Amina Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, said today as the Economic and Social Council opened its 2017 operational activities segment.

Ms. Mohammed, speaking in her new capacity for the first time, said that, in every region, poverty had declined and democratic space had expanded as new communications technologies brought more people together.  Yet, the rising tide of optimism and empowerment had not reached everyone.  Half of the planet’s wealth was controlled by a handful of rich men, some 200 million people were unemployed and gender discrimination continued to limit the opportunities and potential of women and girls in all countries, she observed.  Anxiety was, meanwhile, growing as societies coped with climate change, urbanization, population growth, water scarcity and massive movements of people.

To achieve the Goals, “success will require a bolder approach to financing and partnerships”, she said, introducing the Secretary-General’s report “implementation of General Assembly resolution 67/226 on the quadrennial comprehensive policy review of operational activities for development of the United Nations system: funding analysis” (document A/72/61–E/2017/4).  The United Nations would have to adapt, embracing a much higher degree of integration, coordination, accountability and transparency while becoming “fit for purpose” in order to help Member States fulfil their promises.  That meant tailoring efforts to national needs, priorities and capacities, revamping partnership and financing approaches and empowering youth to participate in shaping their countries’ political and economic lives, she stated.

During the segment, which runs through 2 March, the Council will focus on implementation of a new quadrennial comprehensive policy review of operational activities for development of the United Nations system, as set out in a General Assembly resolution adopted in December 2016.  That text notably requested the Secretary-General for proposals on the system’s functions and capacities, thus enabling Member States to decide what changes would be made to raise the system to the level of ambition of the 2030 Agenda.

In opening remarks, Cristián Barros Melet, Council Vice-President, said the United Nations development system was at a critical juncture.  Recalling how it had undergone several transformations since the late 1940s, he said financing had shifted from an early reliance on mandatory assessed contributions towards voluntary un-earmarked resources, and increasingly, to strictly earmarked funding.  Given the challenge of the 2030 Agenda, he said, the question was whether the principles and modus operandi that now underpinned the system were fit to meet its integration and coordination requirements.

The morning featured a panel discussion on “building a strong United Nations development system for delivering on the 2030 Agenda”, that reflected on adjustments needed to improve the ways in which the system helped Member States deliver on the Goals.  Panellists emphasized the need to modernize the system, to tap the private sector as a fresh source of development financing and to respond effectively to challenges posed by anti-globalization and nationalism.

In the afternoon, delegates engaged in an interactive dialogue with the executive heads of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), World Food Programme (WFP), United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women) and the International Labour Organization (ILO).  The discussion sought to generate ideas to address gaps and overlaps within the United Nations development system, again with a view to improving support for 2030 Agenda implementation.

The Council will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 1 March, to continue its operational activities segment.

Opening Remarks

CRISTIÁN BARROS MELET (Chile), Vice-President of the Economic and Social Council, said the goal of the current segment was to contribute to the launch of the implementation of a new quadrennial comprehensive policy review of operational activities for development of the United Nations system.  It would do so by laying the foundation for its work, based on the Secretary-General’s proposals; by discussing concrete steps that the United Nations development steps could take immediately to enhance system-wide coherence and efficient; and by reflecting on adjustments needed in the system to improve the impact of the support provided to different groups of countries to deliver on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

He said there was growing recognition among Member States that the United Nations development system was at a critical juncture.  Important decisions would need to be made for the Organization to support Member States in delivering the 2030 Agenda.  For that reason, the General Assembly, in its new quadrennial comprehensive policy resolution (document A/RES/71/243), had asked the Secretary-General for proposals on the system’s functions and capacities that would enable Member States to decide on changes to bring the system up to speed with the level ambition of the 2030 Agenda.

Noting that the United Nations development system had undergone several transformations since the late 1940s, he said financing had shifted from an early reliance on mandatory assessed contributions towards voluntary unearmarked resources, and increasingly, to strictly earmarked funding.  Such changes had clearly impacted the system’s functions, governance, organizational arrangements, capacity, impact and partnership approaches.  In discussing ways to strengthen the system, Member States would need to examine whether changes in funding rules and practices had unduly weakened its multilateral character.  With the 2030 Agenda posing a major new challenge for the system, the question was whether the principles and modus operandi that now underpinned the system were fit to meet its integration and coordination requirements.

AMINA MOHAMMED, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, speaking in her new capacity for the first time, said achieving the Sustainable Development Goals was not an option, but an imperative for a safe and secure future of prosperity, opportunity and human rights for all.  In every region, poverty had declined and democratic space had expanded as more people became connected by new communications technologies.  Because of its vulnerability, Africa needed to remain a priority for the United Nations, with success on the continent being success for the world.  Efforts must also be bolstered in least developed, landlocked and small island developing States to reduce vulnerability and build resilience.

Yet, she said, the rising tide of optimism and empowerment had not reached everyone, nor had the prosperity and benefits of globalization been equitably shared.  Half of the planet’s wealth was controlled by a handful of rich men, some 200 million people were unemployed and gender discrimination continued to limit the opportunities and potential of women and girls in all countries.  Anxiety was mounting as societies coped with climate change, urbanization, population growth, water scarcity and massive movements of people.  “We must change this alarming narrative,” she said.

Highlighting the 2030 Agenda, she said success in achieving the Goals would ease those anxieties, provide a better life for all and build a firm foundation for stability and peace.  “Success will require a bolder approach to financing and partnerships,” she said.  “As ‘united nations’, we will have to adapt.”  Member States had shared a vision in laying the foundations for a transformation of the United Nations, with the ambitious 2016 quadrennial comprehensive policy review resolution.  Indeed, the Organization needed a much higher degree of integration, coordination, accountability and transparency and must be “fit for purpose” to help Member States fulfil their promises.  That meant tailoring efforts to national needs, priorities and capacities, revamping partnership and financing approaches and empowering youth to participate in shaping their countries’ political and economic lives.

With the Secretary-General committed to a fast-track transformation, she said three broad principles underpinned the work ahead:  strengthening leadership; addressing the trust deficit; and focusing on country-level results.  The Organization needed a strong resource coordination system for effective planning and risk management, monitoring and evaluation.  To address the trust deficit, it must improve governance, identify institutional incentives and make the system more responsive to national priorities.  Also critical were building long-term resilience, bridging gaps between humanitarian action, development and peace and ensuring access to opportunity for all.  “In some cases, we will seek to reinforce existing mechanisms and solutions; in others, we will need to go a step further,” she said.  “Solutions from the past will not alone meet the challenges of the future.”

For her part, she said, she would take the lead in coordinating the work on the Secretary-General’s report in collaboration with the Department of Economic and Social Affairs and the Organization’s development system entities, with an immediate focus on the first set of recommendations.  In addition to formal meetings, she said, she would engage Member States in more informal settings to discuss forward-looking ideas.  Throughout the decades, the United Nations had generated and promoted ideas that had changed the world, she said, pointing to the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  The 2030 Agenda required that the Organization reinvented itself to better serve Member States.  “Governments honour us with their trust,” she said, emphasizing that while the tasks ahead were challenging, nothing was impossible when the international community worked together.

Panel Discussion I

The Council then held a panel discussion on “building a strong United Nations development system for delivering on the 2030 Agenda”.  Moderated by James Cockayne, Head of Office, United Nations University, New York, it featured a keynote speech by Marcos Barraza Gómez, Minister for Social Development of Chile and presentations by the following panellists:  Thomas Silberhorn, Parliamentary State Secretary, Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development, Germany; Sisomboun Ounavong, Director-General, Planning and Investment, Lao People’s Democratic Republic; Charles Assamba Ongodo, Director-General, Ministry of Economy, Planning and Regional Development, Cameroon; and Mukhisa Kituyi, Secretary-General, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

Mr. BARRAZA GÓMEZ recalled Chile’s experience with the Millennium Development Goals, saying it had led to significant progress in reducing poverty and greater access to education and health care.  However, challenges remained, including gender inequality and a wealth gap between rural and urban areas, and between indigenous and non-indigenous people.  Chile was deeply committed to the Sustainable Development Goals, he said, emphasizing that fighting inequality in all its forms was a strategic objective.  Some steps that had been taken included reforms in labour and education, changes to the tax regime whereby those who had more paid more, he said, also thanking countries that had assisted Chile to fight recent forest fires that demonstrated the impact of climate change.

Discussing challenges ahead, he outlined the contrast between the sectorial-based Millennium Development Goals and the inter-related new Goals.  Going forward, stronger institutions must now deal with indivisible tasks in a coordinated way, given that State institutions generally had a lot of inertia.  Likewise with the United Nations itself, many of its institutions took a sector‑by‑sector approach, he said, suggesting that stakeholders rethought the concept of planning, strengthening statistical institutions and viewing development from a regional perspective.  Given the uncertainty in the world today, the 2030 Agenda was a source of stability, clarity and continuity for Member States and the work of the United Nations, he said, underlining that the results would benefit all countries.

Mr. COCKAYNE said the international community had a unique, once‑in‑a‑generation opportunity to deliver a better future for all humanity.  Anticipating interventions outlining much-needed system-wide actions to better support the way the United Nations development system operated, he asked panellists to share their expectations of the system.

Mr. SILBERHORN, acknowledging that the agreements that had been reached in 2016 were significant milestones, said the key question now was how to achieve them.  Amid global challenges such as climate change and refugee crisis, the world needed a strong United Nations to implement the 2030 Agenda and achieve a transformative change.  That required structural changes in the development system, redefinitions of functions, clearly divided roles among agencies, discovery of untapped resources, increased transparency and accountability and a focus on results.  A new leadership was essential for successful outcomes, he said, highlighting the past years’ experience.  Among other things, he underlined the importance of improved funding, which required contributions from all stakeholders.

Ms. OUNAVONG said it was critical that the United Nations development system moved towards modernity.  The traditional model of carrying out work, policy dialogue, technical assistance and other related tasks needed to be modified towards a client-focused approach.  Investment in staff development and high‑calibre staff with the necessary skill set was critical.  The performance of the United Nations development system depended on its ability to mobilize adequate and high-quality funding to perform its core functions and maintain a comparative advantage.  To that end, it was vital that the United Nations engaged in partnerships in a strategic, effective and efficient manner.  The Lao People’s Democratic Republic expected the United Nations development system to help and support the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals and other efforts to fight poverty and lift the country out of the least developed country category.  Strong commitment to coordination and harmonization of the United Nations country team was needed in order to work more closely together through the delivering-as-one approach aimed at increasing effectiveness and efficiency.

Mr. ONGODO said the Government of Cameroon was implementing the 2013‑2017 United Nations Development Assistance Framework with United Nations system support and in line with the country’s vision to become an emerging economy by 2035.  The 2018-2020 framework, signed in December, aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals.  The Ministry of Economy, Planning and Territorial Development was working to integrate the Goals into national policies, strategies and programmes.  Next, Cameroon aimed to identify possible sources for resource mobilization and mechanisms for implementing the Goals and monitoring their implementation.  Cameroon and the United Nations country team had devised a delivering-as-one road map to ensure more coherent United Nations support and the shared use of data, policy analysis and advocacy.  Joint planning and operations and pooling resources would help to address the lack of funding for critical areas such as nutrition, underemployment, disaster management, climate change and security, he said, citing the merits of drawing on internal expertise and knowledges.

Mr. KITUYI said that, in responding to the growing voices of anti-globalization, those who believed in multilateral solutions to multilateral problems would need to contrast the difference between the negative and positive aspects of globalization.  Global engagement needed to be defended against the headwinds of nationalism, he said, emphasizing the importance of strengthening “bottom-up globalization” and for engaging with producers, employment seekers and vulnerable groups.  Citing the challenges faced by official development assistance, he said it was getting “crowded out” by funding for humanitarian purposes, migration and climate mitigation in a way that compared to “robbing Peter to give to Paul”.

In the ensuing dialogue, delegates asked questions and made comments about the benefits and limitations of the quadrennial comprehensive policy review, predictable and sustainable financing, resource mobilization, and the identification of the United Nations agencies’ comparative advantage. 

Mr. SILBERHORN said there was too much ad-hoc financing at the United Nations and that consideration must be given to acting more preventatively in both operations and funding.  Thematic funding could also incentivize more donors, including from the private sector.  By strengthening local and regional financial institutions, revenue generated in developing countries would no longer be exported to safe havens, but rather invested at home, creating employment.

He called for more long-term financing to achieve sustainability.  There were already good examples, he said, citing the World Food Programme’s (WFP) increased focus on resilience and long-term interventions.  He proposed a United Nations system-wide budget that could integrate more leadership in financing.  Noting that a lack of trust in national financial institutions should be bridged by multilateral activities, he said it was in the public interest to find ways to better channel private finance in the direction of sustainable development.

Ms. OUNAVONG echoed the importance of mobilizing the private sector.  In the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, the development plan had called for more than 50 per cent of funding to come from the private sector.  She emphasized the need for monitoring and evaluation frameworks, as well as comprehensive data collection and analysis in order to ensure the achievement of desired results.

Mr. ONGODO stressed the need to look at all financing sources, with the United Nations playing a coordinating role, given its moral authority.  He noted how, in Cameroon, the involvement of the United States, France and other countries had helped to reduce the impact of crises resulting from Boko Haram terrorist activities and the situation in neighbouring Central African Republic.  Responding to a comment by Mexico’s representative on sustainable peace, he highlighted cross-cutting nature of security.  It was a topic that required analysis of the causes and consequences of conflict and under-development.  Regarding the challenge of financing for countries facing major problems, he stressed the importance of streamlining and setting priorities.

Mr. KITUYI said the United Nations development group had so far not come up with a user-friendly platform for sharing knowledge and competence, yet there was so much important work taking place, especially in the regional commissions.  The interface between the United Nations development group and the human rights and security groups was critically important in addressing such issues as the economic underpinnings of involuntary migration.  “We must find a way of talking together,” he said, emphasizing Chile’s success in tapping development financing from Canadian pension funds, and drawing attention to the question of debt sustainability, which was a major concern for many States.

Participating in the discussion were the representatives of Ecuador (on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China), Ireland, Japan, United States, Honduras, Burkina Faso, Colombia, Egypt, Mexico, Maldives (on behalf of the small island developing States), Norway, Switzerland, Brazil and Bangladesh.

Panel Discussion II

A dialogue on “functions and capacities to improve the United Nations development system collective support to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda” was chaired by Douglas Lindores, former Senior Vice-President of the Canadian International Development Agency and former Chair of the United Nations Development Programme’s Executive Board.  The panel featured Helen Clark, Administrator, United Nations Development Programme; Anthony Lake, Executive Director, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF); Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA); Amir Abdulla, Deputy Executive Director, World Food Programme; Yannick Glemarec, Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women); and Greg Vines, Deputy Director-General, International Labour Organization.

Mr. LINDORES said the panellists would discuss concrete steps on the 2030 Agenda’s implementation and identify strengths and weaknesses of individual agencies of the United Nations development system.

Ms. CLARK said the quadrennial comprehensive policy review had an unambiguous message:  Member States expected and pledged their support for a strong development system that delivered coherent and integrated support for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.  It was important for development actors to be well linked to United Nations humanitarian, human rights and peacebuilding actors.  That required a whole-of-United-Nations effort applied to the complex challenges faced by countries.  Policy, programme and operational capacities could be better organized with business models incentivizing collaboration and not separation.  Committed United Nations leadership, with requisite authority at the country level and an adequately resourced resident coordinator system were critical.  Also important was to become better at ensuring that the knowledge and expertise that had accumulated at the global and regional levels fed into the work done at the country level.

She said the United Nations development system had come together around better standard operating procedures for delivering collaboratively and on a coherent approach to implement the Sustainable Development Goals.  In 2016, nine mainstreaming, acceleration and policy support missions had visited countries.  At the global level, UNDP and the Department of Economic and Social Affairs were providing technical assistance to almost 30 programme countries that intended to present voluntary national reviews to the Economic and Social Council High-level Political Forum in July.  Regarding new strategic plans for funds and programmes, she said that the quadrennial review was helping to shape how UNDP was developing its new plan in coordination with UNICEF, UNFPA and UN-Women.  On the resident coordinator system, she said UNDP was committed to strengthening and enhancing its effectiveness and supporting them to lead United Nations country teams.  That required more State support, she said, emphasizing that the resident coordinator system must be sufficiently and sustainably funded.

Mr. LAKE said the Goals would not be achieved without collaboration between a variety of actors, including Member States, civil society, donors and the business community.  Fully supporting the quadrennial review, UNICEF was preparing a new strategic plan for approval in September that would put an unrelenting focus on managing results.  UNICEF was also working with sister agencies to coordinate with their strategic plans in order to make the most of comparative advantages while eliminating redundancies.  The agency would also continue to deepen its work with country teams.  He underscored a number of reforms undertaken by UNICEF that had resulted in $1.5 billion in savings over the last five years.  Improving the lives of today’s children was a pathway to upholding the United Nations credibility while achieving a more peaceful world.

Mr. OSOTIMEHIN, emphasizing the multidimensional character of poverty, underscored the role of young people as agents of change in the context of the 2030 Agenda.  If there was to be effective action across the development, humanitarian, human rights and peace nexus, and in order to shape the future everyone hoped for, then young people must be embraced.  On financing, he said trillions of dollars would be required to achieve the Goals.  For the United Nations system, that challenge meant adapting corporate practices and capacities to attract funding from a broad base of donors, outside of traditional official development assistance (ODA) flows.  More importantly, the United Nations system needed to retool and reassert itself as a partner of Member States.  He emphasized the role of big data as a means of identifying those most at risk of being left behind.  A true data revolution, he said, would fully integrate statistics into decision-making while promoting investment and ensuring data privacy.

Mr. ABDULLA said the context the WFP faced today included a declared famine in South Sudan and warnings of looming famines in Somalia, Nigeria and Yemen.  Such a sobering reality affirmed the need to do things differently in order to achieve the Goals.  Recalling the approval of an “integrated road map” by its Executive Board in November 2016, he said the Programme would move away from a project-based approach towards multi-year, comprehensive strategic plans that fit well within the humanitarian-development-peace nexus.  “No one United Nations entity or organization or Government could achieve Zero Hunger,” he said.  “Changing lives, as well as saving lives, demands collaboration.”  It was essential to build on core strengths, ensure business processes were streamlined and exert discipline over cost bases.

Mr. GLEMAREC said the quadrennial review presented the United Nations system with a unique opportunity to enhance its integration and collaboration and to produce tangible results on the ground for the 2030 Agenda.  To make the system more efficient, transparent and responsive to Member States, agencies were actively collaborating on the development of their strategic plans for the next four years.  For its part, UN-Women was co-steering interagency work to ensure the harmonization of formats and processes and to identify shared indicators.  At the current pace of progress, the world would not reach all gender equality targets by 2030.  “Business as usual will not provide the solution,” he said.  Indeed, the policy review and the development assistance framework guidance both emphasized that sustainable development would be impossible if women and girls were left behind.  However, gender equality had become a focus area of development programming, he said, adding that 90 per cent of the 27 assistance frameworks that had been launched in 2016 had featured at least one outcome level of supporting equality and women’s empowerment.  Financing was a powerful instrument to break silos and achieve the 2030 Agenda Goals.  However, that required the alignment of public and private financing.  In order to be fit and funded for purpose, the development system must become a smart investor, build financial coalitions for transformative change, influence larger financial flows and use money as a unifier and vehicle for increased coherence.

Mr. VINES said that ILO and its tripartite constituents considered the 2030 Agenda as a great opportunity for advancing the operationalization of the system’s norms and standards and that the anchoring of the 2030 Agenda in those frameworks was the key to greater coherence and more integrated approaches at the global and country levels.  Diversity was one of the greatest strengths of the United Nations system, he said, adding that ILO brought important assets to the system, such as its technical expertise and capacity-building experience in policy areas related to the work.  At the last International Labour Conference in June 2016, ILO members had adopted a resolution on advancing social justice through decent work as follow up to the 2008 Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalization.  That had made multiple references to ILO action to effectively assist member States in the planning, implementation and reporting on progress towards the 2030 Agenda Goals.  ILO had also taken important steps to integrate the Sustainable Development Goals in its programming and planning, which had helped to fulfil Member States’ key requests.  Among other things, he emphasized that, given its specialized agency status, ILO needed to seek guidance of its governing body on the implementation of the policy review.

In the ensuing discussion, the panel took questions and heard comments on such topics as transparency, partnerships, interagency cooperation, the role of country coordinators and their relations with non-resident agencies, data use, the major challenges faced by executive heads and operational linkages between development, humanitarian situations and peacebuilding efforts.

Ms. CLARK said a functions and capacity review should provide a clear idea of who was doing what.  Giving an example, she said UNDP had no normative or monitoring function in the area of human rights, but it was doing “hard yards on the ground” with regard to human rights institutions.  What might look like overlap might in fact be a functional division, she said, adding that a good review should lead to a more coherent system.  With regard to non-resident agencies, she said they were welcome to make use of resident coordinators as their representatives.  Turning to data, she said a lot of data was sectorial in nature.  Individual agencies had a lot of capacity in that regard, but more could be done to link data sets.  Challenges facing executive heads included volatility, unpredictability and emergency situations.  Addressing those challenges meant building resilience, flexibility and being nimble when situations swiftly changed.  That applied to funding, as well, she said.

Mr. LAKE said the United Nations was facing an unprecedented level of scepticism today.  The answer was to show that it was achieving greater results, he said, highlighting that participants had emphasized the importance of judging processes by the results they achieved.  Joint funding mechanisms were not an end in themselves, but a useful way to increase resources and undertake joint action.  Disaggregated data was also important because the use of averages as a way of measuring progress had been a significant problem with the Millennium Development Goals.

Mr. ABDULLA recalled a recent meeting of the United Nations Development Group to discuss strategic priorities.  Much time had been spent distilling what agencies could focus on in 2017, but with a longer time line.  He also underscored the role of regional teams, describing them as a link between Headquarters and countries that could be strengthened.  With regard to funding and financing, he said much had been heard about taking an integrated seamless approach.  However, the truth was that funding was often driven into silos.

Mr. OSOTIMEHIN said data needed to be looked at from a different perspective.  The Secretary-General needed to take leadership in the area, he said, underscoring how data from different organizations needed to be brought together.  The United Nations could act as a convenor in bringing together countries and others, such as mobile telephone operators, to collect real-time data that would inform development planning.  He also emphasized how data conferred legal status on individuals in given countries.  If someone was not in a national database, he or she did not belong, and therefore they could not benefit from planning.

Mr. GLEMAREC noted the absence of clear guidance regarding the coherence of operational activities.  A main challenge for 2017 would be to establish high-quality strategic plans.  From the outset, he added, the United Nations system should think as a system, across all its pillars.  Once a theory of change was developed, the next step would be to identify who was best placed to deal with an issue, thus avoiding overlap and encouraging collaboration.  Aligning finances with strategy would meanwhile require a critical mass of resources.  Transparency would be a precondition, as well.

Mr. VINES said from the ILO’s perspective, funding-associated partnerships were important, but so too were those that involved sharing knowledge.  ILO was actively extending relationships with the private sector, which was increasingly interested in becoming engaged.

Participating were the representatives of Ecuador (on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China), Netherlands, Switzerland, Maldives (on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States), South Africa, United Kingdom, Norway, Brazil, Australia, Belgium, Republic of Korea and Honduras.

For information media. Not an official record.