United Nations Needs Strategic Economic and Social Council to Hold Development System Accountable, Deputy Secretary-General Tells Retreat on Body’s Reform

2 February 2018

United Nations Needs Strategic Economic and Social Council to Hold Development System Accountable, Deputy Secretary-General Tells Retreat on Body’s Reform

Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, at the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) retreat, Bohemian National Hall, in New York today:

Thank you, Madame President, for convening this important and timely retreat.  As you all know, we have now entered the third year of implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  The hope that was palpable in the General Assembly hall in September 2015 is still with us today.

The ability of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to cross the traditional boundaries of international development and arrive on the agenda of leaders from cities to the research community, and from business to banking, has been truly inspiring.  And the degree to which Member States feel ownership of this Agenda, as demonstrated each year at the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF), is also extremely encouraging.

But protracted conflicts, humanitarian emergencies, attacks on human rights and seismic political changes have taken some of the wind out of the 2030 sails.  Our destination remains the same but the pace of implementation is far slower than what this transformative agenda requires.

Like the Secretary-General, I too am impatient for a change of gear.  As long as we cling to an economic and social model that drives exclusion and environmental destruction, people die, opportunities are missed, the seeds of division and future conflicts are sown and the full force of climate change becomes ever more likely.

At this retreat, you are looking at the role of the Economic and Social Council in advance of General Assembly consultations on its reform.  In truth, we need more people in the world to look to ECOSOC for the impetus we need to ratchet up our SDG response.  Theme 2018 Global to Local is very apt, as development reforms look at fit-for-purpose going from Global to Local.  And yet they should.

I have said on many occasions that ECOSOC has the potential to become a “destination of choice” for the sustainable development community — the place where policymakers and stakeholders from every sector come together to grapple with this new integrated Agenda, and to identify the best ways to deal with our common global development challenges.

The world needs a United Nations that is stronger in promoting sustainable development and fair globalization.  And the United Nations needs an ECOSOC that is strategic, forward-looking and able to hold the UN development system accountable for results.

The ECOSOC we have today is not there yet, but it can get there and there are plenty of reasons for optimism.  I would like to touch on just three of these and would ask that you bear these in mind through this retreat and when preparing for the forthcoming negotiations.

First, I had the honour earlier this week to participate in the ECOSOC Youth Forum — and allow me to congratulate the President and the Secretariat for a job well done.  This was a wonderful example of a forward-looking ECOSOC in action.  The Youth Forum embraced openness and innovation.  It provided a meaningful connection with the Goals being reviewed at the HLPF this year.  It tackled the inter-connected nature of urbanization, resilience and more.  And it empowered those who attended and found ways to engage those who could not.

We see similar dynamism at the Commission on the Status of Women, Commission for Disabilities and perhaps even the Statistical Commission.

More can be done to energize the Financing for Development Forum, the Science, Technology and Innovation Forum, the Commission on Population and Development, and the Partnership Forum or the Commission on Social Development.  These are key arenas for addressing important issues, each with their own added value.

But each also has the potential to deliver much, much more for Member States and for the SDGs as a whole.  How can these be better shaped to meet their mandates and adapt to the new 2030 Agenda landscape?  How can they infuse the energy of young people into their midst?  How can they deliver more for those who are attending and connect better with those who are not?  How can they affect change where it matters most — at the country level?  And lastly, how can we enhance synergies and reduce duplication between the General Assembly and ECOSOC’s coverage of these and other issues?

A second reason for optimism relates to ECOSOC’s role and potential in overseeing and steering the work of the United Nations development system.

As outlined in the Secretary-General’s December report, a strengthened ECOSOC, empowered to hold the system accountable, and to challenge both Member States and the United Nations development system to reach further progress in a coordinated way, is a fundamental part of the strategic approach.

The Secretary-General has put forward proposals that would strengthen the role of ECOSOC in providing guidance and oversight to the system.  This is part of an equation that includes other elements, which Member States are also addressing through the processes of ECOSOC reform and alignment with the 2030 Agenda.  We look to ECOSOC for its leadership in taking forward the proposals of the Secretary-General.  This is a unique opportunity to build the development system the world needs, to deliver on the future it wants.

The third and final reason for believing that ECOSOC is ready to fulfil its role as the go-to global forum for sustainable development related to the High-Level Political Forum.  The ECOSOC President and Bureau, together with the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, have done a tremendous job in making the HLPF open and innovative.  Now, however, like SDG implementation itself, the HLPF must move to the next level.

We must make greater use of the time allocated to the Forum.  We must find ways to allow for a greater exchange of best practices between Member States presenting their voluntary reports — whether within the official meetings or around the meetings themselves.  We must facilitate greater engagement between stakeholders, with an emphasis on solutions and collaboration.  And lastly, we must connect better with the outside world, with all those who work day in day out for the transformation at the heart of the 2030 Agenda. 

The Economic and Social Council system has a bright future.  I wish you the very best in identifying the specific changes that can enable it to maximize its potential, for the betterment of people and planet.

For information media. Not an official record.