To a burst of applause, the General Assembly adopted today a landmark consensus resolution on repositioning the United Nations development system, hailed by Secretary‑General António Guterres as ushering in the most ambitious and comprehensive transformation of those activities in decades.
The six‑part resolution would also set the foundations to place sustainable development at the heart of the Organization, he said. Pledging his full commitment to the resolution, he announced the immediate establishment of a transition team under the Deputy Secretary‑General’s leadership. “In the end, reform is about putting in place the mechanisms to make a real difference in the lives of people,” he said.
Noting that national ownership, with a strong focus on accountability and results, would guide the system every step of the way, he said United Nations teams would now be better able to tailor their overall response to country priorities. “We now can resolve a historic deficit in our coordination function, and institutionalize what works, across the board,” he said.
The resolution also gave practical meaning to a collective promise to advance the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, he said. While his preference would have been to fund the Resident Coordinator system through the United Nations regular budget, the proposed hybrid funding solution was the best possible alternative, and he appealed to Member States to provide immediate support. “We will soon enter year four of the 2030 Agenda,” he said. “We don’t have a moment to lose.”
Miroslav Lajčák (Slovakia), President of the General Assembly, acknowledged that while not seen by everyone as perfect, the text was the legitimate outcome of a multilateral process. “It shows what we are capable of,” he said. “We can compromise… and move this Organization forward.” The Assembly must now consider the Secretary‑General’s implementation plan and turn its attention to the funding arrangements that would mobilize badly needed resources. It must also bring the momentum to the Economic and Social Council alignment review, and importantly, into its own daily work.
By its terms, the Assembly welcomed a revitalized strategic and results‑oriented United Nations Development Assistance Framework as the most important instrument for planning and implementing development activities. It requested the Secretary‑General to lead the Organization’s development system in implementing “a new generation” of United Nations country teams, with needs‑based tailored country presence.
In that context, the Assembly decided to create an independent, impartial and empowered coordination function for the development system, separating the functions of the Resident Coordinator from those of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) resident representative.
It requested the Secretary‑General to strengthen the authority of Resident Coordinators as the “highest‑ranking representatives” on the ground, notably by having country team members report to them on their contributions towards achieving the 2030 Agenda at the country level. It would provide annual funding for the Resident Coordinator system in line with the Secretary‑General’s report (document A/72/684-E/2018/7), starting 1 January 2019.
By further terms, the Assembly endorsed a phased approach to revamping regional structures, requesting the Secretary‑General to implement, as part of the first phase, the proposed measures to optimize functions and enhance collaboration, and to provide options for reprofiling the United Nations regional assets to the Economic and Social Council at its “operational activities for development” segment in 2019.
In terms of strategic direction, the Assembly took note of the Secretary‑General’s proposal to merge the New York‑based Executive Boards of funds and programmes, and stressed the need to improve monitoring and reporting on system‑wide results.
Significantly improving voluntary and grant‑based funding was also vital and the Assembly welcomed the Secretary‑General’s call for a “funding compact”. It took note of his proposals to bring core resources to a minimum 30 per cent level in the next five years, and to double both inter‑agency pooled funds to $3.4 billion and entity‑specific thematic funds to $800 million by 2023. As a starting point, the Assembly requested the development system to allocate at least 15 per cent of non‑core resources for development to joint activities, and among other things, comply with the highest international transparency standards.
A Secretariat official then announced that implementing the resolution would require $255 million annually, a major portion of which would require extrabudgetary resources. The Secretariat’s share of the United Nations Development Group cost‑sharing arrangement for 2019 would range from $13 to $16 million, and related requirements would be submitted to the General Assembly for approval at its seventy‑third session.
Speaking before the adoption, Algeria’s delegate, in his capacity as co‑facilitator, said that while the resolution marked the beginning of a new era, it was also a first step, with bold and new decisions that required collective work for a smooth transition. He looked forward to a regular exchange of ideas throughout the implementation process, adding that the Secretariat’s technical note explaining parts of the text would be a key input into the implementation plan. He was also encouraged that the entire development system and United Nations Development Group would be fully engaged in that process. The review of the reinvigorated Resident Coordinator system would be another milestone in building a strong system supported by sustainable funding.
Denmark’s delegate, also a co‑facilitator, called today an historic day, with the ambition expressed matching that of the 2030 Agenda. Member States called on the development system to act on the resolution as soon as possible. Indeed, multilateral cooperation was a balance between optimal efficiency and maximum legitimacy. While there were different opinions on the recommendations, they nonetheless had gained maximum legitimacy, with support from all Member States.
The representative of the United States, noting that her country was the largest contributor to the development system, said the resolution changed the way the Organization would run those activities. She expected the reforms would lead to less bureaucracy, and more flexibility for agencies to act quickly, focus on core mandates and make tough choices about priorities. Success would create a system that was more responsive to those who needed it most. Noting that the resolution limited increases in assessed contributions, which was critical, she said the fact that it was accepted by consensus sent a strong message to the world. “We have empowered the Secretary‑General to make important changes,” she said.
India’s delegate said development system reform proposals flowed from a collective desire to improve delivery. Yet, they came at a time of severe resource constraints. That stark contradiction had been a major fault line in the debates leading to today. From the start, India had supported the Secretary‑General’s reform proposals, especially to delegate authority and increase accountability. However, the draft had been modified substantially, with funding modalities now different than the Secretary‑General’s initial proposal. The volume of funding was also unclear, while the proposed enhancement of cost‑sharing and levies on earmarked funding could lead to possible shortfalls. Nonetheless, India supported the text and looked forward to the implementation report to be presented by the Secretary‑General.
Following the adoption, delegates widely recognized that the resolution represented the beginning of a new era. “There is no better time for reform than now,” said Ethiopia’s representative, speaking on behalf of the African States. Yet, it was only the first step, she said, calling on Member States to ensure the smooth implementation of the plan. Sharing several concerns, she said the reform must unfold alongside an inclusive dialogue with relevant Governments. “The truly challenging part — the implementation phase — begins now,” said Bulgaria’s representative, on behalf of the European Union, pledging his support for action.
Delegates broadly voiced their commitment, including those from China, Guatemala, Mexico and Brazil, with some requesting regular updates on the plan’s implementation. However, for the reform to succeed, a change in mindset must be initiated, said Egypt’s delegate, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China. Warning that members would bear the brunt of costs if the resolution was poorly implemented, he outlined several essential ways to avoid that, including by ensuring transparency and inclusiveness. Member States must have access to the implementation plan and provide their input to the Secretary‑General. “With this resolution, we have shown our solidarity,” he said. “Now is the time to deliver on promises.”
Many delegates underlined the gravity of the current development landscape and the need to achieve concrete gains in reaching the 2030 Agenda goals. “The stakes are extremely high,” said the representative of Maldives, speaking on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States, underlining the critical role of the Resident Coordinator system. Echoing a common concern, she voiced reservations about the unpredictable funding structure and hope that the Secretary‑General would address the issue.
Indeed, the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals hinged on the successful implementation of the plan, many declared. The representative of Bangladesh, speaking on behalf of the least developed countries, welcomed provisions that called for targeted action for States seeking to graduate from the group, while Canada’s delegate, speaking also for Australia and New Zealand, said a strong implementation plan was critical for the success of the development system itself, which would work on eliminating any fragmented efforts on the ground. In that vein, many delegates requested the regular monitoring of progress, with Rwanda’s delegate noting that the implementation phase would in fact determine the success of the reform and subsequently the outcome of the 2030 Agenda.
Also delivering statements were representatives of Uruguay, Philippines, Ecuador, Indonesia, South Africa, Switzerland, Norway, Russian Federation, Japan, Chile, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the Republic of Korea.