Economic and Social Council Adopts Resolution, as Integration Segment Explores Role of Frontier Technologies in Fulfilling Sustainable Development Goals

ECOSOC/6998
8 July 2019
2019 Session, 27th & 28th Meetings* (AM & PM)

Economic and Social Council Adopts Resolution, as Integration Segment Explores Role of Frontier Technologies in Fulfilling Sustainable Development Goals

The Economic and Social Council adopted a resolution today on the process for assessing the coherence of the United Nations development work, as delegates in its day-long integration segment explored how the system can more cohesively help Governments advance peaceful, prosperous societies.

The meeting — held under the theme “Empowering people and ensuring inclusiveness and equality” — takes place ahead of the Council’s High-level Political Forum for Sustainable Development, which will run from 8 to 19 July.

By the terms of its resolution — titled “Progress in the implementation of General Assembly resolution 71/243 on the quadrennial comprehensive policy review of operational activities for development of the United Nations system” — the Council requested that the Secretary-General’s annual reports to the Council’s operational activities for development segment be comprehensive, evidence-based and analytical.

Opening the day-long integration segment, Secretary-General António Guterres said harnessing the power of frontier technologies will be vital for bringing the United Nations into the twenty-first century.  “I strongly believe that without these new technologies and future technological breakthroughs, it will be impossible for us to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals,” he said.

Presenting the annual overview report by the Chief Executives Board for Coordination, he emphasized that policy chiefs have carefully examined issues relating to artificial intelligence, cyberspace, biotechnology and new weaponry.

He said he had asked it to examine the opportunities and challenges presented by frontier technologies and the fourth industrial revolution, as well as potential entry points for system-wide engagement, with the aim of supporting delivery of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and all international commitments in a manner suitable for the digital age.

The Board, which comprises leaders from 31 organizations, was created as institutional mechanism to draw the disparate parts of a decentralized system of specialized bodies — each with its own constitution, mandate, governing bodies and budgets — into a cohesive and functioning whole.

The day also featured three panel discussions — “Pursuing a people-centred 2030 Agenda on a health planet”; “Prosperous and peaceful societies in the Sustainable Development Goals era”; and “Partnering for people, planet and prosperity” — during which delegates discussed the links among Goals 4 (quality education), 8 (inclusive growth and decent work), 10 (inequalities), 13 (climate action), 16 (inclusive societies) and 17 (global partnership) to be discussed by the High-level Political Forum.  They broadly presented ideas for integrating their implementation, based on efforts by the Council subsidiary bodies, and, more broadly, the United Nations development system. 

Also today, the Council Vice-President updated delegates on the appointment of eight members of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, namely Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim (Chad), Anne Nuorgam (Finland), Phoolman Chaudhary (Nepal), Geoffrey Scott Roth (United States), Simon Freddy Condo Riveros (Bolivia), Dario Jose Mejia Montalvo (Colombia), Aleksei Tsykarev (Russian Federation) and Hannah McGlade (Australia). 

Liu Zhenmin, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, and Valentin Rybakov (Belarus), Council Vice-President, made closing remarks.

The Council will reconvene at 9 a.m., Tuesday, 9 July, to open its High-level Political Forum for Sustainable Development.

Opening Remarks

INGA RHONDA KING (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines), President of the Economic and Social Council, said the integration segment provides space to take an overall look at the outcomes of the Council’s subsidiary bodies, especially as related to the Forum’s main theme, "Empowering people and ensuring inclusiveness and equality".  The segment will bring together the analysis and policy proposals from throughout the United Nations system and pave the way for a thematic review on 9 July.  A critical element of the segment’s redefined mandate is the introduction of the Secretary-General’s annual overview report of the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination.

VALENTIN RYBAKOV (Belarus), Council Vice-President and Chair of the integration segment, said the theme “Empowering people and ensuring inclusiveness and equality” will explore interlinkages among the “five P’s” of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development:  People, planet, prosperity, peace and partnership.  The segment will reflect the messages of Council subsidiary bodies and the United Nations system as a whole, and include a review of the Chief Executives Board.  The Council needs more visibility, he asserted, stressing that the Forum offers an opportunity to highlight its work.

ANTÓNIO GUTERRES, Secretary-General of the United Nations, introduced the “Annual overview report of the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination” (document E/2019/10) and updated the Forum on recent inter-agency cooperation.  The report contains highlights of system-wide activities as well as insights into the progress made by the Organization’s leaders in helping Member States attain the Sustainable Development Goals.  He has taken a less formal, more focused approach to the Board’s sessions, he explained, exploring fewer issues in greater depth and inviting senior managers involved in peace and security to participate.  For the first time, the Youth Envoy was invited to attend Board deliberations, which cover strategic and cross-cutting matters and focus on common working methods.   The goal is for each Board member to leave each session with a shared understanding and vision of the United Nations priorities with clarity about each entity’s contribution and a conviction to lead courageously.

Emphasizing that his priority is to bring the United Nations into the twenty-first century, he said he asked the Board to examine the opportunities and challenges presented by frontier technologies and the fourth industrial revolution, as well as potential entry points for system-wide engagement, with the aim of supporting delivery of the 2030 Agenda, the Paris Agreement on climate change and all international commitments in a manner suitable for the digital age.  “I strongly believe that without these new technologies and future technological breakthroughs, it will be impossible for us to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals,” he said, emphasizing that policy chiefs have carefully looked at issues relating to artificial intelligence, cyberspace, biotechnology and new weaponry.  Heads of management and administration meanwhile have explored ways to integrate frontier technologies and new work methods into business processes.  This summer, the United Nations System Staff College will roll out a tool kit to assist system entities in scaling up innovation, he said, noting it will also be available to Member States. 

Citing other examples of interagency cooperation, he pointed to the Board’s 2018 adoption of a common position on drug policies, as well as an endorsement of the United Nations Disability Inclusion Strategy and a series of measures to address sexual harassment.  In addition, Board members were engaged on the Strategy for Sustainability Management covering the 2020-2030 period aimed at mainstreaming environmental considerations into programmes and operations.  At its last session in May, the Board issued a joint appeal for the Climate Action Summit in September, outlining United Nations actions and targets in the areas of migration, adaptation, finance and innovation.

OMAR HILALE (Morocco), emphasizing the importance of a consistent approach throughout the United Nations system, highlighted the need to strengthen the capacity of the Organization’s various entities to assist Member States in implementing the Sustainable Development Goals.  He also welcomed the Secretary-General’s initiative to take advantage of new technologies, noting the ways in which that approach can help developing States.

The representative of Mexico said an awareness about new technologies and innovation is emerging within the Organization, welcoming the work done by the Chief Executives Board.  He sought more information on how the United Nations is harnessing technology to achieve sustainable development.  He also applauded the Board’s efforts to help developing countries strengthen their capacities to use new technologies and innovations and avoid creating further inequality.

SIMONA PETROVA, Secretary of the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination, said new technologies must be used in a balanced way without creating further inequality.  The Board is mindful that education and retraining are key to dealing with the fourth industrial revolution, in which artificial intelligence is affecting everyday life.  The Board is also aware that 40 per cent of people are outside the “grid” with no connectivity.  Some documents and tools are available, including a road map to cope with artificial intelligence, and a web-based platform that enables United Nations entities to share their experiences with innovation, which means “doing things differently — and doing different things” rather than simply “using gadgets”.

Interactive Dialogue I

The Council then held an interactive dialogue on the theme “Pursuing a people-centred 2030 Agenda on a healthy planet”.  Moderated by Abdoulaye Mar Dieye, Assistant Secretary-General and Assistant Administrator and Director of the Bureau for Policy and Programme Support, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), it featured presentations by Cheikh Niang (Senegal), Chair of the Commission for Social Development at its fifty-seventh session; Sakiko Fukuda-Parr, Vice-Chair of the United Nations Committee for Development Policy; and Charlotte Petri Gornitzka, Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).  Juan Sandoval Mendiolea (Mexico) was lead discussant.

Mr. MAR DIEYE said the 2030 Agenda is complex.  “We are not moving as a bullet train,” he said, underscoring the need to deliver a sense of urgency and inviting participants to discuss the trade-offs and synergies in implementing the Goals, ways to accelerate their implementation and methods for ensuring that coordination and integration leads to greater results.

Mr. NIANG, recalling that the Commission on Social Development has worked tirelessly to place people at the centre of development, said the only way to raise living standards in an inclusive manner is to pay equal attention to the three pillars of sustainable development — economic, social and environmental.  Fundamental changes to values, behaviours and mindsets are needed, as is a more fair distribution of economic gains and more sustainable use of natural resources.  Achieving a people-centred 2030 Agenda requires win-win or triple-win situations, he said, explaining for example that creating decent jobs in green economic sectors can not only prolong economic growth, but also reduce poverty, prevent environmental degradation and slow the depletion of natural resources.  To address inequalities, the Commission has emphasized the need for strong political will, strong institutions and the right mix of public policies.

Ms. FUKUDA-PARR said it is worth looking at why the 2030 Agenda is written the way it is.  During discussions on its formulation, everyone recognized that business as usual was not going to work.  Recalling that development can create poverty and environmental destruction, she said the Committee for Development Policy emphasizes coherent development, whereby one goal — such as industrialization — does not lead to “pushing people behind”.  She went on to underscore the importance of Goal 10, stating that inequalities which obstruct reform must be addressed.

Ms. GORNITZKA said that while the Millennium Development Goals involved very concrete targets and objectives, the Sustainable Development Goals are much more comprehensive.  UNICEF views the 2030 Agenda through the lens of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  Investing in children early is not just right thing to do, it really pays off, she added, pointing to an ever-growing pool of evidence which supports that view.  For example, vaccinating children not only saves 2 million to 3 million lives a year, but every dollar spent on vaccinations yields $44 in economic benefits.  Family-friendly policies, such as paid parental leave, meanwhile contribute to greater productivity and stable workforces.

JUAN SANDOVAL MENDIOLEA (Mexico), lead discussant, said a repository of best practices is needed so that successes can be easily replicated.  The Economic and Social Council has improved coordination, including among its subsidiary bodies.  Pointing to Haiti as a case study, he said that by breaking down silos and strengthening the new resident coordinator system, it is possible to move from humanitarian action to development.  The Security Council also recently adopted a resolution to create a United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti, designed to support the Government in strengthening political stability and good governance.  Although the Office could have been mandated with stronger development components, it is a step in the right direction towards making peace a reality.  The resolution underlines the need for the Office to maintain close collaboration, coordination and information sharing among all United Nations political, development, humanitarian and financial entities, he explained.

Ms. FUKUDA-PARR added that inequality is multidimensional and technology is not neutral.

Mr. NIANG said that in a rapidly changing world, the least prepared will lose out and the most prepared will succeed.

Ms. GORNITZKA said nutrition is not just an issue of food.  Mothers need time and space to breastfeed babies, she said, underscoring that the Sustainable Development Goals are different from the Millennium Development Goals.

Mr. MENDIOLEA said that any inclusive policy should include women.

Mr. NIANG stressed that economic growth can leave vulnerable groups behind and underscored the need to create a win-win situation for all.

Ms. FUKUDA-PARR, asked by Mr. DIEYE to rank Sustainable Development Goals in order of importance, replied that the 2030 Agenda is holistic and that the Goals are interdependent.  That said, Goals 10 (reduced inequalities) and 16 (peace, justice, strong institutions) are extremely important.  Inequality has social, economic and political effects, and can lead to inefficient policy choices, she said, noting that within the home, women carry out unpaid work, nurturing children, without which society could not function.

Mr. MAR DIEYE, pointing to UNDP’s upcoming report on inequality, said asymmetry in global governance is not often discussed, yet very often, gaps in governance lead to inequality.  Global and national policies need to be aligned, he said, explaining that the absence of global governance on financial flows can have an impact on the national level.  It will also be difficult to balance the emerging trend of artificial intelligence without global governance, he said, suggesting that the United Nations could be a locus for such action.

Mr. MENDIOLEA (Mexico) said that while there is much talk about the 17 Goals, thought must also be given to the 169 targets that underpin them.  He underscored the power of the Technology Facilitation Mechanism as a repository of good practice.  He added that inequality starts at home among siblings, with girls doing certain tasks that boys do not.  Addressing that issue means undertaking significant societal change to foster a healthy social fabric, with everyone able to develop their potential on an equal footing.

The representative of Haiti said the causes of insecurity and instability in his country are well known.  All stakeholders, including the Council and the Security Council, agree that peace and security are essential for achieving sustainable development.  He emphasized the need for holistic, integrated actions, focused on the three pillars of the United Nations.

Mr. NIANG said the most effective policies for achieving the Goals should include effective, progressive and gender-sensitive tax systems; equal access to quality education, health care, safe drinking water and sanitation; better social protections; more employment and decent job opportunities, particularly in rural areas, alongside stronger labour institutions; greater social inclusion; and enhanced social capital, reduced vulnerability and strengthened resilience.

Ms. GORNITZKA said that UNICEF’s recommends a rapid expansion of child and family benefits, better preparation for youth, with the skills required in a fast-changing economy, and coherent global and national governance that reflects a whole-of-society and whole-of-child approach.  “It’s really time to make space for meaningful child participation,” she said, also recommending that full use be made of frontier technology to empower children and to close a digital gap that leaves millions of children with no Internet access.

Ms. FUKUDA-PARR, also stressing the need to address inequality and marginalization, said human rights and human dignity must be important policy foundations.  Policy agendas must go far beyond social protection.  Analysis of voluntary national reports by the Committee on Development Policy has found that most national programmes for addressing inequality emphasize social services for the poor, but it is essential for Governments to address such issues as taxation and illicit financial flows.  She also recommended a more critical look at development indicators, saying that a shortfall in disaggregated indicators short-changes some of the promises set out in the 2030 Agenda.

Mr. MENDIOLEA (Mexico) said there has been a paradigm shift within the United Nations, with development occupying a central place in its work as never before.  Development is the most fundamental issue of the twenty-first century and the Council has an important role to play in that regard, he asserted.

Interactive Dialogue II

The Council then held an interactive dialogue on the theme “Prosperous and peaceful societies in the SDG era”.  Moderated by Alicia Bárcena, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), it featured presentations by Alena Kupchyna (Belarus), Chair of the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice; Mher Margaryan (Armenia), Chair of the Commission on the Status of Women; and Moussa Oumarou, Deputy Director-General for Field Operations and Partnerships, International Labour Organization (ILO).  Guillermo Roque Fernández de Soto Valderrama (Colombia) was a lead discussant.

Ms. BÁRCENA said that four years after the adoption of the 2030 Agenda, the world is at a crossroads, amid slow economic growth, trade frictions, financial volatility, inequality and technological challenges.  She said jobs, a key factor in addressing inequality, will be lost due to technology replacing human labour.  She posed three questions for the panel, centred on how to overcome the most pressing challenges to ensuring prosperous and peaceful societies, what the United Nations can do in that regard, and how its coordination and effectiveness can be improved.

Ms. KUPCHYNA said cybercrime, terrorism and other transnational crimes are a serious threat to prosperous and peaceful societies.  While technologies offer innovative tools to tackle crime, they also create additional threats.  Underscoring the need for comprehensive prevention and criminal justice responses, she said access to justice for all and the fight against corruption are essential.  For its part, the United Nations must focus on fostering the mutually supporting character of its work, implementing the 2030 Agenda, and strengthening institutions to become more effective and inclusive, notably through technical assistance and capacity-building.  She welcomed the horizontal cooperation established between her Commission and the Commission on the Status of Women and other bodies, inviting participants to attend the United Nations Crime Congress to be held in Kyoto in April 2020.

Mr. MARGARYAN cited poverty and inequality as among the most pressing challenges to creating peaceful, prosperous societies, and pointed to women’s empowerment as an essential element to address them.  Climate change disproportionately affects women, placing them at greater risk, he said, calling for more gender-sensitive climate change action.  Efforts to foster peace and security are more sustainable when women participate, he stressed, drawing attention to the twentieth anniversary of Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) in 2020 and pressing the United Nations to deepen its commitment.  Noting that voluntary reviews in the Commission on the Status of Women contribute to improved accountability, he said the United Nations — and the Economic and Social Council subsidiary bodies in particular — can share responsibilities for achieving results while exercising their comparative advantages.

Mr. OUMAROU, recalling that the ILO was established 100 years ago, said that in its Centenary Declaration, its 183 member States identified numerous challenges, among them, wealth inequality, technological change, the aging population, youth unemployment and climate change.  He said Sustainable Development Goal 8 (decent jobs) is important because it enables the achievement of other Goals related to poverty, hunger and equality.  Underscoring the need to pursue inclusive economic growth that creates jobs, he said the United Nations must accelerate efforts to fulfil the Sustainable Development Goals and strengthen multilateralism, using new technology to enable people to achieve their potential.  ILO has stood the test of time thanks to the tripartite governance system, he said, urging the United Nations to work closely and effectively with civil society.

Mr. VALDERRAMA said Colombia has been at the forefront of efforts to realize the 2030 Agenda since the framework’s drafting, stressing that the Sustainable Development Goals must be a vector for growth.  Colombia has fully incorporated the 17 Goals into its national development plan — which serves as a road map for policy-making and public investment.  Highlighting gaps between rural and urban areas, he said Colombia must mobilize resources towards a common purpose.  Equity can be achieved through legal means, notably entrepreneurship, he said, stressing that sustainable development cannot be achieved in the absence of peace.  Since the peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—People's Army (FARC), the country has continued on a path of stabilization and peacebuilding, carrying out 24 productive projects to reintegrate former combatants and families into society.  Women play an essential role in building prosperous and peaceful societies, he said, noting that the United Nations — in particular the Peacebuilding Commission — provides an ideal platform for addressing issues that cut across peace and security, development and peacebuilding.

The representative of Cambodia emphasized that creation of peaceful and prosperous societies requires sustainable financing and political will.  Calling peace a prerequisite for development, he said that since the end of conflict in Cambodia, poverty has declined dramatically and the economy is now among the fastest growing in the region.  Reforms to the United Nations development system will succeed only if funding is provided over the long term.

In concluding remarks, Mr. OUMAROU reiterated the importance of decent work in the fight against inequality.

Mr. MARGARYAN called for increased investment in women’s empowerment.

Ms. KUPCHYNA emphasized the importance of regional and international cooperation and partnerships.

Ms. BÁRCENA said countries must move towards a vision of human security, rather than national security.

Interactive Dialogue III

The Council then held an interactive dialogue on the theme “Partnering for people, planet and prosperity”.  Moderated by Elliott Harris, Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development and Chief Economist, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, it featured presentations by Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, Chair of the Committee of Experts on Public Administration and Chancellor of the Nelson Mandela University in Port Elizabeth, South Africa; Mahmoud Mohieldin, Senior Vice President, World Bank Group; and Satya S. Tripathi, Assistant Secretary General, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).  Participating as lead discussants were Jukka Salovaara (Finland), Courtenay Rattray (Jamaica) and Kira Christianne Danganan Azucena (Philippines).

Mr. RYBAKOV (Belarus) said the discussion would focus on how integrated policies are essential to overcoming silo approaches in the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development and in addressing trade-offs.

Mr. HARRIS, noting that development policies tend to be viewed in silo terms, said he hoped the discussion would lead to a better understanding of the challenges involved.  It should also look at the kinds of transformative policies needed to advance the 2030 Agenda, taking into account such challenges as climate change.

Ms. FRASER-MOLEKETI, speaking via video-teleconference, said Goal 16 — regarding peace, justice and strong institutions — offers a model of governance required for the implementation of other Goals.  She noted that Council resolution 2018/26 encourages Governments to develop institutional arrangements and mechanisms that would support coherent and integrated policies for implementing the Goals through sustained leadership, dialogue and partnership.  Goal 16 is the main “enabling Goal” and must be more visible.  She went on to emphasize that transformative policies require systemic change and holistic approaches, alongside the application of principles of effective governance to institutions at all levels.  She added that Goal 16 should be reviewed in depth at the upcoming High-level Political Forum. 

Mr. TRIPATHI, noting that only 23 per cent of the environment-related Goals are on track to achievement, stressed the importance of political will as well as interfacing science policy.  Sustainable production and consumption is vital for attaining all of the Goals, he said, underscoring the role that green fiscal policies can play.  Looking ahead to the climate action summit in September, he said the United Nations system must be innovative, inclusive and results-oriented to help Member States deliver on the 2030 Agenda.

Mr. MOHIELDIN summarized key points in the World Bank’s latest report on global economic prospects, including escalating trade tensions, financial market stresses, lower than expected growth in major economies and the impact of climate change.  The World Bank has revised downward its growth forecast for all regions without exception, he said, adding that according to one study, it will be virtually impossible at the current trajectory for Africa to achieve the Goals.  Emphasizing the need to address data, financing and implementation gaps, he said that taking implementation to the community level can help address the silo issue.  Noting the five summits to be held at Headquarters in September, he said the international community must work fast and hard to meet deadlines, because the information that has come in from the field so far is not encouraging.

MR. SALOVAARA (Finland) said all transformative action requires leadership.  In Finland, that leadership is provided by the Government, alongside engagement from all sectors of society from business to individuals.  Emphasizing the value of long-term planning, he said all political actors in Finland are involved in coming up with policy frameworks that endure beyond given parliamentary terms.  Sustainable development is also integrated into the national budget drawn up every year by the Ministry for Finance.  He added that while the Government sets priorities, there must be room for individual commitments, of which there have been 2,000 so far in Finland.

Mr. RATTRAY (Jamaica) said his country’s first-ever national development plan, Vision 2030 Jamaica, represents a paradigm shift in how best to achieve sustainable development.  The objective was to adapt adapting the Goals to Jamaica’s national context.  While significant strides have been made in building the capacity required to monitor progress, the ability to evaluate data is lagging.  The United Nations system can help by providing solutions that are grounded in national realities.  Noting that Jamaica, like other small island developing States, is severely impacted by climate change, he said the Government has developed a climate change policy framework and action plan that goes well beyond resilience.

Ms. AZUCENA (Philippines) underscored the role of voluntary national reports in focusing attention on synergies between Government and non-Government development action.  Efforts by the Philippines to achieve the Goals emphasize the quality of growth rather than the mere achievement of growth.  On gaps and challenges to integrated strategies, she cited meaningful engagement among stakeholders and data support, among other things.  Innovative approaches to data and knowledge systems must be put into place to ensure evidence based and integrated policymaking.  She added that implementation of the Goals must address root causes of inequality and poverty while also phasing out unsustainable practices through, for example, the banning of single-use plastics.

Closing Remarks

LIU ZHENMIN, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, said today’s discussions enabled Member States to take a step back and reflect on the need for greater integration and coherence in order to achieve the Goals.  Mobilizing Governments and societies around the Goals must be a priority, he said, warning that many people risk being pushed behind by such factors as natural disasters, unemployment, lack of respect for human rights and deep-rooted discrimination.  Recalling the Goals’ pledge to leave no one behind, he said integrated and coherent policies can help to address deprivation and the sources of discrimination that makes it hard for people to move out of poverty.  He added that Member States must continue to identify, understand and address the trade-offs involved in those pursuits.

Mr. RYBAKOV (Belarus) said today’s discussions underscored the close links between people, planet, prosperity, peace and partnership in realizing the 2030 Agenda.  Concern for people and their well-being should be at the heart of the Council’s work.  Today’s deliberations also demonstrated the wealth of expertise of the Council subsidiary bodies and the United Nations development system, he said, stressing that these must be used to the full to ensure the 2030 Agendas’ coherent and coordinated implementation.  For its part, he added, the Chief Executives Board for Coordination is a natural interlocuter for the Council.  Noting that the High-level Political Forum will be concluding its first four-year cycle this month, he said September’s summit on the Goals will be an opportunity to comprehensively review the global response to the entire 2030 Agenda.

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*     The 23rd-26th Meetings were not covered.

For information media. Not an official record.