27 May 2020

United Nations Must Help Countries Safeguard Development Gains, Secretary-General Tells Economic and Social Council 2020 Operational Activities Segment

As COVID-19 continues to expose fragilities across the globe, the United Nations has a “triple imperative” of helping countries respond, safeguarding development gains and ensuring that recovery aligns with efforts to achieve greater well-being for people and planet, Secretary-General António Guterres told the Economic and Social Council, as he outlined priorities for the system’s operational activities.

Mr. Guterres presented his report on the matter (document A/75/79-E/2020/55) to the Council’s operational activities for development segment, which took place through a series of virtual meetings* from 19 to 22 May, and on 27 May.

Participating Governments reviewed four years of guidance outlined in General Assembly resolution 71/243 on the quadrennial comprehensive policy review of United Nations operational activities, as well as progress in implementing Assembly resolution 72/279 on the repositioning of the development system.

“Our objective remains clear:  to help countries navigate and accelerate progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals,” Mr. Guterres said in his keynote address.  Reforms have placed the United Nations on the right footing.  “Together, we have created a new coordination system for development.”

He said Governments have transformed United Nations structures, tools, funding and mindsets to better advance the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  Thanks to a renewed spirit of collaboration, the system is working more effectively across all dimensions — and on track in effecting the change measures mandated by the 2016 policy review and 2018 resolution on repositioning the development system.

In addition, a new generation of United Nations country teams is taking shape, he said, better adapted to country needs and able to harness expertise throughout the system.  New cooperation frameworks are now based on integrated support to Governments, business operations emphasize transparency and accountability, and the resident coordinator is being recognized as the empowered, impartial leader of development efforts at the country level.  “We have ensured full gender parity among resident coordinators,” he added, and following last week’s round of appointments, those from the global South have reached 50 per cent.

Looking ahead, he urged the Council to make progress on the outstanding dimensions of the Management and Accountability Framework for country teams, the “challenging but necessary” work on efficiencies, efforts to diversify the skills of resident coordinators and on finding ways to meet their funding needs.

He also underscored the importance of concluding all remaining mandates, stressing that a year has passed since the Council first reviewed his proposals to reinvigorate the regional architecture.  The time has come to move forward.  “I am sharing tailored proposals for a better organized, more collaborative United Nations development system at the regional level,” he said.  The detailed plan before delegates will ensure greater efforts are made across the social, economic and environmental dimensions of the Sustainable Development Goals.

“In the space of a single quadrennial comprehensive policy review, we have deeply transformed the United Nations development system,” he said.  “We count on you to continue to assume ownership over the new United Nations development system, provide guidance and hold us accountable along the way.”

Echoing that call, Council President Mona Juul (Norway) described the operational activities segment as an “accountability platform” to evaluate the performance and results of the United Nations development system since the 2016 policy review and historic reforms launched by the Secretary-General in 2018.

“We must provide guidance to the United Nations system on how it can best support the implementation of the 2030 Agenda in the coming four years,” she asserted.  In those efforts, women’s rights and gender equality must remain a priority.  Working methods and culture — throughout the United Nations, and among donor and programme countries — still need to be overhauled.

During the segment, she said the Council will consider the last pieces of the repositioning reform:  the review of regional assets and multi-country offices.  She urged delegates to reflect on where the United Nations should be in the coming four years, stressing that the Council has until the fall to elaborate the guidance it will provide to the 2020 policy review.  “Together, we will deepen our efforts…to recover better, and build a healthier, greener, fairer and a more resilient world,” she said.

Juan Sandoval Mendiolea (Mexico), Chair of the segment, said that beyond the jargon and technicalities, the issues are about realizing the 2015 pledge to leave no one behind.  “The COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us of the fragile reality of the human condition,” he said.  “We have witnessed tragic losses.”  Encouraging delegates to keep this in mind during the discussions, he said the endeavour requires a machinery that is “up to the task”.

The development system comprises more than 130 resident coordinators and country teams “working 24/7” in 160 countries and territories, he said.  While the Council has advanced various aspects of the policy review, there are “chapters that we are yet to close”, he said, notably, the revamping of United Nations regional assets and review of multi-country offices.

He encouraged delegates to clarify how Regional Commissions, agencies, funds and programmes, and the Development Coordination Office, will work together to help countries achieve the 2030 Agenda.  Multi-country offices are a vital tool for addressing the historic deficit in the United Nations development offer to small island developing States.  “If we succeed in…strengthening our support to multi-country offices, we will be able to cope with this gap,” he said.

Throughout the segment, the Council held a series of interactive dialogues aimed at evaluating results and actions stemming from the repositioned development system and other reforms, after which Liu Zhenmin, Under-Secretary-General for the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, delivered closing remarks about the particular importance of this year’s discussions.

He emphasized that the current segment marks the start of preparations for the next quadrennial comprehensive policy review, which the General Assembly will conduct later in 2020.  As the novel coronavirus wreaks havoc across the globe, the United Nations response must protect hard-won advances and put in place systems and policies that will allow for reaching ambitious goals.

“This spirit of ‘rebuilding better’ guides the support extended by the United Nations Sustainable Development Group and country teams, to countries’ response to the pandemic,” he said.  A key message he takes from the discussions is about the tremendous support for the work of the development system.  “You trust that it has been moving swiftly in implementing the reforms you mandated and repositioning itself to help countries achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and battle the COVID-19 pandemic.”

He called for continued work to ensure that the leadership and prerogatives of the resident coordinators are fully reflected in the behaviours of the United Nations system, and in all entities’ guidance to their country representatives.  As efforts turn to elaborating new cooperation frameworks, “we must fully use this process to reconfigure United Nations country teams”, he said.  He looked forward to feedback on the Secretary-General’s recommendations on regional assets and multi-country offices, noting that the draft resolution to be presented by the “Group of 77” developing countries and China will be of critical importance.

Turning to the 2020 policy review, he said participants expressed support for the system’s focus on poverty eradication.  It will be important to strengthen the United Nations work in this area — notably on ensuring social protection and access to quality public services.  The 2020 review should also address the integrated policy support that Member States expect in order to accelerate implementation of the Goals.  The system needs to adjust its offers and respond to these demands, especially in the areas of growth and employment or climate change, where it has been less present in the past.

He said tailoring such support has been a core objective of the reforms, and expressed his expectation that proposals on multi-country offices will improve the support extended to small island developing States, as the Secretary-General has worked to ensure that least developed countries are prioritized in all programming and budgeting.  It will also be critical to reflect on how the development system can best respond to the needs of middle-income countries.

“Overall, we need to accelerate the shift from a traditional model of direct support and service provision, towards high-quality integrated policy advice, capacity development and support for leveraging partnerships and financing.”  In such efforts, the Department is ready to play its part, offering its analytical and intergovernmental work, and “stands ready to support your deliberations as you prepare the 2020 quadrennial comprehensive policy review”, he assured.

Interactive Discussion with the Secretary-General

Following the opening, the Council moved into an interactive discussion with the Secretary-General, moderated by Mr. Sandoval Mendiolea.  Delegates evaluated how the repositioned development system is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic at national, regional and global levels, elaborating on specific aspects that have been improved, and whether the United Nations, overall, is providing enhanced support to countries by enhancing cooperation.

Session II (a):  Annual Report — Chair of Sustainable Development Group

Moderated by Mr. Sandoval Mendiolea, the panel featured presentations by:  Amina Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, and Chair of the Sustainable Development Group; and Robert Piper, Director of the Development Coordination Office.

During the interactive discussion, delegates took stock of the improvements made through the reinvigorated resident coordinator system, challenges encountered and how the Development Coordination Office has supported greater coordination.  They further evaluated how agencies are adopting the Management and Accountability Framework, and whether there has been behavioural change in the country teams that will allow for transformative change in the Organization’s collective support to the 2030 Agenda.

Session II (b):  Funding Compact — Are We Delivering on Our Commitments?

Moderated by Jennifer Topping, Executive Coordinator, United Nations Multi-Partner Trust Fund Office, the panel featured presentations by:  Natalia Kanem, Executive Director, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA); and Ute Klamert, Assistant Executive Director of Partnerships and Advocacy, World Food Programme (WFP).

Delegates in the interactive discussion took stock of commitments made in the Funding Compact to align United Nations development work with the 2030 Agenda.  They evaluated progress made to date and plans for ensuring that the Sustainable Development Group meets its funding commitments, as well as the processes in place to achieve efficiency gains envisioned as a result of the system’s repositioning.  Importantly, they tackled how to ensure sustainable funding for the resident coordinator system, with some proposing ways to broaden the donor base.

Session III:  The New Resident Coordinator System after 16 Months

Ms. Mohammed delivered introductory remarks to two panel discussions moderated by Mr. Piper.

The first panel featured Mireia Villar Forner, Resident Coordinator in Uruguay, along with United Nations country team member Manuel Albaladejo, United Nations Industrial Development Organization; Shombi Sharp, Resident Coordinator in Armenia, along with United Nations country team member Tanja Radocaj, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF); and Nicholas Rosellini, Resident Coordinator in China, along with United Nations country team member Babatunde Ahonsi, UNFPA.

The second panel featured Bruno Lemarquis, Resident Coordinator in Haiti, along with United Nations country team member Fernando Hiraldo, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP); Christine Umutoni, Resident Coordinator in Mauritius and Seychelles, along with United Nations country team member Laurent Musango, World Health Organization (WHO); and Lise Grande, Resident Coordinator in Yemen, along with United Nations country team member Altaf Musani, WHO.

During the interactive discussion, panellists described changes on the ground as a result of the repositioning of the United Nations development system — including how those changes are helping them confront the COVID-19 pandemic.  Other threads of the discussion examined the Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework, the Management and Accountability Framework, good practices and challenges in implementing the 2016 policy review, with a focus on how reforms have played out at the country level in least developed countries, landlocked developing countries, small island developing States and middle-income countries.

Session IV (a):  Needs of Countries Serviced by Multi-country Offices

Moderated by Selwin C. Hart, Special Adviser to the United Nations Secretary-General on Climate Action, the panel featured presentations by:  Lois Young, Permanent Representative of Belize to the United Nations, Chair of the Alliance of Small Island Developing States; Jane J. Chigiyal, Permanent Representative of the Federated States of Micronesia to the United Nations; Haoliang Xu, Director, Bureau of Policy and Programme Support, UNDP, and co-chair of the Interagency Working Group on Multi-Country Offices; Marina Walter, Resident Coordinator in the multi-country office based in Trinidad and Tobago, servicing Aruba, Curaçao, Suriname, Saint Maarten and Trinidad and Tobago; and Sanaka Samarasinha, Resident Coordinator, multi-country office based in Fiji, servicing the Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

During the interactive dialogue, participants examined the Secretary-General’s recommendations for ensuring that multi-country offices are better equipped to support countries they serve in implementing the 2030 Agenda.  Panellists described how the system envisions better functioning of the offices, along with the need for sustained funding and tailored-made support mechanisms.  Key aspects of the discussion centred on the criteria used to justify the recommendations for the multi-country offices, and how the United Nations intends to support territories covered by the offices, as they seem to require different support mechanisms within the offices and different funding sources.

Session IV (b):  Unleashing Development System’s Regional Assets

Moderated by Jens Wandel, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Reforms, the panel featured presentations by:  Vera Songwe, Coordinator of the Regional Commissions and Executive Secretary, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa; Alicia Bárcena, Executive Secretary, United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean; Mourad Wahba, Associate Administrator, a.i., and Director, Regional Bureau for Arab States, UNDP; Alanna Armitage, Regional Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, UNFPA; and Neil Buhne, Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific, Development Coordination Office.

The interactive discussion aimed at fostering a full understanding of the Secretary-General’s proposal on the regional dimension.  Panellists offered their views on how they plan to coordinate so that Member States can make a decision about the revamping of regional assets.  Key questions enlivened discussion on how the revamping of regional assets will bolster development operations at the regional level, how regional collaborative platforms will reduce gaps and overlaps, and how the views of Member States will be reflected in these platforms.

Dialogue with United Nations Deputy Secretary-General, Heads of Entities

Ms. Mohammed delivered introductory remarks to a panel and interactive discussion on the theme, “Working together to accelerate Sustainable Development Goal progress during the Decade of Action and in light of the COVID-19 pandemic”.

Moderated by Mr. Sandoval Mendiolea, the panel featured presentations by:  Achim Steiner, Administrator, UNDP and Vice-Chair, United Nations Sustainable Development Group; Henrietta Fore, Executive Director, UNICEF; Guy Ryder, Director-General, International Labour Organization (ILO); Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director, United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women); Inger Andersen, Executive Director, United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP); and Zsuzsanna Jakab, Deputy Director-General, WHO.

The discussion focused on progress made in advancing more cohesive, transparent and accountable support to the 2030 Agenda.  It included specific efforts by individual entities as members of a new generation of United Nations country teams working towards national priorities, particularly in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Participants focused on breakthrough advances at Headquarters and in the field, how United Nations development entities are aligning processes related to their country programme documents with the Cooperation Framework, and how changes brought on by the repositioning have impacted the response to the novel coronavirus.  Ideas for further enhancing coordination among development system entities were also raised.


* Based on information received from the Economic and Social Council Affairs Branch.

For information media. Not an official record.