Secretary-General's Report on Re-positioning the UN Development System to Deliver on the 2030 Agenda

Last week the Secretary General presented his report on Re-positioning the UN Development System to Deliver the 2030 Agenda. This is happening at a time when President Trump has told the State Department to reduce US funding by more than 50% to UN programs. and as he is cutting State and US AID budgets by 37%.

There will be a second Secretary General Report in December. This is in accordance with the request of the Quadrennial Comprehensive Policy Review (QCPR).

That document will provide further clarity on the measures and ideas mentioned in the present report, in particular regarding proposals for the improvement of the Resident Coordinator system.

That report will also respond to the QCPR call for a system-wide strategic document, and will provide recommendations on how funding efforts can better align with the work required from the United Nations in response to the 2030 Agenda.

So, what are the highlights of the first report?
The report identifies three guiding principles for the delivery of the 2030 Agenda:
  1. Reinforcing national ownership and leadership;
  2. Ensuring country-contextual responses rather than a “one size fits all approach”;
  3. Making country level delivery for all the litmus test for success.
The Secretary General sees the UN as a “catalyst for action, an innovator, convenor and a champion of what works – using evidence and data to inform national planning and prioritization, and our own coordinated support to Agenda 2030 at country level.”

He underlines that the UN must be firm in upholding the universal values and norms agreed by our member states, but flexible in adapting its presence, support and skillset to each country.

Responding to the QCPR
There is no question the SDGs required changes in the UN but also in governments who need to also develop a “whole-of-Government” approach. Underlining the cross sector approach of the SDGs  and that will require closer alignment at the country level.

The SDGs also recognized that to deliver them they would need the engagement of partnerships with stakeholders including NGOs, civil society, academia, the scientific community and the private sector, from micro-enterprises to multinationals.

It has been estimated that it will require $5-$7 trillion to deliver the SDGs and the report recognizes that there is a need to “reorient available public and private sources of finance in addition to official development assistance (ODA) to ensure global inclusive growth and shared prosperity. Making effective use of diverse financing sources will entail an alignment of private financial flows with the 2030 Agenda, which in turn will require Governments and markets to join in new partnerships that build awareness and trust, align regulations and enable innovative instruments to foster risk sharing and accountability.” It underlines, by inference, the ideas behind the Brookings Report for last year’s PGA. which outlined some ideas on what those regulations might be.

The Secretary Generals Report also recognized that there is inconsistent data collection across the UN and that this need to be addressed urgently. “This includes the need for revamped capacities on partnerships and financing; statistics, innovative and integrated analysis, planning, foresight and risk management; advocacy and messaging on sustainable development; and technical expertise on emerging, frontier issues.”

Multi-stakeholder Partnerships
There has been a lot of discussion over the past two years on how to enable a much more focused approach to MSPs. The Secretary General’s Report takes a strong view that we need much more coordination and support for MSPs in particular it says:
“can only be realized with a strong commitment to partnerships at all levels between governments, private sector, civil society and others. We will need to mobilise both existing and additional finance, technology, knowledge and expertise that countries can apply to accelerate progress.”

It goes on to say:
“With this recognition, we must harness the convening power of the United Nations through platforms where stakeholders can meaningfully engage, build trust, exchange know-how and technologies, strengthen relationships and bring synergy and coherence to achieve results.”

And then pitches:
“We will also need to embed multi-stakeholder partnerships into the core business model of the UN development system, pooling system-wide expertise across the partnership spectrum.”

All this will require much more robust rules developed by Member States. There is a discussion about converting the biannual UNGA resolution on Partnerships away from just addressing the Global Compact to addressing is emerging agenda. This would be a very good idea but this should first and foremost be member state led. The report suggests a UN approach this I believe should be done after member states have decided what the new rules for partnerships should be:

The particular recommendation in the report says:
“Launch the following partnership-focused work-streams:
i) a process with the UN Global Compact, DESA and the UNDG aimed at adopting a system-wide approach to partnerships;
(ii) a review of the role of the Global Compact and its relationship with UN Country Teams to enhance engagement with entrepreneurs, the private sector, financial institutions and others to more effectively support national SDG priorities;”

All Change at UNDP is this the legacy of Helen Clark?
With the incoming Administrator finding himself with proposed radical change on the table in the Secretary General's Report it will be interesting to see how he defines his vision of UNDP. in these challenging times.

UNDP has been rudderless since Mark Malloch  Brown left and has had no clear vision under the previous two Administrators. Achim is the right person to change that having reformed UNEP is his over eight year. I would suggest that a version of 'Leave no-one Behind' would be a vision UNDP could champion.
There have been muttering going back to the 2005 High Level Panel on System Wide Coherence on whether the UNDP Resident Coordinators can also play the role of being the UN’s Resident Coordinators. The 2006 Final Report had recommended:

“that 5 One United Nations country pilots be established by 2007 and, subject to satisfactory review, 20 One United Nations country programmes by 2009, 40 by 2010 and all other appropriate programmes by 2012.”

The 2006 Report had UNDP to continue as Resident Coordinators but would “To ensure that there is no potential for, or perception of, a conflict of interest, UNDP should establish an institutional firewall between the management of its programmatic role and management of the resident coordinator system (including system-wide strategic and policy support)”

Clearly many have since then voiced the viewpoint that UNDP has not been able to do that. ECOSOC conducted in 2015 and 2016 a dialogue on longer-term positioning of the UN development system in the context of the post-2015 development agenda.

Last year the ECOSOC Bureau created an Independent Team of Advisers (ITA) composed of 14 members and co-chaired by Dr. Klaus Toepfer, former Under Secretary-General and Executive Director of the United Nations Environment   Programme and Ambassador Juan Somavia, former Permanent Representative of Chile to the United Nations and former Director-General of the International Labour Organization, was formally established and reported in early 2016 to ECOSOC as the second phase of the dialogue process. The report suggested that the Deputy Secretary General should:
“manage the UN resident coordinator system; fourthly, funding of the UN resident coordinator
system should become the responsibility of the Deputy Secretary General". It went on to say:
"Under the leadership of empowered Resident Coordinators, it will be critical that the system can continue to rely on UNDP’s institutional, operational and strategic capability for multi-sectoral, whole of government responses, mobilizing other agency-specific expertise as required.”

This Secretary General’s Report goes a long way towards what was suggested last year.
It replaces as chair of the UN Development Group the UN Deputy Secretary General – another recommendation from last year’s ITA Report. It suggests establishing:
“clear accountability lines from all Country Team members to Resident Coordinators, and from Resident Coordinators to the Secretary-General. Identify the best operational model to ensure full impartiality of the Resident Coordinator function”

And the removal from UNDP of the Resident Coordinator responsibilities:
“through a delinking of the functions of UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representatives on the ground. This would be mirrored by adequate regional and global coordination and accountability mechanisms.”

I  am yet to be convinced that this is a good idea we will hear more on this in the December Report. Perhaps we should start at the country level and ask what services do countries want from the UN. 

Humanitarian-Development Nexus
Another area the DSG has been given additional responsibility for is to work with OCHA and the UN Development Group to:
  • streamline policies and operational guidelines at Headquarters to incentivize and facilitate coherence in the field;
  • improve cross-pillar analysis, planning and programming;
  • review the “double hatting” or “triplehatting” of senior UN leadership on the ground; and
  • identify flexible financing modalities in support of resilience building, joint humanitarian-development objectives in protracted crises, also recognizing their contributions to sustaining peace.
There is a proposal for A Steering Committee of Principals will be established to foster synergies in humanitarian and development action.

This looks like a very good idea. The Steering Committee will be chaired by the Deputy Secretary-General, with operational leadership from OCHA/ERC and UNDP.

The Committee will include the largest UN operational entities working in both humanitarian and development settings. It will guide collective action required from both the UNDG and the IASC, focused on enabling the New Ways of Working on the ground.

Coordination between these two areas is a vital reform that the UN does need to do. My only worry is the additional work this is suggesting for the DSG. Not that i don't think she can do it but the worry that it will have her overseeing an increasing load when I think she needs to also be flexible to come in and lead on the Paris and SDG Agenda and not be overwhelmed by having to manage a larger bureaucracy.

Sustainable Development and Sustaining Peace
It was good to see this section but i believe there is a lot more work to be done. The Report seeks to see improved interlinkages between sustainable development and sustaining peace, It suggests:

"Expand the investments of the United Nations’ Peacebuilding Fund to support integrated UN action for prevention and measures preventing escalation in the midst of violent conflict.
Build interlinkages with the simultaneous review of the UN peace and security architecture to ensure better coherence with and support to the development pillar and SDG implementation."

I think it is missing addressing the Human and Environmental Security Agenda which a number of member states such as Japan have taken up and which needs much more work and coordination across the UN system.

There is a need to reform UNDESA. It was an amalgamation of three departments in 1996. Perhaps it is too large and needs to be split up?
The report calls for
"the Deputy Secretary-General to oversee DESA’s ongoing review process, with three key objectives to improve DESA’s support to intergovernmental processes related to sustainable development;
step up DESA’s capacities for policy analysis and knowledge production
reassert DESA at the forefront of sustainable development policy at the global level, including as the “docking station” for financing for development at the global level, working closely with international financial institutions and the World Bank.

There is overlaps in the different Divisions of DESA and between DESA and the Agencies and Programmes. These should be addressed in any review process.

I strongly support the "Call upon the Assistant-Secretary-General for Economic Development to serve as United Nations Chief Economist. The Chief Economist would be responsible for spearheading cutting-edge analysis and policy innovation, feeding into strategic integrated planning within the UN development system to support Member States, and serving as a strong technical interlocutor with International Financial and Economic Institutions. The Chief Economist would work closely with Regional Economic Commissions and with the UN development system to draw on the unique field-based knowledge of the system to generate contributions and shape the global debate."

DESA needs to build a stronger financial leadership to support member state in New York but also to work with the World Bank and IMF. One of the best reports it produces each year is the Inter Agency Task Report on Financing for Development.

Redesigning the ECOSOC Operational Activities Segment
There have been a number of attempts the most recent through ECOSOC in 2014-2016 to reform it. Some people see this as the 'Holy Grail'. I wish them luck as they follow many others who have tried before.

The report suggests this would be done through sharply focused meetings of the segment twice a year. The key functions would include:

  • providing system-wide policy guidance and serving as an accountability platform on collective support to the SDGs. This review would be based on light annual reporting, focused on system-wide SDG results. This should form part of existing reporting requirements and draw on agencies individual processes to avoid burdensome or duplicative efforts. It would be complemented by independent assessments and evaluations of system-wide results and performance;
  • serving as a platform for coordination of the work of the Executive Boards, replacing the joint meetings of the Boards that have no legal standing;
  • strengthening the linkage of normative and operational functions, including translating global norms originating from different parts of the system into system-wide operational guidance.

Merging UN Governing Boards
The Report also has a suggestion on progressively merging the governing boards of New York-based funds and programmes, building on the current practice of joint Board meetings of UNDP/UNFPA/UNOPS, and UNICEF and UN Women.

This is again a very good idea and I hope it is followed through.

And Finally
The Secretary General's Report has some good ideas to get engaged with. What we are missing is

  • the reorganization of UNDESA
  • the discussion on closer or even merging of UN bodies see here for what the UN bodies exist 
  • what to do with areas the UN has no body dealing with it eg Energy and Water (other than an inter-agency body

These will be important areas to look at. On just one of them on there being no body in the UN system dealing with Energy (I am not counting IAEA) the most obvious is to bring IRENA into the UN family.


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