Is the UN fully equipped to respond to the needs of a changing world and of a new universal agenda?

Spanish version

The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the United Nations discussed on 23-25 February the Secretary General report on the implementation of the Quadrennial Comprehensive Policy Review requested by the General Assembly. Under a cryptic title, the meeting addressed core issues, such as the UN development system’s role (and its relevance) in the post 2015 agenda.

When it comes to the UN’s role in development, there is a broad consensus on the unique value the UN brings to the table because of its history, neutrality, convening power and universal representation. However, it is important to underline that the development ecosystem is being populated in recent years by emerging economic powers and new actors such as philanthropic organizations, large INGOs, regional institutions and development banks.

Moreover, the UN is no longer the biggest funder of development activities, as it is now finds itself in second position, behind the European Commission.

These facts coupled with the reality of developing countries being more powerful, with some becoming active donors and others less dependent on aid to finance their budgets, puts the UN under great pressure to modernize and improve its operations and effectiveness to meet the needs of the universal SDGs agenda and remain a relevant and trusted partner in the development landscape.

A first set of issues were raised on the UN’s effectiveness at the country level and the urgent need to simplify UN procedures, reduce its transactions cost, “Deliver as One”, use more national systems and align programmes with national plans. There was also a strong call for the strengthening of the Resident Coordinator system by the UN Agencies to ensure key objectives of UN coordination, joint programming and budgeting and harmonization of business practices.

A second set of issues included the financing of the UN, the balancing (or the rather worrying asymmetry) between core and non-core resources (the latter being several times higher than the former) and the challenges faced by the UN system to finance long terms priorities when donors lean towards ear-marked funding for specific projects.

A third set of issues clarified the new “demands” and needs of developing and middle-income countries in terms of South-South and Triangular cooperation, strengthening of taxation systems, fighting inequalities and illicit capital flows, and job creation. Those new areas call for a strengthened UN to be able to perform a strategic capacity development role, now conceived well beyond simple training of national human resources but rather long term strengthening of national systems.

The last set of issues discussed was the global governance of development and the positioning of the UN within the post 2015 agenda. It was the elephant in the room, as it made explicit the lack of consensus and the diversity of positions.

  • What kind of UN system we are preparing for the future?
  • Will the UN be focused only on LDCs and / or fragile states?
  • Will the UN be able to respond to the needs of middle-income countries, in the areas that matter most to them?
  • Will the UN be able to harness the diversity of views to formulate customized solutions and allow for policy space?
  • Will the UN be able to integrate the three pillars of sustainable development?
  • What role the UN will be playing in supporting a universal agenda? What accountability mechanisms are needed to hold all Governments accountable? Will these mechanisms be put in place in the UN?
  • Will the ECOSOC be sufficiently strengthened to become the global coordination and policy venue for all the different global and regional development stakeholders (north-south, triangular, south-south)?

These issues are of critical importance and the answers need to be integrated in the post 2015 debate and in the Financing for Development negotiations.

Read more:

Implementation of General Assembly resolution 67/226 on the quadrennial comprehensive policy review of operational activities for development of the United Nations system Report of the Secretary-General

Implementation of the 2012-2016 QCPR resolution

United Nations Development Group

By Marina Ponti, Social Watch.

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