Photo: Secretary-General António Guterres presents to the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) his report, “Repositioning the UN development system to deliver on the 2030 Agenda – Ensuring a Better Future for All”. Credit: Photo: UN Photo/ Kim Haughton - Photo: 2017

Agenda 2030 Needs a Revamp of the UN Development System

By J. Nastranis

UNITED NATIONS (IDN) – Nearly eighteen months after the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – adopted by world leaders in September 2015 at an historic UN Summit – officially came into force, Secretary-General António Guterres is concerned that the UN Development System is not delivering on the ambitious agenda.

In his remarks to the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) on July 5, the UN Chief said: “The 2030 Agenda is our boldest agenda for humanity, and requires equally bold changes in the UN development system . . . Yet we all know that the system is not functioning at its full potential.”

Calling a spade a spade, he said: “We are held back by insufficient coordination and accountability on system-wide activities. Yes, there may often be good reasons why things are the way the way they are. But far too much of what we do is rooted in the past rather than linked to the future we want.”

Over the next fifteen years, with the 17 new Goals that universally apply to all, countries were expected to mobilize efforts to end all forms of poverty, fight inequalities and tackle climate change, while ensuring that no one is left behind. For this to happen, Guterres said: “We need to change in order to secure the promise of sustainable development, human rights and peace for our grandchildren. And we have no time to lose.”

The 2030 Agenda points the way and has to be given life as the defining agenda of our time, because it is the integrated platform to respond to the needs of people and governments. The UN development system, therefore, must itself be far more integrated in our response … more aligned … and more able to work seamlessly across sectors and specializations – and to do so more effectively, the UN Secretary-General said.

He added; “Our shared goal is a 21st century UN development system that is focussed more on people and less on process, more on results for the most poor and excluded and less on bureaucracy, more on integrated support to the 2030 Agenda and less on ‘business as usual’. This means asking some deep and difficult questions about our structures, skillsets and the architecture for action. This is our collective responsibility. After all, sustainable development is pivotal to the lives of every person, everywhere.”

Pointing out that the UN member states had tasked him with putting forward proposals that match the ambition needed to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, the report he was presenting was the first step. He said, he would continue to engage with the member states in the coming months before putting forward a more detailed report in December.

Pending the December report, Guterres outlined eight “guiding ideas”:

First, the UN development system must accelerate its transition from the Millennium Development Goals to the 2030 Agenda. There are major gaps in the system’s current skillsets and mechanisms. The system is still set up to perform on a narrower set of goals focused on certain sectors, rather than across the entire sustainable development agenda.

Second, a much stronger focus on financing for development is required. Governments and people expect the UN to help deliver on Official Development Assistance and unlock doors to financing, expertise, know-how and technologies. “And we must do so working with the international financial institutions, the private sector and all other partners.”

Third, a new generation of Country Teams that are tailored to the specific needs of each country, are needed. Currently, country offices around the world have an average of 18 agencies. “The 2030 Agenda compels us to move to Country Teams that are more cohesive, flexible, leaner, and more efficient and focussed in their scope. We need teams that can respond to evolving national priorities in an integrated and holistic way.”

This includes the imperative of addressing the humanitarian-development nexus and its links with building and sustaining peace in a way that does not lead to a diversion of funds or shift in focus from development to other objectives, while also preserving the autonomy of the humanitarian space.

“We have discussed this for years; it is now time for action. The old way of working has been based on weak collective accountability. This approach has not, and will not lead, to transformative change to improve people’s lives.”

Fourth, there is a compelling need to resolve the ambiguity in the role of Resident Coordinators. Today, Resident Coordinators are expected to steer UN Country Team support at the national level, but with limited tools and no formal authority over other UN agencies and offices.

“To lead this new generation of Country Teams, Resident Coordinators must be well-staffed and supported with sufficient resources, and have direct supervisory lines over all UN Country Teams on system-wide responsibilities. The members will naturally preserve the reporting lines to their headquarters in the exercise of their respective mandates. With greater authority must also come greater accountability. These are two sides of the same coin.”

Guterres said: “Let me be crystal clear: Sustainable development must be the DNA of Resident Coordinators. Resident Coordinators should be able to steer and oversee the system’s substantive contribution to the 2030 Agenda, in line with national priorities and needs. But Resident Coordinators must also be able to take a broader view and lead integrated analysis and planning processes which have significant implications for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.”

Resident Coordinators must also support Governments in crisis prevention focused on building resilience and anticipating shocks that could undermine progress, whether they come from climate change, natural hazards or the risk of conflict. Because: “The success of the 2030 Agenda requires that the Resident Coordinator function remains anchored in the operational system for development, firmly connected to the country level, and with UNDP as a key driver for development.”

Fifth, for too long, reform efforts in the field have been hindered by the lack of similar efforts at headquarters. To enable change on the ground, an accountability mechanism is needed at headquarters that is seen as impartial and neutral. And this without creating new bureaucracies or superstructures.

To address this long-standing issue, Guterres intends to assume his full responsibilities as Chief Executive of the United Nations, and reassert a leadership role in UN sustainable development efforts, in support of member states and the staff on the ground.

Sixth, there is need to foster a more cohesive UN policy voice at the regional level. “We will launch a review of our regional representation and activities, to clarify the division of labour within the system and explore ways to reinforce the UN country-regional-global policy backbone.”

Seventh, the accountability of the UN development system is a matter of priority. Accountability is indeed an end in itself, because it fosters transparency, improves results and holds our institutions to agreed standards and commitments. It is also a critical incentive for collaboration and better reporting on system-wide impact.

In this contxt, the UN Secretary-General outlined three specific areas for continued engagement with member states: first, improving guidance and oversight over system-wide results, with the ECOSOC at the centre; second, more transparency around collective results, including through system-wide annual reporting and the establishment of a system-wide independent evaluation function; and third, more robust internal accountability to ensure that internal mechanisms such as the Chief Executives Board and the UN Development Group deliver on Member States mandates and internal agreements.

Eighth, there is a critical need to address the unintended consequences of funding that have hampered our ability to deliver as one. Around 85% of funds are currently earmarked, around 90% of which to single-donor-single agency programmes.

Guterres said: “A fragmented funding base is delivering a fragmented system undermining results in people’s lives. I would like to explore with you the possibility of a ‘Funding Compact’, through which the system would commit to greater efficiency, value-for-money and reporting on system-wide results, against the prospect of more robust core funding support to individual agencies and improved joint funding practices.”

The true test of reform will not be measured in words in New York or Geneva, the UN Secretary-General added. “It will be measured through tangible results in the lives of the people we serve.” [IDN-InDepthNews – 6 July 2017]

Photo: Secretary-General António Guterres presents to the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) his report, “Repositioning the UN development system to deliver on the 2030 Agenda – Ensuring a Better Future for All”. Credit: Photo: UN Photo/ Kim Haughton

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate –

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