Delegates Stress Role of Regional Approaches to Reaching Sustainability Goals, as Economic and Social Council Closes Operational Activities Segment
The 2023 Economic and Social Council operational activities for development segment “has fulfilled its role”, a senior United Nations official observed as the organ concluded its three-day annual meeting, with delegates underscoring the importance of regional approaches and spotlighting the pivotal role of resident coordinators and country teams in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
Member States also discussed innovative and tailored regional support methods, among other topics, while also debating means to ensure that regional United Nations assets can better respond to cross-border shocks and crises. Some Member States pointed to the competition between United Nations entities, while others encouraged different offices and agencies to ensure coherent and integrated approaches in their activities.
Albert Ranganai Chimbindi (Zimbabwe), Vice-President of the Economic and Social Council, closing the segment, said that it fulfilled its expected role as a platform for accountability. While it enabled Member States to exchange views and experiences at different levels, it also served as a platform for assessing the progress made on reforming the United Nations development system. In the view of myriad global crises, he called on Member States to strengthen the Council’s role through a substantive resolution on operational activities.
Amina Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, observed that the meeting convened at a most critical juncture. Welcoming Member States’ perspectives, she stressed: “Your feedback is so important — and one of the reasons why this segment matters tremendously.” Pointing out that regular informal exchanges with States and country groups will be convened to track the progress on the development system’s reform, she said the Sustainable Development Goals Summit in September will provide an opportunity to change course to achieve the 2030 Agenda. “I hope we can carry that same sense of ambition and scrutiny forward, as we keep the momentum and chart a clear path forward,” she stressed.
Throughout the day, the Council held four interactive panel discussions, one of which addressed the ways United Nations offices and agencies — along with resident coordinators and country teams — can help Member States respond to challenges and featured participation by the executive heads of such entities.
Mami Mizutori, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction, said that, although her office has little or no presence at the country level, the reformed resident coordinator system had enhanced its cooperation with country teams.
Similarly, Catherine Russell, Executive Director of United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), noted that her work is also implemented through country programmes that are aligned with respective national priorities. Under the leadership of the resident coordinators, many countries are now in the process of developing national road maps to achieve goals set, she said.
On this point, Jorge Moreira da Silva, Executive Director of the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS), spotlighted resident coordinators’ key role in establishing best approaches through joint programmes that enhance knowledge and capacity. UNOPS — as a non-programmatic agency — benefits from joint programming, he noted.
In the ensuing interactive debate, Member States discussed the advantages of joint engagement, while also asking about the ways to incentivize joint funding at the country level to avoid any competition or duplication.
The day’s other three panel discussions related to deploying regional assets to address cross-border issues; supporting just transitions towards the Sustainable Development Goals at the country level; and strengthening accountability on system-wide performance and results.
Session 7: Deploying Regional Assets to Address Cross-border Issues
ALBERT RANGANAI CHIMBINDI (Zimbabwe), Vice-President of the Economic and Social Council, opened the morning panel discussion titled “Deploying regional assets of the United Nations development system to support countries to address cross-border issues”, noting that it will highlight diverse cases in subregions, including Africa, the Asia-Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean. The session will enable those present to learn about innovative and tailored regional support and what Member States can do — in the regions and in New York — to ensure regional United Nations assets can better respond to cross-border shocks and crises.
YACOUB EL HILLO, Development Coordination Office, Regional Director for Africa, pointing out that subregional and regional perspectives have taken a central stage in the past two years globally, said that Regional Collaborative Platforms have helped to strengthen cross-border, subregional and regional initiatives. To this end, the session will focus on specific contexts of the Central America and the Sahel, while also addressing thematic priorities for the United Nations Development system.
The panel, moderated by Mr. EL HILLO, featured panellists José Manuel Salazar-Xirinachs, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC); Abdoulaye Mar Dieye of Senegal, Special Coordinator for development in the Sahel; Ahunna Eziakonwa, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Regional Director for Africa; and Sara Sekkenes, Resident Coordinator for Lao People’s Democratic Republic.
Mr. SALAZAR-XIRINACHS, speaking via video-link, said that the regional dimension has been key to supporting Member States in implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development over the last eight years. Turning to international migration, he reported that in 2020, 43 million people from his region lived outside of their country of birth, representing 15 per cent of migrants globally. In addition, migration and displacement flows are increasing due to economic and environmental factors, as well as the deteriorating public security situations in some countries. ECLAC — in partnership with the regional United Nations system — provides support to resident coordinators and country teams to address the structural causes of migration and displacement. For this reason, the Regional Collaborative Platform established an advisory board on the Comprehensive Development Plan for El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and south-east Mexico. Initially, its implementation strategy envisioned a five-year agenda with 114 costed projects. It has since advanced at the national level — with Guatemala as a pilot country — addressing transboundary issues. In addition, in 2022 ECLAC established a Permanent Technical Dialogue Forum on Lithium Innovation, Technological Development and Value Addition at the request of Argentina, Bolivia and Chile, the countries comprising the so-called Lithium Triangle.
Through its cross-border platform, ECLAC works with public and private entities on challenges linked to lithium extraction, technological development and value addition. The recent accession of Mexico’s State-owned lithium company to this Forum highlights the value of such transboundary initiatives for transformative sustainability strategies. ECLAC also promotes a subregional initiative on climate finance in the Caribbean small island developing States and cross-border economic integration. Moreover, ECLAC supports the Pacific Alliance in improving statistics on trade in services; mainstreaming gender equality in trade policies; and mapping cross-border production links. In updating the United Nations system’s regional coordination, ECLAC launched the Regional Collaborative Platform for Latin America and the Caribbean (RCP LAC) 2.0 platform in 2023 to facilitate access to regional public goods.
Ms. EZIAKONWA noted that socioeconomic development in Africa is trapped in a cloud of uncertainty, volatility, multiple crises and shrinking multilateral and solidarity space. Debt and poverty reign over the continent, with total external debt service payments due in 2023 expected to reach $22.3 billion and rising, with exports decreasing and official development assistance (ODA) down to $34 billion in 2022. She emphasized that the cost of borrowing has skyrocketed due to many factors, with biased credit ratings meaning that 19 African countries could save $75 billion if credit ratings were assessed without subjectivity and negative perceptions. The continent aims to lay the bricks so that it is never again caught unaware in the face of a pandemic or a Ukraine-type conflict.
She pointed to a dual focus, addressing transboundary and cross-border issues and ensuring that resident coordinators and country teams have the resources they need to accompany countries’ development. She stressed that the African Continental Free Trade Area or “One Africa” market is a game-changer in fostering prosperity, with strategies in 30 countries to help them perceive opportunities. Accelerating the Free Trade Area is a 2023 theme of the African Union, as innovation means adopting an opportunity lens as opposed to just focusing on problems and challenges — given Africa has a youthful population and 60 per cent of the world’s arable uncultivated land. She noted that the African Union itself is another innovation, active on all fronts as a nexus to position development. The challenge lies in acting within and not across borders, requiring a transboundary architecture way of work — an uphill battle requiring help from Member States. She emphasized the importance of agency in Africa’s resident coordinator system, rather than treating it as a place where ideas are dumped.
Mr. DIEYE noted that world and regional trends are increasingly transnational and trans-boundary, yet policies and programmatic responses tend to be more country-centric. This situation puts binding territorialization constraints on public policies and leads to ungoverned or low-governed spaces at borders, putting stress on social contracts and opening the door for all sorts of crises, including insecurities and conflicts. In the Sahel region, the United Nations integrated strategy for the Sahel provides a framework to help address that syndrome — with the latest mapping by the United Nations showing that 44 per cent of all programme portfolios address borders and cross-border issues.
In that perspective, he noted that the United Nations integrated strategy for the Sahel is moving along a number of directions, ensuring that all country teams policy instruments incorporate borders, cross-borders and regional and transnational dimensions in “resident coordinators without borders and beyond borders” initiatives. Multi-agency, multi-donor and multi-country programmes address subregional challenges and cross borders, such as stabilization programmes in the Lake Chad Basin (between Chad, Niger, Nigeria and Cameroon) and the Liptako Gurma area (between Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger). He further cited the launch of a series of regional “Sustainable Development Goals accelerator programmes” in food systems, water and industrialization, as only a regional approach could help address much-needed structural transformation of those very interconnected economies. Noting that data and information systems are critical to addressing transnational organized crimes, his office has developed a database on trafficking of arms, migrants, medical products and minerals, with the issuance of a series of Transnational Organized Crime Threat Assessments.
Ms. SEKKENES recalled that in 2021, Bangladesh, Lao People’s Democratic Republic and Nepal were recommended for graduation from the least developed countries status. However, the challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic triggered an extended five-year window for each country to come to understand and plan their respective transition. Noting that graduation has implications for trade relationships and grant eligibility, among others, she underscored the need for resource mobilization and capacity-building. Technical expertise that can help tackle this is dotted across the globe in many parts of the United Nations development system. As a result, many challenges fall on the Governments of least developed countries. With limited capacities, these countries have to engage with the multiplicity of United Nations agencies and a variety of development processes across a spectrum of support channels. However, creation of the independent regional coordinators and country offices — through United Nations reform — has changed the dispersion means for graduating countries. In this context, the regional coordinators of Bangladesh, Lao People’s Democratic Republic and Nepal have brokered intergovernmental collaboration between the countries, while also harnessing specialized global and regional support. The understanding of the financial landscape in the context of the graduation has demonstrated the critical value of an economist function in the resident coordinator’s offices, she added.
In the ensuing interactive dialogue, Member States asked about the provision of sufficient resources to support the graduation process. There was further agreement that transboundary issues are crucial in addressing sustainable development challenges, as in the Sahel, with a request for elaboration on how common country analysis has informed country frameworks in terms of zeroing in on opportunities and challenges.
Mr. SALAZAR-XIRINACHS, recalling that most of the Latin American countries are middle income, said that ECLAC — in partnership with the Department of Economic and Social Affairs and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) — has produced an analysis of fiscal space and the debt situation in the region, including ideas for transforming and reforming international financial architecture. Reporting that Latin American countries are paying between 3 to 5 per cent of their gross domestic product (GDP) in debt interests, he said Colombia — through its fiscal and tax reform — managed to mobilize 1.5 per cent of its GDP. Also, at the Sustainable Development Forum, the Commission presented seven transformative initiatives to accelerate movement towards sustainable development and growth.
Ms. EZIAKONWA underlined the importance of the peace-security-development-humanitarian nexus in the regional context, while highlighting the existence of the United Nations political offices. In this context, she suggested creating a subregional coalition to ensure information exchange and analytics with the aim of unleashing United Nations expertise and its presence on regional, political and security levels.
Mr. DIEYE cited opportunity-based coalitions bringing together regional frameworks, using United Nations strategy as a common charter. In the Sahel, he noted that often donors are part of the problem as they finance silo agencies, in turn asking for more integrated programmes.
Ms. SEKKENES said support for the graduation process must be appropriately planned and delivered across countries. A successful process requires the efficient use of all public, private, domestic and international resources, and the integrated national financing framework illustrates how this can be done.
Session 8: Working as One to Help Countries Respond to Challenges
The second panel of the day was titled “Dialogue with Executive Heads: Working as one to help countries respond to today’s challenges”. The session was moderated by Robert Keith Rae (Canada) and featured panellists Mami Mizutori, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction in the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction; Catherine Russell, Executive Director of United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF); and Jorge Moreira da Silva, Executive Director of the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS).
Ms. MIZUTORI, speaking via pre-recorded video message, said disaster risk should be integrated in United Nations system decision-making and investment. To this end, the United Nations Plan of Action for Disaster Risk Reduction for Resilience — approved in 2016 — serves as the instrument. She noted that a United Nations senior leadership group meets every year to adopt relevant cross-cutting recommendations. On this point, the group met on the margins of the high-level meeting on the Midterm Review of the Sendai Framework to deliberate a set of recommendations to implement the respective political declaration.
Recognizing that the Office for Disaster Risk Reduction has little or no presence at the country level — operating from Geneva headquarters and regional offices — she said the reformed resident coordinator’s system has enhanced its cooperation with country teams in designing and reviewing country analysis. She pointed out that the Office is included in many cooperation frameworks, while also providing capacity development support at the national level, including on how to calculate losses and damages caused by disasters or scaling up disaster risk reduction in humanitarian and fragile contexts.
Ms. RUSSELL noted that a new strategic plan sets out UNICEF’s organizational vision to deliver results for children and realize their rights. This work is implemented through country programmes, with results aligned with cooperation frameworks and national priorities. She emphasized that UNICEF is committed to ensuring that programmes efficiently deliver results for children, with one example being the formalization of global Technical Teams — an initiative aimed at strengthening the quality of programmes in all country contexts. These virtual teams bring technical experts together to share best practices and technical insight between headquarters, regional and country offices.
Another example, she cited, is a new country programme management package, bringing a more strategic approach to managing the cycle of programme planning and results management and also helping UNICEF offices to better respond to evolving contexts and to the specific needs of countries towards the realization of children’s rights. Through continuous learning, adaptation and change management, UNICEF consistently evaluates the way it operates to ensure the greatest impact for children’s rights and the Sustainable Development Goals.
Mr. MOREIRA DA SILVA, highlighting policy, financing and capacity for implementation gaps, spotlighted the UNOPS 2025 strategic plan. Noting that the organization is going back to its original mandate — to expand partner’s capacities in implementation — he underscored the importance of coherence across the humanitarian-development-peace nexus. Simultaneously working in these three dimensions, with 70 per cent of its work conducted in fragile contexts, UNOPS is uniquely placed to address these issues. However, the Office will not engage in activities, where other agencies have their mandates, nor will it support any projects that do not contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals or trigger green-gas emissions. Recalling that UNOPS has embedded its contributions within the new results framework, he said the Office has also adopted integrated approaches and improved its analytical tools under the National Infrastructure and Procurement Context and Opportunity Assessments. The ambition of scaling up this initiative across countries where the Office has its presence will be streamlined through its engagement in the Common Country Assessments.
Ms. RUSSELL noted the importance of integrating the economic, social and environmental dimensions is key to achieving sustainable development. UNICEF, in collaboration with sister agencies, is actively supporting over 100 countries to integrate these dimensions into national development polices and budgets — including the new approach to country programme planning and management which features stronger linkages between humanitarian action with development and peacebuilding work, with an emphasis on delivering systemic change. As part of this, United Nations country teams are supporting ministries of finance in 86 countries to develop financing strategies that address all three dimensions of sustainable development. She noted UNICEF is working with the International Labour Organization (ILO), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and other partners as part of the Global Accelerator on Social Protection and Jobs. This initiative aims to accelerate access to social protection for all vulnerable families across the world.
Under the leadership of the resident coordinators, many countries are now in the process of developing national road maps, bringing together agencies to work cohesively to achieve the ambitions of the Accelerator. In addition, she pointed to UNICEF’s work as part of the system-wide strategy for sustainable urban development, where the three dimensions of sustainable development converge. Along with sister agencies, especially the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) and World Health Organization (WHO), it supports over 100 countries in strengthening local governance for children and step-up programming in urban areas. Resilient and inclusive communities are necessary to ensure sustainable development outcomes are achieved for children, with special attention given to slums and informal settlements.
Mr. MOREIRA DA SILVA, responding, said that the assessment on infrastructure and procurement conducted by UNOPS can be also helpful for other agencies and developing countries in developing the respective programmes. To this end, the Office current has eight pilot projects. Turning to disaster risk reduction, he pointed out that UNOPS can help with resilience-building in communities and bridge the implementation gap through building resilience in infrastructure and supply chains. In this context, the infrastructure assessment can be used to identify critical elements of national infrastructure systems to prioritize resilient investment. Such assessment can also help enhance resilience in supply chains, including supplier diversification, through cross-pillar collaboration in this field, among other things.
In the ensuing interactive debate, Member States asked about a shift in narrative on reform from process to joint development results. Delegates also requested more detail on what can be done from a United Nations country team perspective to incentivize joint funding at the country level, while avoiding any competition or duplication. Questions were further posed on what can be done to allow access to the expertise of non-resident entities, in light of the fact that 50 per cent of joint Governments have difficulty in that area; as well as feedback on what can be done to help country teams and resident coordinators meet programme countries’ needs.
Ms. RUSSEL said UNICEF focuses on adolescent girls in their work. Underlining the importance of integrating the gender dimension, the agency maintains a close coordination with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women) to this end. On the climate side, UNICEF is focused on its specific role on this issue by greening the agency’s footprint around the world, helping young people to lead on climate and defining how to help communities adapt to climate change. Noting that different agencies bring different strengths, she said resident coordinators should ensure results-oriented work. While UNICEF is engaged in capacity-building, it also supports efforts on the ground. She also said that joint programming depends on specific circumstances, while underscoring the key role of regional coordination in defining the best actors — in any given context — to engage in such programmes.
Mr. MOREIRA DA SILVA said that UNOPS — driven by demand — relies on the partnership approach, while spotlighting the resident coordinator’s key role in establishing best approaches through joint programmes. While such programmes are not indicators of presence, they contribute to enhancing knowledge and capacity. As a non-programmatic agency, UNOPS benefits from joint programming and contributes to cooperation frameworks. He also spotlighted the importance of gender mainstreaming in all projects, including in procurement. Pointing out that $1 trillion is required to succeed in the green zero energy transition, he said it requires the contribution of all agencies, including in enhancing infrastructure. To this end, UNOPS developed an enhanced results network.
Mr. RAE then asked panellists how they think the system is assisting countries in mainstreaming the three dimensions of development — economic, social and environmental. He further asked how they are integrating disaster risk reduction across their work, opportunities to advance efforts and how the system can step up a transformative approach.
Ms. RUSSELL, responding, said that UNICEF has a dual mandate: it responds to disasters, while also approaching long-term development holistically. It has been co-leading inter-agency efforts to scale-up disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation into its humanitarian work. In this context, UNICEF, along with other partners, has been supporting a disaster risk financing study. Underscoring the key role of financial support, she said UNICEF assists Governments in their recovery efforts. In 2022, it launched an initiative “Today and Tomorrow”, she observed, while spotlighting joint projects with the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and UNDP to help Myanmar develop Shan State’s first disaster management plan.
Ms. MIZUTORI, addressing the Sendai Framework, cited the importance of access to disaster data, technology, financing and capacity-building, especially for countries in special situations. One example of entities enhancing cross-pillar collaboration in mainstreaming disaster risk reduction is the implementation of the early warnings for all initiative — the most tangible way to save lives and livelihoods. She noted the goal of the initiative is to cover the entire planet by 2027, but only half of Member States have such a system in place, and even when they do, coverage is not extensive.
In the ensuing interactive discussion, one delegation asked how agencies — individually and collectively — share challenges and lessons learned in the areas of joint engagement, while another questioned whether UNOPS would have the capacity to carry out projects — that cover several Sustainable Development Goals — implemented by several agencies in a specific region. A question on the improvement of the operations on the ground after the introduction of the regional coordinator’s system was also posed.
Ms. RUSSELL noted that UNICEF conducted an assessment on joint engagement in 2021, revealing a constructive dialogue with Government is critical, and that capacity gaps must be addressed — meaning information and lessons learned must be shared. She further responded that United Nations agencies must stick to their mandates and what is in their wheelhouse and help build the capacities of Governments to do better. No agency can solve all problems, and United Nations reform is actually a means to an end.
Mr. DA SILVA cited the example of the Zimbabwe Idai Recovery Project, involving six or seven United Nations agencies and the World Bank, to address early and mid-term disaster recovery needs. He noted his agency delivers 1,000 projects annually in 85 countries, but is not present in them — revealing its flexibility, and that it is driven by demand, meaning it is one of the best users of resident coordinators.
Session 9: Transitions to Sustainable Development Goals at Country Level
The third panel of the day, titled “Supporting just transitions towards the Sustainable Development Goals at the country level”, was moderated by Eduarda Zoghbi, Sustainable Development Goal 7 Youth Constituency and Senior Adviser to Student Energy. It featured panellists Amrit Bahadur Rai, Permanent Representative of Nepal to the United Nations; Leonardo Garnier, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General for the 2022 Transforming Education Summit; Qu Dongyu, Director General, Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO); Gilbert F. Houngbo, General Director of ILO; Edward Kallon, Resident Coordinator in Zimbabwe; and Ankit Todi, Deputy General Manager of Mahindra Group.
Ms. ZOGHBI, opening the floor, highlighted the importance of having women and young people present in such conversations, as they’re being among the most affected by climate change. Coming from Brazil, she underscored the importance of women, energy and the workforce, while noting that energy solutions must assess the needs of local communities.
Mr. QU, speaking via video-link, said that a just transition constitutes an integral part of FAO. He observed that FAO contributes to policy, project design and implementation, while also working with countries and local communities to contribute to greener agrifood systems. It also works with many partners, including the United Nations entities. However, FAO faces a lack of human capacity at the local level, especially in rural areas, and limited access to information and coordination difficulties, he noted. In this context, FAO has developed a set of tools and approaches to overcome this bottleneck. Detailing possible solutions, he spotlighted cooperation with UNDP and resident coordinators, underscoring the importance of a holistic cross-sector approach to avoid coordination problems. Moreover, FAO integrates a climate and decarbonization agenda into its strategies, while also promoting science and innovation.
Mr. RAI noted that the United Nations development assistance framework in Nepal for 2018 and 2022 featured four pillars supportive of just transition, including sustainable inclusive growth, climate action and disaster risk reduction, among others. The United Nations country team is also working on a new cooperation framework with his Government and all relevant stakeholders, and combined with resident coordinators, is helping align development plans with the principles of just transition — including renewable energy, sustainable agriculture and ecotourism, as well as health care, education and clean water for the most vulnerable.
He pointed out that there are 17 United Nations agencies resident in Nepal, with an additional 9 implementing various programmes. Turning to bottlenecks, he cited inadequate resources and technology for a green economy, with the resident coordinator system still underfunded. In 2021, Nepal adopted a long-term strategy for reaching net-zero emissions by 2045 — five years ahead of the global target. In Nepal, electricity is 100 per cent clean, derived from hydropower, but resources and technology remain the biggest impediments, alongside inadequate institutional capacity, which must be strengthened with a robust system and human resource development.
Mr. GARNIER, speaking via videoconference, spotlighted his experience with the Transforming Education Summit, which included recognizing the deep crisis concerning education’s equity, access, financing, quality and relevance. In the process leading up to the summit, there were national consultations among Governments on transforming educational systems to confront that crisis within each’s context and the United Nations system engaged closely with them to prepare national statements of commitments. This notably resulted in more than 130 countries participating at the Summit, a high-level steering committee for follow up and five parallel action tracks which produced background papers for the Secretary-General’s vision statement. He also highlighted specific initiatives undertaken by various United Nations agencies to underline the work occurring at the global and country level. Financing for education and the lack of synergies between the Organization’s agencies and countries however have been bottlenecks, he pointed out.
Mr. KALLON highlighted that a just transition in the Zimbabwe process includes a shift from carbon-intensive to carbon-neutral production and consumption at the lowest possible cost, while enhancing economic activities for prosperity. Detailing critical areas of collaboration in the Zimbabwe context, he stressed the importance of using the current generation of the United Nations Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework to provide efficient and coordinated technical policy for a just transition. To this end, joint initiatives and programmes with Governments, the private sector, civil society and academia are crucial. Stressing the need to protect the planet for the next generation and to ensure prosperity for all, he pointed out that Zimbabwe’s innovative renewable energy programme draws support from the private sector to leverage additional funds to demonstrate how investment in renewable energy can contribute to a just and green transition.
Mr. TODI, speaking via video-link, said that just transition is a “beautiful concept” that brings together all aspects of the Sustainable Development Goals. Noting that business would make more than 50 per cent of the top 100 economies, he said it will, consequently, have a disproportional impact on any global issue. He underlined the importance of ensuring decent green jobs and supporting local communities, pointing out that just transition is equally beneficial for businesses and other stakeholders. In this context, Mahindra Group — a $20 billion corporation with a presence in multiple sectors — firmly believes in just transition by driving positive change in local communities. In recent years, it has managed to attract $400 million in investment. Underscoring the importance of demonstrating action on the ground, he said it has been preparing a skilled workforce over the last few years. Further, he noted that tackling climate change is going to be the biggest business opportunity of tomorrow, while reiterating the importance of a just transition to this end. Further, he recalled that Mahindra Group has been partnering with the United Nations Global Compact in the framework of one of its initiatives.
Mr. RAI noted that Nepal is considered a potential pathfinder country as an accelerator for jobs and social protection, which will help avoid economic regression during and after its graduation from the least developed countries category. Its social protection policies are diverse, and its informal economy large, and combining them can drive the process. Nepal, he recalled, is set to graduate from the least developed countries category in 2026 and aims to cover 60 per cent of its population with social protection schemes by 2024, and the Global Accelerator can help on many levels. The country is committed to greening its economy while creating decent jobs, requiring scaled-up support from development partners including the United Nations system.
Mr. TODI, addressing the topic of culture shifts, stressed that the just transition requires a mindset which sees everyone as equal with a willingness to act. Building the capacity of leaders and employees across the board is not needed, he underscored, calling for the principles of a just transition to be integrated within everyday corporate principles. Moreover, corporations need to work more collaboratively not just with civil society but also with their peers and competitors. Only then will it be possible to move at an accelerated manner, he underlined, highlighting the efforts of the Mahindra Group in that regard. Making a green transition is very much in the interests of businesses and, as such, ensuring a just transition is equally attractive, he insisted.
Mr. GARNIER, addressing the issue of how the United Nations development system is preparing countries to fully leverage digital transformation, said that the digital challenge and potential of education is immense. However, the risk of failure is also dramatic, especially if the digital revolution does not transform the way of learning. He further voiced concern over the serious risk of commodification of learning and teaching that would endanger the vision of education as a human right, noting that the cost of not financing education is much larger than the cost of doing so. In relation to the use of digital resources for education, he spotlighted UNICEF’s connectivity project that aims to map every school in the world. He also drew attention to an initiative coordinated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and UNICEF, with civil society organizations, creating a platform for open public and free quality learning resources on a global scale and stimulating countries to produce resources in an open way. Connectivity and content go hand in hand, he said, warning that the United Nations and its agencies have limited resources in an increasingly global and inequal world.
Ms. ZOGHBI asked Mr. Kallon what is needed to fully equip the United Nations development system to support countries as they embark on a just transition in energy, education, food system and digital transformations.
Mr. KALLON, responding, underscored the key role of resident coordinators in supporting just transition. Noting that Zimbabwe needs technical support to understand the global green financial facilities, he said that listening to, advising and accompanying Governments will enable them to enhance their investment in poverty alleviation and sustainable development. Partnerships between the United Nations and multilateral and bilateral partners are critical for resource mobilization, he said, adding that global strategic investment can support Governments’ efforts. More so, international financial institutions and the private sector should work together with Governments and the United Nations to support a just transition.
In the ensuing interactive dialogue, a Member State asked how a reinvigorated United Nations development system can help to breathe life into the Global Accelerator on jobs and social protection.
Mr. RAI, responding to the questions and comments by providing an overview of the resident coordinator system and the process behind the development coordination framework, urged the United Nations system to scale up their support to countries in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, especially in his country and other least developed States. Those countries need green jobs and expect initiatives to that end. For their part, development partners and United Nations agencies must bring in more resources so that they are not left behind.
One Member State then asked for more information on how gender equality and women’s empowerment are being considered within the panellists’ areas, especially in energy.
Responding, Mr. KALLON stressed that gender equality and empowerment are seen as the fine thread that weaves together the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. For a just transition, there must be galvanized efforts that ensure the empowerment of women and girls, as well as their effective participation in productive sectors. The international community must provide them with opportunities as key stakeholders in that transition, he emphasized.
Mr. TODI, turning to fossil fuels and, specifically, coal, said that the nature of the sector itself is prone to be gender imbalanced. In this context, the transition from fossil fuel to green energy represents a hidden opportunity to capitalize and make job opportunities in the sector more gender balanced, he observed.
Mr. GARNIER, noting the improvement in gender equality and women empowerment in many countries over the past years, spotlighted terrible cases, such as the situation in Afghanistan, where girls are excluded from education, job opportunities and other education activities. If the international community does not transform education, then education will reproduce traditional gender stereotypes, he cautioned.
In closing remarks, Mr. RAI said that the poorest countries are in danger of being left behind, while underscoring the importance of resources and technological support. Pointing to the need for appropriate technology for green job creation, he said it should be easily transferable. He recalled that the Technology Bank for the Least Developed Countries was created to this end, while spotlighting a lack of funding. The Bank can support least developed counties in the just transition, he noted.
Mr. KALLON said that a just transition is inevitable for developing countries’ sustainable development. Underscoring the importance of financing, he also spotlighted the need for partnerships.
Mr. GARNIER said that just transitions have to do with justice, and justice collides with inequality. Spotlighting disparity in global education, he said that high-income countries account for 10 per cent of the world school-age population, while representing 63 per cent of the global investment in this field. Meanwhile, low and lower income countries are trying to educate 75 per cent of the global school-age population with less than 9 per cent of the global investment. This translates in different levels of investment, he noted, adding that rich countries invest $8,000 per year for a school-age person, while lower middle-income countries contribute $300 and lower-income States only $50. “With those inequalities we cannot reach Sustainable Development Goal 4”, he said, while calling for more efficient investment in education.
Mr. TODI said it is possible to make a business case for a just transition and create green jobs.
Session 10: Accountability on System-wide Performance, Results
The Council then turned to the fourth panel of the day, titled: “Strengthening accountability on system-wide performance and results”. Moderated by Nicole Ruder (Switzerland), Head of Multilateral Division and Deputy Director for the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, it featured panellists Lachezara Stoeva, Permanent Representative of Bulgaria to the United Nations, President of the Economic and Social Council; Maritza Chan Valverde (Costa Rica), Vice President of the Executive Board of UNDP, UNFPA and UNOPS; and Sima Bahous, Executive Director of UN-Women.
Ms. STOEVA emphasized that the spirit of the United Nations repositioning and the strengthened role of the Council is to close the loop from better accountability to better policy guidance — empowering the system to deliver more effective support to countries in their pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals. She encouraged Member States to consider how to further strengthen Council accountability and oversight in three key areas, beginning with reinforcing its proactive role in guiding the development system, which includes issuing substantive guidance through resolutions and decisions. It is further crucial for it to provide interlinked oversight and consistency in the messages conveyed across different governing bodies. By aligning efforts and fostering consistency, the Council can maximize the impact of collective action.
She also called for better utilizing of the wealth of information and evidence provided, enabling informed decision-making. “We now receive a wealth of data annually through comprehensive analytical reports,” she affirmed, on development system funding and expenditures, as well as country level surveys and management systems and evaluations. The Council also receives evidence-based reporting tools including the quadrennial comprehensive policy review monitoring framework, the resident coordinator results framework, as well as system-wide results reports for each programme country and for all regions. She noted the Council can be even more proactive in guiding the development system in the implementation of the policy review and through empowering greater coordination between governing bodies. The General Assembly will conduct a new quadrennial comprehensive policy review in 2024.
Ms. VALVERDE pointed out that United Nations entities are the arteries of the development system; they directly implement mandates and visions while also generating and managing partnerships with stakeholders and the system. As such, Executive Boards have a responsibility to ensure effective operations, compliance with development system reform, programmatic consistency and the exchange of lessons learned. The Boards on which her country serves have taken this mandate seriously by holding informal consultations with New York-based agencies and the Development Coordination Office. In particular, they are adopting measures to simplify system-wide reporting and improve oversight; address potential bottlenecks and implementation challenges; and ensure system-wide accountability which facilitates reporting consistency. Both top-down and bottom-up accountability have been key within their discussions, as can be seen by the proposal to include a checklist within the annual reporting framework so as to assess the usefulness of reforms annually while identifying how the Office can provide tailored support and advice. “This is a pivotal moment for the reform of the UN system,” she stressed.
Ms. BAHOUS said that the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women) is effectively bridging the gap between intergovernmental outcomes and action by United Nations country teams. The Commission on the Status of Women remains the Organization’s single most important intergovernmental space for advancing normative work on gender equality. She also pointed out that in Lebanon, in 2021, UN-Women led the development of a joint United Nations framework for action on increasing women’s representation in politics. In addition, UN-Women led the development of a joint programme, bringing together the power of UN-Women, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the special political mission in the country — the Office of the United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon (UNSCOL). Further, her organization was successful in increasing the number of women elected to Parliament in 2022 and in reducing the level of hate speech levied against female candidates, thus advancing gender equality goals at the country level. UN-Women has also deployed expertise through the Resident Coordinator’s office in Venezuela to support the United Nations mixed migration response, providing strategic guidance and gender analysis. Linking this initiative to accountability, she pointed to her organization’s transparency efforts, specifically to the Transparency Portal — an interactive and data-driven public platform that makes UN-Women’s results and resources data visible to partners and the general public.
In the ensuing interactive discussion, several Member States spotlighted the importance of women empowerment and gender equality, encouraging its integration and mainstreaming in the agencies’ work. While one Member State spotlighted a competition between the United Nations entities regarding funding, another called for uniformity across the board with regard to the checklist to ensure a better comparability for different resources. A speaker also asked how different United Nations spaces for monitoring and oversight can be more coherent and integrated to enhance the system in those aspects. On this point, another Member State representative outlined the key role of civil society in improving the United Nations development system and suggested integrating their perspective to this end.
Responding, Ms. BAHOUS said that partnerships with Member States must remain flexible and that reporting can be streamlined across the board. Noting the importance of working jointly across the system, she highlighted that 31 per cent of UN-Women programmes are joint efforts. The pandemic laid bare existing inequalities, but also showed how integrated yet fragile communities are when taking into account issues such as vaccine inequality and the difference between those who have the luxury of sheltering at home and those who cannot and musk risk their lives. UN-Women is therefore taking lessons forward alongside other agencies including through rethinking the care economy, she said.
Ms. VALVERDE said as that as a member of the Executive Board, it is working to alleviate the burdens of reporting and ensure the review process more dynamic, interactive, and that reports are user friendly, for States and the public in general alike, including through visual communication. She called for extending the mainstreaming of gender in other spheres including the environmental area and the three dimensions of development.
Ms. STOEVA noted that in her prior experience as President of the Executive boards of UNDP, UNFPA and the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS), she had excellent support from the Secretariat. However, the literature they had to go through was extremely technical and difficult to manage with a small country delegation; most board members were not prepared for that task. Members must know the right questions to ask and therefore understand what they are dealing with. She called for training and onboarding sessions once a country is elected as a board member — which also holds true for the Economic and Social Council, as real experts must be in the room to talk about reform.
AMINA J. MOHAMMED, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, said the 2023 Operational Activities Segment convened at a most critical juncture. Expressing gratitude to Member States — also on behalf of the Secretary-General — for their mobilization and contributions, she spotlighted the participation from the capitals. “We take very seriously your perspectives on all other challenges that remains in different areas,” she said, recognizing the requests for stronger support, improved focus on data, innovation and best practices from across the world. “Your feedback is so important — and one of the reasons why this Segment matters tremendously,” she stressed. Pointing to a number of informal preparatory meetings undertaken in the run-up for the Segment, she said regular informal exchanges with Member States and country groups to review the progress on the reform will be convened.
The Sustainable Development Goals Summit in September will provide an opportunity to change course to achieve the 2030 Agenda, she noted, adding that the United Nations country teams are well positioned to assist countries in prioritizing their key pathways and policy accelerators to that end. She also noted that delivering on the Funding Compact will be critical in this regard, while pointing out that more core funding will enable the system to provide policy support. “The time has come for a definite solution for sustainable, sufficient and predictable funding for the resident coordinator system,” she emphasized, adding that it is “the anchor on which the full breath of [our] activities for development rely”. She also said that United Nations will soon launch an inclusive and transparent consultative process to “unpack” this discussion, alongside the dialogue on how to reinvigorate the Funding Compact. “I hope we can carry that same sense of ambition and scrutiny forward, as we keep the momentum and chart a clear path forward,” she said.
ALBERT RANGANAI CHIMBINDI (Zimbabwe), Vice-President of the Economic and Social Council, said that the Operational Activities for Development Segment has provided an excellent opportunity for Member States to exchange views and experiences with key actors at the national, regional and global levels. Over the past three days, it has taken stock of the progress made on the implementation of the quadrennial comprehensive policy review of operational activities for development of the United Nations system. It has also reviewed progress on the development system’s reform to provide more effective support to countries on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in the context of the world’s multiple crises, he added, providing an overview of each day, its key messages and the calls from various stakeholders.
With deliberations now complete, the Segment has fulfilled its expected role as a platform for accountability, he declared. For their part, Member States should strengthen the Council’s role and address key outstanding issues and concerns through a substantive resolution on operational activities. He then expressed his gratitude to all for their interactive participation — with special thanks to the Council President, Bureau members and the Secretariat.