The General Assembly and Economic and Social Council must find synergies in their response to common issues — human rights, peace and security, and development — and weed out overlap, the organs’ presidents emphasized today in the first-ever joint discussion on alignment of work.
María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés (Ecuador), President of the General Assembly, outlined efforts and initiatives underway to ensure efficiency on issues of mutual concern between the Assembly and Council. She stressed the important roles of both in making the United Nations relevant for all. The two organs must play a mutually reinforcing role to enable the United Nations to respond to the three overlapping pillars of the Charter: human rights, peace and security, and development. The Assembly’s universal and equal membership reinforces its legitimacy adoption as the chief deliberative body. Its legitimacy and effectiveness must be constantly renewed by making its work of policy and norm-setting relevant to people all over the world.
Turning to progress made in aligning the agendas of the Council with the Assembly on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, she said the ultimate objective is to make sure that the respective programmes of work of the Assembly, Council and their subsidiary bodies reflect the structure and spirit of the 2030 Agenda. It is unfortunate that progress has not been made in the past three sessions. “We must be audacious and creative in addressing this critical issue,” she emphasized, also adding: “We definitely need to make a big push consistent with our ambitions.” She also underscored the need to build on the work undertaken so far during previous sessions, including the report on the strategic alignment of future sessions of the Assembly.
Turning to the high-level political forum on sustainable development, she underlined the importance of ensuring that the processes of the Assembly and Council are closely coordinated to provide for mutually reinforcing linkages. She called for a concise and action-oriented political declaration that sends a strong message on the urgent need to scale up efforts in implementing the 2030 Agenda. Early coordination between the two organs is key for the success of this process. Beyond the content of the political declaration, which remains highly important, there is a need to reflect on how to make the forum a platform for demonstrating the relevance of the United Nations to all people. “I am conscious of the need for quality and timely inputs from the United Nations systems,” she added.
This year provides an opportunity to move on the solid policy framework defined in the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, she continued. Urgent and bold actions are needed. The Assembly and Council offer ample platform to explore concrete and innovative solutions through the high-level dialogue on financing for development. “We need to avoid duplication of discussion and the renegotiation of already agreed issues and principles,” she added, also warning that time and resources are scarce. During the upcoming high-level meeting on “The Future of Work” in April, where youth representatives will share their perspectives on decent work, the goal will be to gain an understanding of the changes in the world of work.
Inga Rhonda King (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines), President of the Economic and Social Council, focused her remarks on the preparations for the high‑level political forum on sustainable development. This July, the forum will review the six Sustainable Development Goals that are critical to the future of humanity, including the target on education. “Success very often lies in thoughtful preparation,” she stressed, outlining various offices she is working with in the lead up to July. The objective is to ensure adequate strategic direction and guidance development at the global level.
Turning to the Council’s 2019 Youth Forum, titled “Empowered, Included, Equal”, she said it is important to remember that young people want quality education that will allow them to get good jobs. They want to live in peaceful societies on a healthy planet. She commended Ms. Espinosa for taking up the issue of “youth, peace and security” as one of her priorities and invited her to take part in dialogue with young people at the Youth Forum.
She highlighted two milestones coming up in 2019, namely the Council’s forum on financing for development, which will offer the opportunity to review the first four-year implementation of the Addis Ababa Action Agenda. The second is the Assembly’s high-level dialogue on financing for development to be held back to back with the high-level political forum in September. The financing forum will address many pressing challenges, from debt and vulnerabilities to job creation and disruptive technologies. It will help build momentum and develop concrete opportunities to accelerate progress on financing for sustainable development.
In the ensuing debate, delegates offered their views on improving coordination, especially in achieving the 2030 Agenda, with the Permanent Observer for the State of Palestine, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, highlighting the need to address the critical gaps and targets in the agendas of the Assembly and the Council. Discussions are needed to create new agenda items, where appropriate, allowing targets to be followed up and reviewed. Equal attention must be given to all targets of the Sustainable Development Goals. Any exercise regarding overlap must prevent the elimination of substantive topics on existing agenda items, while case-by-case studies could strengthen the United Nations development system. On the political forum, he emphasized the importance of holding more efficient voluntary national reviews, with enough time allotted for each country presentation.
The representative of Belize, speaking on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States, said the Assembly and the Council must be able to exercise their mandates in a manner that reinforces their complementarity in driving the 2030 Agenda. The Council is the appropriate forum for ensuring multi-stakeholder consideration and follow up of the small island developing States agenda, uniquely placed to support policy analysis in facilitating its accelerated implementation. The Assembly, meanwhile, provides the political imprimatur and mandate for the United Nations development system to support small island developing States. He appealed for a coordinated approach across the political forum, financing for development dialogue and the mid-term review of the Samoa Pathway. He called for the deeper engagement of small island developing States in financing for development, affording them additional time beyond the two hours in the high-level political forum, given the irrefutable synergies between the Pathway and the 2030 Agenda.
The representative of the European Union said revitalizing the Assembly’s work and coherence with the Council is linked to the overall reform of the United Nations. He stressed the importance of all Assembly resolutions in that regard. The success of 2030 Agenda requires the United Nations to “connect horizontally”, with related actions viewed through the lens of the entire Organization. The agendas of the Council and the Assembly should eliminate overlap and promote complementarity, he said, pointing to the “food-for-thought” paper on the issue of alignment, submitted by the Council President and the Permanent Representative of Belgium, as a very useful basis for further deliberations. Action is also needed on the bi- and triennialization of items. Turning to the Second Committee (Economic and Financial), he said the goal should be to bring it into alignment with the 2030 Agenda and transform it into a forum for meaningful discussions on achieving the Goals. It should uphold the people-centred approach in its resolutions, reduce its overlap with the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian, Cultural) and eliminate references to outdated documents.
The representative of Thailand, speaking on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), said there are many opportunities for the Assembly and the Council to strengthen their work in support of the 2030 Agenda. This year is particularly important, he said, underscoring the need to reaffirm commitments and strengthen means of implementation. He advocated a focus on how the Assembly and Council can better serve Member States in achieving shared goals. Voluntary national reviews should be more effective, focused on practical cases, he said, suggesting that the Council provide tailor-made policy guidance after the review presentations.
The representative of Colombia, associating himself with the Group of 77, said his country contributed a strategic report on alignment to help diagnose implementation gaps in the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. It is crucial that decisions be made to eliminate gaps and move the 2030 Agenda forward based on an analysis of the Goals. The exercise must be based on the indivisible nature of the 2030 Agenda, he said, stressing that only through greater coherence and alignment can silos be broken. Colombia sought more in-depth analysis of the suggestions to revitalize the Assembly.
The representative of Switzerland supported any effort to strengthen both organs and make their agendas less redundant. Acknowledging that efforts to reduce overlap have been ongoing for some time, he said the way in which terms such as “alignment”, “synergy” and “coherence” are sometimes used can lead to the very duplication delegates seek to overcome. This year’s political forums — in July and September — must make a strong case for strengthening reliable data as the basis for a fact-based United Nations development agenda. He expected the sustainable development report, to be issued in the coming month, to serve as the basis of the outcome for both high-level forums.
The representative of Trinidad and Tobago said the 2030 Agenda requires greater coordination between the Assembly and Council. The Assembly’s revitalization process should be led by Member States. Given the heavy workload of both organs, all processes under their purviews must prioritize the collective views of Member States, she said, noting that the “packed” meeting schedule limits the participation of small island developing States and that any simplification of meetings must consider that point. No single Committee has the sole responsibility for implementing the Agenda; each process must help to deliver on the Goals, while improving United Nations functioning. Finally, proposals must not reopen negotiated resolutions. Revitalization efforts must be aligned with other development processes, without deviating from their respective mandates.
The representative of the United States urged nations to address inefficiencies arising from work duplication, stressing that any reform should lead to a better allocation of scarce resources system-wide. The Second and Third Committees face problems that underscored the need for agenda reduction, as some resolutions undermined the work of other competent United Nations bodies. The time spent negotiating “resolutions with little effect” is time taken from other forms of engagement. Resolutions with limited changes year to year — on sand and dust storms, for example — are rolled over, rather than bi- or triennialized or “sunsetted” altogether. There are also negotiations on issues that have been deliberated at a higher level.
“We need to face the fact that we spend too much time on stale, decades‑old resolutions that are past their expiration date,” she said, stressing that none of these processes help those living in poverty. “We have got to stop wasting each other’s time and work on efforts that we’ve all agreed to undertake.” Together, such examples are a serious waste of resources, imposing costly overlapping mandates on United Nations bodies. She recommended that the Secretariat provide data on the growth of resolutions since the Millennium Summit. To conserve time and resources, the high-level political forum outcome should be negotiated in March and April. She called it “puzzling” that any State would fear opening the doors of United Nations bodies “to our own people”, pointing out that poorly attended meetings are “nothing but echo chambers” for State views. “Relevant engagement must be brought back to our meetings,” she said.
The representative of Mexico said it is essential to adapt and tailor various intergovernmental fora to ensure that the United Nations development system is aligned with the 2030 Agenda. “It is time for us to look at ourselves and reform intergovernmental spaces,” he stressed. It is critical to address duplication, which requires self-criticism and finding practical solutions. It is also crucial to discuss what can be cast off and what can be improved. Deliberations must be built on something concrete. The 2030 Agenda should be a separate standing item on the Assembly’s work programme. “We can be much more practical and avoid wasting energies where they are not needed,” he stressed.
The representative of the Russian Federation said a priority for his country is ensuring the effective and well-organized division of work between the Assembly and Council to more effectively achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. The Assembly’s work is often burdened, he added, expressing concern that agreed upon language and approaches are being renegotiated or dismissed. All United Nations bodies must promote a non-politicized, conflict-free agenda.
The representative of Japan said it is time to renew political will to achieve the 2030 Agenda. Regarding the alignment process, he said now is the time to reach a consensus on how to streamline the agendas of the Assembly and Council. The United Nations should not be left behind. “We should be bold in efforts to streamline ever-increasing agendas,” he continued.
The representative of Morocco said the alignment of the agenda of the Assembly and Council is crucial, as it will allow the work to be more targeted and streamlined. It is important to bolster Member States’ commitment to consensus. The least developed and the most vulnerable countries must be at the heart of the work being conducted in 2019. Therefore, the upcoming high-level meetings must be inclusive of all countries.
Also speaking today were representatives from Norway, Kazakhstan, United Republic of Tanzania, Ghana, Iran, Liechtenstein, Brazil, Croatia, Bangladesh, Canada, Sierra Leone, Republic of Korea, China, Kenya, El Salvador and Nicaragua.
In closing remarks, Ms. King said that it is reassuring that the upcoming high-level events are a priority on the agendas of Member States. She pledged to pursue the initiatives already launched and conduct a more integrated review of the Sustainable Development Goals. “I am determined to open the Economic and Social Council to more young people,” she added.
Ms. Espinosa said she had heard useful remarks and concrete proposals. Most of the comments have been supportive in making the two organs aligned. Streamlining the work of the Assembly and Council will allow for a better use of scarce resources. This is the perfect time to move forward on these processes. “It is on us to commit to have tangible outcomes from the work we do at the General Assembly and Economic and Social Council,” she added.