Countries struggling with how to allocate their overstretched aid budgets must not pull back on funding for sustainable development, speakers told the Economic and Social Council on the final day of its operational activities segment, warning that fewer dollars for development today means more will be needed to tackle costly — and often tragic — humanitarian crises tomorrow.
Miia Rainne (Finland), Vice-President of the Economic and Social Council, cautioned that “the urgent is crowding out the important” just as the world finds itself at the brink of a “development emergency”. Old and new crises are exerting an immense toll across the globe, stretching countries’ ability to provide international assistance. Meanwhile, the world has backtracked on its progress towards achieving the targets laid out in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals. All those challenges require a United Nations development system that delivers to the maximum of its potential across the humanitarian, development and peacebuilding arenas.
Noting that the development system’s 2018 reform process seemed almost omniscient in preparing itself for the COVID-19 pandemic, she said participants over the course of the Council’s three-day segment largely agreed that the system responded well to the pandemic’s challenges. However, they also made clear that much more work remains, including on better collaboration, clearer reporting standards and improved transparency and accountability. Calls for adequate, flexible and predictable funding for the development system permeated all the segment’s discussions, she added, spotlighting the particular need for scaled-up pooled funding.
Liu Zhenmin, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, agreed that the United Nations development system is now better positioned to support countries, while resident coordinators are fostering more effective approaches and becoming “centres of gravity” on the ground. However, there is a need to further reorient mindsets and mobilize expertise towards a systems approach. Calling for multi-year, cross-pillar funding to support a more tailored development approach — especially for countries in special situations — he pointed out that humanitarian expenditures have increased by 164 per cent in the past decade while development spending remained roughly the same. The further diversion of donors’ development assistance dollars would magnify adverse impacts, he warned, adding that it would also deepen poverty and inequality.
Collen V. Kelapile of Botswana, President of the Economic and Social Council, struck a similar tone, noting that the segment took place against the backdrop of continued challenges — including the fragile recovery from the COVID‑19 pandemic, the climate crisis and the ripple effects of the war in Ukraine. However, “it is clear that Governments and the United Nations system are committed to addressing those daunting challenges head-on, and [to] accelerate action to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals.” Representatives largely welcomed the development system’s reforms and agreed that the pandemic “showed how far we have come”.
Throughout the final day of the operational activities segment, the Council held two formal interactive dialogues that provided Member States a chance to pose questions of United Nations development officials — including those working on the ground in programme countries — and better understand the challenges they face. Delegates were also able to propose new ways of working and, in some cases, voiced frustration over elements of the voluntary funding structure that are not working as envisioned.
In a presentation this morning, Robert Piper, Assistant Secretary-General and Director of the United Nations Development Coordination Office, gave an overview of the status of the Funding Compact adopted in 2019 as part of the development system’s reform. Noting that the Compact’s mutual commitments recognized the need for a fundamental shift in the way the United Nations development system is resourced — all with the goal of building trust and flexibility in the Organization’s activities — he said that, in 2020, some backwards trends began to be seen, which continued into 2021 and 2022. Among other things, bridging the famous humanitarian development divide continues to pose challenges.
Sezin Sinanoglu, United Nations Resident Coordinator in Tajikistan, joined the morning session via videoconference to provide a perspective from the field. Describing the Funding Compact as one of the most important parts of the United Nations development system reform process, she said much more data is now being collected on the system’s work and funding. Those are shared with Governments and fed back into the United Nations system, allowing more people to understand the work on the ground. Voicing pride over the results achieved on the ground during the COVID-19 crisis, she said that same kind of integrated response planning is now taking place against the backdrop of the Ukraine crisis and its global repercussions.
In the afternoon, a second interactive session explored how the United Nations development system is coming together to provide tailored advice and support to countries in special situations, both for overcoming the pandemic and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals more broadly.
Interactive Session VII
The seventh interactive session of the Economic and Social Council’s operational activities for development segment focused on the theme “The Funding Compact: Committing to needed changes in funding patterns and behaviours”. Moderated by Yoka Brandt, Permanent Representative of the Netherlands and President of the Executive Board of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS), it featured the following panellists: Marianne Loe, Policy Director of the Department for Multilateral Cooperation in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Norway; Jennifer Topping, Executive Coordinator of the United Nations Multi-Partner Trust Fund Office; Sezin Sinanoglu, United Nations Resident Coordinator in Tajikistan; and Marilena Viviani, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)’s representative in Tunisia. Robert Piper, Assistant Secretary-General and Director of the United Nations Development Coordination Office, delivered a presentation at the outset.
Mr. PIPER spoke on the status of the implementation of the Funding Compact over the last three years. Noting that the Compact’s mutual commitments recognized the need for a fundamental shift in the way the United Nations development system is resourced — all with the goal of building trust and flexibility in the Organization’s activities — he said that, in 2020, some backwards trends were seen in some of the Compact’s core indicators, which continued into 2021 and 2022. Among other things, the challenge of bridging the famous humanitarian development divide continues and requires attention. He cautioned that, unless the system-wide results culture is strengthened across the United Nations, the case for better funding cannot be built. Outlining some steps forward in that regard, he said that, in order to strengthen transparency in the Compact’s implementation, a new online dashboard is being finalized and should serve as a good companion to the new efficiency dashboard.
Ms. BRANDT said the Funding Compact is about accelerating results for countries through better cooperation. Three years after its endorsement, she agreed that not enough has been done to implement it and some backward movement has even been seen. Both United Nations entities and Member States need to step up their efforts. Urging the panellists to focus on concrete suggestions for the way forward, she asked them several questions, including what could improve efficiency of funding systems; what are some best practices in the use of interagency pooled funds; and what they feel would drive a further increase in quality, predictable funding.
Ms. LOE, responding to some of those questions, said several challenges currently face core funding and “core-like” funding — two types of financing on which the United Nations development system relies. On the first type, which is lagging furthest behind, she said that as long as the system depends on a small number of donors, it remains very vulnerable to fluctuations. At the current moment, for example, many major funders are reallocating funds to better address the conflict in Ukraine. The results of core funding also need to be made more visible by the United Nations, and donors need to feel they are being listened to, she said.
Ms. TOPPING, noting that the Multi-Partner Trust Fund Office serves as a trustee for a portfolio of funders across the system, cited challenges in addressing and managing competition as one prominent obstacle. Noting that competition for resources is a part of life and will always exist, she called for better alignment between funding and function, which can streamline the process and reduce the negative impacts of competition. Another challenge is predictability, she said, pointing out that the vast majority of donor contributions remain year-by-year contributions, which makes strategic planning more difficult. Outlining several proposals for increased efficiency, she called for more standardization and pre-clearance in funding.
Ms. VIVIANI, noting that in recent years UNICEF has had to prioritize its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, said “pooling our resources has been the best way to proceed”. One key challenge is that convening agencies and national institutions to develop funding plans requires major time and resource investments. While United Nations development system reforms introduced a joint workplan, that change did not result in a simplification of the internal work of the agencies, which increased costs. She underlined the need to document good practices and further encourage United Nations agencies to pool their resources — both financial and human — as well as to develop compacts at the country level to enhance efficiency and fund critical work areas. Outlining several best practices from UNICEF Tunisia during its response to the pandemic, she said it pooled both resources and capacities with partner agencies, with good results.
Ms. SINANOGLU, describing the Funding Compact as one of the most important parts of the United Nations development system reform process, said much more data is now being collected on the system’s work and funding. Those are shared with Governments and fed back into the United Nations system, allowing more people to understand the process on the ground. However, that level of reporting is a lot of extra work. Expressing pride over the results achieved on the ground during the COVID-19 crisis, she said that kind of integrated response planning is now taking place against the backdrop of the Ukraine crisis and its global repercussion. She added that, in the case of politically sensitive programmes where results are not guaranteed, pooled funding allows Governments to participate in funding without incurring all the risk.
In the ensuing discussion, representatives of Member States made comments, shared their national experiences and posed specific questions to the panellists.
Malawi’s delegate noted that the Funding Compact has created an enabling environment for pooled funding in support of sustainable development, thereby helping developing countries close the $4.2 trillion Sustainable Development Goals financing gap.
The representative of Peru said the first thing that can be done to improve the pooling of inter-agency funds is to strengthen the role of resident coordinators as facilitators. Member States should acknowledge that pooled resourcing is a mandated part of the newly repositioned development system. He also spotlighted the important role that will be played by a multidimensional vulnerability index in funding matters once it is developed.
Belgium’s representative expressed frustration that, despite mutual commitments entered into by Member States, the level of voluntary commitments to the regular budget of the development system has in fact been decreasing. Country teams continue to focus on their accountability and relationships with donors, which obstructs efforts to make funding more efficient. He asked the panellists what can help reverse that trend.
The representative of Germany, citing some positive trends in the United Nations development system funding structure, agreed with other speakers that a decrease in core resources, a thin donor base and overall instability are posing major challenges. As a promising middle ground compromise, he proposed the use of thematic funds which employ a system of “soft earmarking”, thereby addressing the needs of both donors and United Nations entities.
The representative of Canada asked the panellists how they feel the United Nations development system can be made more “fit for purpose” with regards to its partnerships with new donors, the private sector and others.
Switzerland’s delegate urged the United Nations development system to make its calls for funding more coherent and to better link types of financing to function, in order to help donors such as Switzerland respond better.
The panellists then delivered brief closing remarks, responding to some of the comments and questions raised.
Mr. PIPER said the development system is increasingly embracing the push for more pooled funds at the country level. While collective financing instruments have now been developed, the internal processes within various United Nations entities nevertheless continue to work in parallel, leading to significant duplication and extra work. In that context, more simplification and harmonization will be needed in order to maintain the momentum of development system reforms, he said.
Ms. TOPPING, referring to the statement made by the representative of Malawi, said the Sustainable Development Goals pooled fund in that country is an illustrative example. That pooled fund is both national and global in nature; it is country-led and country-managed; and it is linked to specific outcomes laid out in the Cooperation Framework that are inherently synergetic. It also helps to leverage private capital and other sources of funding. In addition, she pointed out that a “pop-up emergency window” was opened in the fund in order to enable more flexibility in the face of droughts and other natural hazards facing Malawi in recent years, without the need to create a whole separate fund for that purpose.
Ms. VIVIANI emphasized that there is a strong commitment to the Funding Compact in United Nations entities on the ground. She also thanked the representative of Malawi for demonstrating the importance of the Funding Compact to developing countries around the globe.
Ms. LOE emphasized that “we get the United Nations system that we pay for”. The reform of the development process will never work properly if the funding system is not improved, she said, calling for better incentive structures — both for donors and for the United Nations entities working on the ground.
Ms. SINANOGLU agreed with the need to reduce duplication in many United Nations funding systems, as well as the need for incentives and the use of global thematic funds.
Also participating in the discussion were the representatives of the Netherlands and Sweden.
Interactive Session VIII
In the afternoon, the Council held an interactive session focused on the theme “Just Transitions: Support to Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small-Island Developing States”. Moderated by Heidi Schroderus-Fox, Acting High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small-Island Developing States, it featured presentations by: Jaap van Hierden, United Nations Resident Coordinator at the Multi-Country Office for the North Pacific in the Federated States of Micronesia; Teburoro Tito, Permanent Representative of Kiribati; Glen Craig, Managing Partner of Pacific Advisory in Vanuatu; Agnes Mary Chimbiri-Molande, Permanent Representative of Malawi and Global Coordinator of the Group of Least Developed Countries; and Chandra Tripura, Founder and Director of Hill Resource Centre in Bangladesh.
Ms. SCHRODERUS-FOX pointed out that, against the backdrop of recent rising food and energy prices that are threatening hard-won development gains, Member States adopted the Doha Programme of Action for the Least Developed Countries for the Decade 2022-2031. Full implementation of the same could set such countries back on track to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, as well as allow more countries to graduate from least developed country status. As States look forward to the Fifth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries to be held in Doha in March 2023, today’s session will be an important forum in which to consider the challenges facing least developed, landlocked developing and small-island developing States. It will also examine how the United Nations is responding to these crises, she added.
Mr. VAN HIERDEN said that small island developing States are categorized by their small size, remoteness and island topography, which results in a complexity of interrelated geographic and environmental challenges that render such States particularly vulnerable to global or regional economic shocks. Further, they are on the receiving end of climate change, and low-lying atoll nations face an existential crisis due to rising sea levels, biodiversity loss, climate disruption and escalating pollution. To address this, the United Nations development system must work in a coherent manner, and its leadership in this regard is best illustrated by the successful collaboration of resident coordinators in designing and implementing the SAMOA Pathway. He added that the new United Nations Pacific operational framework currently in development will provide a stronger platform for marshalling United Nations global and regional assets to address local priorities in small island developing States.
Mr. TITO welcomed the General Assembly’s decision to approve the establishment of a new Multi-Country Office for the North Pacific as, for a long time, States in that region have felt left out. However, he said that now such States are “already feeling a change of winds for the better”, and he spotlighted the positive results of the many meetings held with the Office pertaining to COVID-19 recovery. He said that this was beneficial as, when a serious problem affects vulnerable countries like small island developing States, the United Nations must respond and “get things done”. He added that people in the region are grateful that the United Nations acted on time in delivering essential medical supplies to respond to the pandemic.
Mr. VAN HIERDEN, speaking on the Multi-Country Office’s progress, noted that it is still too soon to make any judgement about how the Office is doing. Much work remains to be done to fully establish the Office and cement its capacity to support countries in the way they need. “But the doors are open”, he stressed.
Mr. CRAIG pointed out that the pandemic changed the way in which regional development partners interact with small island developing States, as “they are no longer just a flight away” and important face-to-face meetings have been impossible. This has delayed progress in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, and the pathway to recovery is neither certain nor secure in many countries. He noted that, as borders remain closed, there has been a stronger focus on developing domestic economies, as many States can no longer rely on tourism for income. Thus, support from the Multi-Country Office has been important in the areas of domestic economic growth, digital transformation and financial inclusion, as well as in expanding opportunities for small business to interact with domestic economies. He added that the Office gives countries the ability to build capacity in multiple areas at a faster rate and suggested that greater engagement with the private sector would further “add a force multiplier” to available resources.
Ms. MOLANDE said that the Doha Programme of Action represents “the beginning of a new era” for least developed countries, laying out a clearly designed global agenda to achieve full, sustainable pandemic recovery, build resilience for future shocks, eradicate poverty and facilitate sustainable graduation. While the Programme of Action has the potential to transform the livelihoods of those living in the least developed countries, such States are still struggling with COVID-19, climate change and the current three-dimensional crisis of food, energy and finance. She stressed that the international community must together find a way to change these multiple crises into an opportunity for transformation through a whole-of-United Nations approach. Further, the United Nations development system must place least developed States at the heart of its agenda and find new ways to provide enhanced access to finance and country-level support that responds to specific national needs and priorities.
Mr. TITO agreed that the way forward is to ensure that all United Nations entities come together and work to achieve what countries need to move forward.
Ms. TRIPURA said that, as communities recover from the pandemic, a repositioned United Nations development system must be in place to provide them with necessary support, especially those in least developed countries. Further, the system has much to do in empowering and investing in young people, as youth are not only leaders of the future, but also the present. She went on to say that the human rights of indigenous peoples must be acknowledged and promoted in order to address climate change and environmental degradation. While such peoples comprise 6 per cent of the global population, they protect 80 per cent of the biodiversity left in the world and, therefore, protecting their existence protects the planet. She added that the Sustainable Development Goals will only be achieved if gaps in the implementation process are addressed, and all marginalized groups are properly included in the development system.
In the ensuing discussion, representatives of Member States were given the opportunity to make comments and pose questions to the panellists.
The representative of Barbados, speaking for the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said that, while the Organization’s improved physical presence in the Eastern Caribbean is long overdue, it will enrich the system’s response and support to the region. Expressing concern that lower satisfaction with United Nations support to partnerships has been reported in countries with small programmes — including small island developing States — he stressed that the country teams must be able to draw on the leadership and capacity of the entire United Nations development system to foster durable partnerships to support these States. Further, the country teams should include the relevant skill sets, experience and knowledge to address the unique challenges faced by small island developing States and tailor their efforts to serve national and regional priorities.
The representative of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, underscoring the importance of the United Nations support system, said that the Doha Programme of Action can reinforce capacities to cope with the post-COVID-19 recovery period and the climate, food and energy crises. He went on to say that, to ensure smooth and sustainable graduation from least developed country status, measures must be put in place to ensure that resources are made available in line with country-specific priorities and needs. Further, enhanced partnership and coordination between United Nations agencies and development partners is critical to providing necessary assistance and leveraging resources to finance development activities.
The representative of Antigua and Barbuda said that, while the United Nations development system’s new approach is promising, not all small island developing States are currently covered. Such States still face challenges, including the pandemic and increased debt, and require support from development partners that ensures the system responds to their needs. Additionally, he asked how the system envisions helping such States report on the implementation of the SAMOA Pathway and address issues relating to the same.
The representative of Colombia highlighted the need to also discuss the situations of middle-income countries, as almost three quarters of the global population lives in such States. She expressed hope that, during the next operational activities segment, dialogue will continue on how the system can support all developing countries. She went on to ask how to guarantee longer-term United Nations support to developing countries to avoid graduation becoming a penalty.
The representative of the United Kingdom, detailing his country’s new international development strategy that launched on 19 May, also asked panellists to elaborate on how the United Nations development system can provide tailored support to countries. He also asked how to currently capture vulnerabilities within United Nations planning documents and how making progress on multidimensional vulnerability indices will help the system be more successful.
The representative of Zimbabwe expressed hope that the same support given to least developed and small island developing States will be extended to landlocked developing countries, particularly in the key area of climate change.
The representative of Paraguay emphasized that there is no single approach to development, and that flexible approaches are needed that align with national priorities, particularly in countries with special situations. He asked of what United Nations assistance to landlocked developing countries consists, as well as inquiring about the specific work done by resident coordinators.
Responding to comments and questions, Mr. TITO stressed the need for country-owned programmes, calling on the United Nations to study national development plans in greater detail and then try to connect to those needs and priorities.
Ms. MOLANDE agreed that national ownership is key, and that programmes should be tailored to the specific needs of least developed countries.
Mr. VAN HIERDEN, speaking on multidimensional vulnerability indices, pointed out that — while many small island developing States are middle- or high-income countries — they are only one natural hazard away from losing that status. Thus, other elements of vulnerability must be considered, such as their small size or their isolation.
Mr. CRAIG encouraged Multi-Country Offices to use the country experience of resident coordinators to implement programmes that are aligned with national goals and expectations.
Ms. TRIPURA stressed that a country’s development should not be measured on the basis of its gross domestic product (GDP); rather, it should be measured by whether the lives of vulnerable people are improving.
LIU ZHENMIN, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, delivering closing remarks, said that the wealth of data and evidence collected by the Department of Economic and Social Affairs demonstrates that solid progress has been made during the first year of the quadrennial comprehensive policy review. The United Nations development system is now better positioned to support countries, resident coordinators are fostering more effective and coordinated approaches and there is strong recognition by programme countries of the resident coordinators’ leadership and impartiality. “As we had envisioned at the start of the repositioning reform, resident coordinators are becoming centres of gravity” for convening partners and stakeholders around the Sustainable Development Goals, he said.
However, he pointed out that a lot of work remains in assisting countries with overcoming complex development challenges and accelerating achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. There is a need to further reorient mindsets and mobilize expertise towards a systems approach. “This is a complex task”, he emphasized, noting that a whole-of-system approach means strengthening coordination across development, humanitarian and peace action. While reforms have helped improve cross-pillar actions, he said that “we still have to break the high walls between our siloed approaches”. Critical to this effort is multi-year cross-pillar funding, as is more-tailored support being provided to countries in special situations.
He went on to say that, as the pandemic enters its third year, United Nations country teams must be better equipped to assist Governments in closing the digital divide and in improving access to science, technology and innovation. Noting that humanitarian expenditure has increased by 164 per cent over the past decade while development spending remained roughly the same, he said that the diversion of developed countries’ resources away from official development assistance (ODA) would further magnify adverse impacts. Sacrificing these budgets will also deepen poverty, inequality and negative climate impacts, as well as undermining the ability to respond to new variants of COVID-19. “We must fully move into and emergency mode”, he stressed, through enhanced policy advice and support on financing climate action and environmental protection. He added that, beyond this, the international community must also support transformative changes to realize the Sustainable Development Goals.
COLLEN V. KELAPILE (Botswana), President of the Economic and Social Council, said the 2022 operational activities for development segment took place against the backdrop of continued challenges, including the fragile recovery from the pandemic, the climate crisis and the ripple effects of the war in Ukraine. However, “it is clear that Governments and the United Nations system are committed to addressing those daunting challenges head-on, and [to] accelerate action to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals.” Summarizing some of the segment’s proceedings, he said the Secretary-General expressed his determination to forge ahead with the historical reforms of the United Nations development system launched in 2018 and broadened by the 2020 quadrennial comprehensive policy review. Programme countries largely welcomed the reforms, and participants agreed that the pandemic “showed how far we have come”.
However, he said, much work remains to be done. Participants stressed the need to further increase cooperation, mutual accountability and reporting between United Nations system entities and resident coordinators, and called for more closely intertwined activities for peacebuilding, development and humanitarian relief. They also welcomed improved support to countries in special situations and middle-income States, in full respect of national ownership and leadership, and called for further improvements. Noting that all those points will be addressed during the Council’s high-level political forum in July, he said efforts are needed by both the United Nations and Member States to undertake transformative actions, particularly in the latter’s funding patterns.
MIIA RAINNE (Finland), Vice-President of the Economic and Social Council, said the repositioning exercise concluded in 2018 seemed almost omniscient in preparing the United Nations development system — “at the eve of the COVID-19 pandemic” — to deliver a much more integrated, whole-of-system response. Summarizing some of the proceedings over the last three days, she said participants agreed that the system responded well to the challenges posed by the pandemic, while also noting the need for more transparency and accountability. They noted that the draft resident coordinator system results framework must be revised to serve as a rigorous tool with objective performance indicators. They also cited more integrated and collaborative work on the part of the United Nations development system, which is enabling more comprehensive and systematic approaches on the ground in key areas, and provided on-the-ground examples of efforts to harness the benefits of reform.
She noted that, as old and new compounding crises are exerting an immense toll across the globe, “the urgent is crowding out the important”. The world has backtracked on its Sustainable Development Goals progress, and “we are at the verge of a development crisis” that requires a United Nations development system which delivers to the maximum of its potential. This includes, in particular, improving collaboration across humanitarian, development and peacebuilding actions. This is needed now more than ever. Member States and funding partners have an essential role to play in helping scale up and pool humanitarian and development funding. Permeating all the segment’s discussions were calls for adequate, flexible and predictable funding for the United Nations, a goal which lies at the heart of the Funding Compact and requires a fully funded resident coordinator system. While many Member States are struggling with fiscal constraints during today’s challenging times, she stressed that addressing urgent humanitarian needs cannot come at the expense of funding for development. “Less funding towards development activities today means more funding will be required to address humanitarian crises tomorrow.”