UNF Alert 18

February Monthly Monitor: SG Candidates; Reviewing SDG Progress; Indicators; FfD; Positioning the UN for 2030


The race for the next Secretary-General

As many of you know, the race for the next UN Secretary-General, who will take office on January 1, 2017, has begun in earnest, with seven candidates formally nominated so far. In response to calls for greater transparency, the President of the General Assembly (PGA) has invited all nominated candidates to participate in informal open hearings at UN Headquarters on April 12-14. The hearings are an opportunity for candidates to present their vision for the UN and field questions from member states and NGOs in a setting that is open to civil society and the media. This is a significant departure from previous selection processes, which have typically taken place behind closed doors among the 15 members of the UN Security Council; however, candidates still face a possible down vote from the permanent five (P5) members of the Security Council. Observers will be listening for views and ideas that candidates choose to share in this public forum. While many expect that the hearings are unlikely to stir controversy, they will be valuable in assessing temperament and ability of candidates to handle politically charged questions. A focus on substantive issues will also be welcome. There is also talk about additional public debates with the candidates outside of a formal UN setting.

Meanwhile, the General Assembly continues to discuss proposals to make changes to the process, such as instituting a single-term limit of seven years, a proposal supported by the 1 for 7 billion campaign, instead of having five‑year terms that can be renewed by the Security Council. They believe a single term could provide the Secretary-General greater freedom to act and speak without fear of reprisal from a member of the P5.

Current candidates include: Srgjan Kerim (Macedonia), Vesna Pusić (Croatia), Igor Lukšić (Montenegro), Danilo Türk (Slovenia), Irina Bokova (Bulgaria) and Natalia Gherman (Moldova). Most recently, Antonio Guterres (Portugal), former UN High Commissioner for Refugees was nominated, the first non-Eastern European candidate. Several other candidates are expected to come forward in the coming weeks.

Reviewing progress on the 2030 Agenda

The SDGs global follow-up and review process is meant to strengthen national implementation by providing ministers and other development actors a forum to determine global progress, exchange ideas, and learn lessons from one another. A main goal will be connecting what is happening at the local and national levels back up to the annual global-level reviews in New York. Similarly, regional organizations and mechanisms are well-positioned to provide insights on regional trends and peer learning. Additional questions relate to the role of analysis and data from outside sources such as research institutions and civil society. And some groups are considering ways to help citizens provide views on how well the SDGs are progressing, to increase and maintain citizen engagement and interest in the SDGs overtime.

Since the release of the Secretary-General’s report on follow up and review, member states and other observers are working to ensure that the High-Level Political Forum (“HLPF”) becomes an effective and engaging forum that will attract Ministers on an annual basis, where they can share lessons on what is working. The HLPF will meet at leaders’ level every four years, starting in 2019, in order to review and drive progress. Many have called for a coherent approach to SDG review, noting that various parts of the UN system should not try to “own” certain goals, but rather take a coordinated approach. Member states will also need to strike the right balance in structuring the annual themes of the review, so that they can give each SDG goal area sufficient focus, without reverting back into silo-ed thinking about individual goals. We expect that “Leave No One Behind” will be the theme for this year’s HLPF in mid-July and hope that this important topic is a focus of attention in years to come as well. On March 3, the PGA appointed Ambassador Lois Young of Belize and Ambassador Ib Petersen of Denmark to co-facilitate negotiations on the most critical questions related to the SDG follow up and review framework, while leaving room for flexibility to adapt, evolve, and to learn from experience over the next few years.

Indicators: not just for the statisticians

On March 11, the UN Statistical Commission agreed the indicators for the SDGs as a “practical starting point” and “subject to future technical refinement.” These caveats reflect recognition by member states that more time is required to refine several of the indicators. However, much like the debate over SDG targets in 2015, there are remaining tensions between the need for technical refinement and the risk of “reopening” the whole package and potentially losing ground on some hard-fought indicators.

Some experts in the global health community have expressed concerns over the revised Universal Health Coverage(UHC) indicator (3.8.2), which they say is a significantly weaker formulation that no longer measures financial risk protection. The indicator measures percent of the population covered by some form of insurance or social protection scheme but gives no indication of the quality of that protection and whether it effectively protects poor people from financial ruin caused by major medical expenses. Others are concerned over revised indicators for the Gender goal, which in some cases, are seen as less comprehensive in scope compared to the original versions. For example, the original indicator forsexual and reproductive health (5.6.2) measured: “the proportion of countries with laws and regulations that guaranteeall women and adolescents access to sexual and reproductive health services, information and education” while the revised indicator adds an age caveat for such services, limiting them to women and girls aged 15-49. Advocates point out that an indicator for “all women and adolescents” could push policymakers to go beyond the status quo and measure those populations who have previously not been counted.

The precise way that these contentious issues are framed is integral to them being measured and reported on, especially by governments who may wish to overlook those issues that stretch them beyond their comfort zones. The indicators will shape whether and how targets get measured, making them relevant to us all, not only the statisticians. We expect these tensions to continue to play out in the months ahead.

Financing for Development Forum

The Financing for Development Forum is expected to take place in New York the week of April 18 (dates TBC). It will consist of three to five days, one of which will be ECOSOC’s high-level meeting with the Bretton Woods Institutions, WTO, UNCTAD, and other stakeholders. The remaining days will be dedicated to reviewing the means of implementation for the 2030 Agenda, including the Addis Ababa Action Agenda. The Forum’s conclusions will be fed into the overall follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda through the HLPF. Member states will decide on the precise timing and agenda for the Forum soon.

Positioning the UN for 2030

Member states and a team of experts are currently grappling with how the UN needs to reform and adapt, especially in order to support countries to deliver on the 2030 Agenda in a tighter budget environment. The biggest issues include funding of the UN system, governance, and multi-stakeholder partnerships. On funding, many are pushing for more core funding for the UN rather than short-term funding for earmarked projects, which can hinder longer-term development planning, predictability, and flexibility and increase fragmentation. On multi-stakeholder partnerships, historical divisions over the UN’s engagement with the private sector continue, as some observers point out the need for greater member state oversight and accountability of partners, while others emphasize the need to leverage the expertise and comparative advantages of other sectors, particularly given the breadth and ambition of the new agenda. On governance, emerging powers are calling for a greater voice on the executive boards of UN bodies, to reflect the current geopolitical landscape and the fact that development is no longer only “North-South”. Some member states have also noted that the UN should “take a hard look at overlapping mandates” and that the UN seems to be the only place where mandates “never disappear.” An internal effort in the UN secretariat to examine existing mandates and how they may transition to the SDGs is ongoing, with a report to be released in the coming weeks.

To shed further light on how the UN development system should improve and function in the SDGs era, an Independent Team of Advisors will provide ideas to member states through June 2016. Juan Somavia of Chile and Klaus Töpfer of Germany were elected as co-chairs, and Sarah Cliffe, Director at NYU’s Center on International Cooperation, has been appointed Special Advisor on the ECOSOC Dialogue.

Many agree on the need to bridge the UN’s development, humanitarian, and peacebuilding work; but the challenge is how to do so when the system is structured and funded in a way that tends to reinforce silos. In this constrained funding environment, concerns about how to respond effectively to humanitarian crises without losing focus on longer-term sustainable development have increased as more and more aid has been steered to address current crises. This issue is expected to be taken up at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul in May (see below for reading on humanitarian issues.)

Must Reads

  • The UN Secretary-General recently released One Humanity: Shared Responsibility, which elaborates on five core responsibilities to help frame stakeholder commitments at the World Humanitarian Summit in May, which many consider to be a test for how well the SDGs agenda can be accommodated with respect to crises on the global agenda. The report contains an ambitious “Agenda for Humanity” for governments, NGOs and the private sector, and Rahul Chandran of UN University argues that there is still time for the WHS to be a springboard for change. The High-Level Panel on Humanitarian Financing also released its report “Too Important to Fail—Addressing the Humanitarian Financing Gap,” examining resource gaps and how to improve the delivery and efficiency of humanitarian efforts and proposes a grand bargain between big donors and aid organizations to do so.

Look Ahead

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