UNF Alert 19

Dear colleagues,

April was a particularly busy month at the UN, with several high-level officials descending on New York for a series of momentous events – from the nine candidates currently in the race for the next UN Secretary-General (SG) participating in open dialogues with member states, to government ministers sharing national SDG implementation plans at the President of the General Assembly’s (PGA) high-level debate on achieving the SDGs, to world leaders participating in the historic signing ceremony of the Paris climate agreement, which saw a record-breaking 175 countries sign in a single day. As the Deputy Secretary-General noted in the opening ceremony of the PGA’s event, holding the SDG implementation event on the eve of the Paris climate signing sent an “important signal” that the development and climate agendas are inseparable and mutually reinforcing; one cannot be achieved without the other.

Below are highlights from the major moments this month, which built on the agreements crafted in 2015, but also began to set the stage for the UN’s future, including its next SG to take the helm in 2017.

Minh-Thu Pham
Executive Director of Policy, UNF


Monthly Monitor: SG Candidate Hearings, SDG Implementation, Paris Climate Agreement signing, SDG Indicators, Financing for Development

Secretary General candidate hearings

On April 12-14, in response to resolution 69/321, the President of the General (PGA), Mogens Lykketoft of Denmark, hosted an unprecedented series of informal, open dialogues with each of the nine candidates nominated to be the next Secretary General;. Each began with an opening statement followed by a question and answer session. Member states took the dialogues seriously, with most participating at ambassador level and asking serious questions, from how the candidates would navigate political issues between countries to approaches to management and reform of the UN and their own personal qualifications and skills. The dialogues received high interest from UN staff, civil society, the press, and citizens around the world; these actors engaged actively on Twitter with over 20 million impressions. A civil society debate hosted by the Guardian, UNA-UK, and FUNDS, also held that week with four of the candidates caused #UNSecGen to trend for hours on Twitter one evening.

Early on, some commentators questioned whether these PGA dialogues would have any impact on the selection process, but as the interactions progressed, it was clear that the open format had set a new standard for the SG selection process; not only did it help governments and citizens vet the viability of candidates on equal footing, but many also notes that the open dialogues have now made it very difficult for Security Council members to nominate a candidate who had not been through such a process.

Following the dialogues, the press and other observers deemed Helen Clark and Antonio Guterres the current frontrunners, with Irina Bokova and Danilo Türk at their heels, though many note it is still quite early in the process, and additional candidates will be nominated in the coming weeks.  A few commentators have speculated that the positive reception of Guterres and Clark may pressure the Eastern European Group to rally around a smaller number of candidates. If the members of the General Assembly coalesce around a single candidate before the Security Council begins deliberation in July (no small feat), it could be difficult for the Council to nominate a different candidate, though the likelihood of this remains low, particularly as no straw vote or process exists currently for the GA to demonstrate collective support for a candidate.

PGA’s Debate on Achieving the SDGs

On April 21, the PGA convened a high-level thematic debate on SDG implementation, which stood out for its highly interactive nature, and for addressing synergies with the COP 21 and Addis Ababa Action Agendas (AAAA). The event featured youth representatives, musicians, journalists, activists and representatives from the private sector and civil society – a reminder that the SDGs are not only the “UN’s goals”; they are everyone’s goals, and it will take coordinated efforts from all sectors of society to achieve them.

A series of interactive discussions focused on the major drivers of SDG implementation: strategies for financing the SDGs and a shift toward low-carbon societies; enhancing international cooperation on tax and financial matters (a topic that seemed to take on new international urgency following the recent release of the Panama Papers); partnerships for implementation; harnessing technology and the data revolution for the SDGs. The day was capped off with a reception on climate action in the context of sustainable development, setting the stage for the signing of the Paris Agreement the following day. A “digital media zone” ran throughout both events, where leaders ranging from UNFCCC climate chief Christiana Figueres, to the President of the Marshall Islands, Hilda Heine, to SDG Advocates Jeff Sachs and Forest Whitaker, gave interviews to reach a much broader audience. For a collection of highlights, videos and quotes from both the SDG and climate events, please visit Global Daily.

Signing of Paris Climate Agreement

On April 22, Earth Day, record-breaking 175 Member States, represented by heads of state and high-level diplomats, signed the historic Paris Agreement on Climate Change, breaking the previous record for countries signing an international agreement on a single day – held by the Law of the Sea, which was signed by 119 countries in 1982. And as a powerful reminder about the impact on future generations, 197 children attended the ceremony, alongside the diplomats and world leaders. Check out photos from the day’s events here.

At least 34 countries representing 49% of greenhouse gas emissions formally joined or committed to joining as early as possible this year, bringing the agreement closer to the critical threshold for becoming operational and much faster than expected. To enter into force, the treaty needs at least 55 parties to the agreement, representing at least 55% of global emissions, to complete all steps toward ratification.

SDG Indicators

From March 30 to April 1, the Inter-Agency Expert Group for SDG Indicators (IAEG-SDGs) met in Mexico City to 1) establish a tier system for indicators, 2) establish procedures for methodological review of indicators (including approval mechanisms for refinements), 3) develop global reporting mechanisms (including identifying entities responsible for compiling global reporting data and defining the data flow from the national to global level), and 3) discuss the group’s work plan and next steps. Civil society and the private sector made formal statements throughout the meeting, advocating on goals 3, 5 and 16 related to indicators on health, gender and governance. The UN Statistics Division laid out next steps and published an Outcome Document, and will accept comments on the tier system through May 31; the system will be finalized by July 29.

Financing for Development and World Bank Spring Meetings

The inaugural Financing for Development Forum took place in New York on April 18-20, with ministers, UN officials and other stakeholders discussing current global economic challenges, options for innovative development financing, and the need for concerted action to implement the 2030 Agenda and the AAAA. Delegates adopted a modest outcome document which recognizes that the AAAA helps to contextualize the SDG means of implementation with “concrete policies and actions”. G77 countries expressed disappointment that the Forum’s mandates of assessing progress, identifying obstacles, addressing new and emerging topics and providing policy recommendations were not reflected in the outcome document. Closing the Forum, the ECOSOC President, Ambassador Oh Joon of South Korea, said the willingness of Member States to seek “win-win solutions” was more important than putting words into an outcome document. The Forum was informed by the report of the Inter-agency Task Force on Financing for Development (IATF), which maps out the commitments and action items in the AAAA and lays out how the IATF will monitor their implementation.

A major theme from the forum was the development-humanitarian nexus and the need to take into account both the needs of refugees and the capacities of host communities – and that as crises are becoming more and more protracted, the line between financing for humanitarian needs and longer-term development needs is increasingly blurred. Another prominent theme was better harnessing private capital to contribute to the SDGs, by creating more enabling environments for entrepreneurs, investors and other private sector actors to support SDG delivery. In particular, speakers identified technology, data and infrastructure investment as major opportunities for private sector engagement.  

Following up on the agreement in Addis Ababa to “bridge the infrastructure gap”, the new Global Infrastructure Forum (GIF) was launched on the margins of the World Bank/IMF Spring Meetings in Washington, DC on April 16. The launch by the Multilateral Development Banks (MDBs), in partnership with UN Agencies and other development partners, indicated strong commitment from the MDBs to work collaboratively with both public and private sectors to help drive “more and better spending on infrastructure”. See the Chairman’s statement for additional details on the GIF’s goals over the next year. Future outcomes of the GIF will be reported to member states via the FfD Forum.

May Must Reads

Andrea Ordóñez of Southern Voice on Post-MDG International Development Goals discusses the importance of taking action in the first 1,000 days of SDG implementation, highlighting three critical considerations: Maintaining the integrity of the agenda and not retreating back to a siloed approach, making critical use of data and evidence to inform policymaking, and focusing on both ideas and action. Save the Children recently published Delivering the Sustainable Development Goals: From Agreement to Action, which details recommendations for governments and other stakeholders as they translate the 2030 Agenda into national plans, identifying five key areas of action: 1) National plans, 2) Governance and institutions, 3) Commitment to leaving no one behind, 4) Democratizing data, and 5) Improving accountability.

Shyam Saran of the India-based Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS) writes about the historic nature of the Paris Agreement in the op-ed pages of The Hindu, urging India to be cautious about ratifying the agreement until there is more clarity over whether the U.S. Congress will also ratify, partiuclarly given the upcoming U.S> elections and the potential for a repeat of the Kyoto Protocol drama.

The Overseas Development Institute (ODI) discusses national finance strategies in An Age of Choice for Development Finance: Evidence from Country Case Studies and presents options for financing the SDGs beyond ODA. Development Initiatives lays out recommendations for domestic revenue mobilization, including cooperation through the Addis Tax Initiative, in Aiding Domestic Revneue Mobilization.

Molly Elgin-Cossart of the Center for American Progress and Rahul Chandran of the United Nations University have published a paper on Designing Better Accountability  Mechanisms for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, suggesting that global and regional tools can enhance and complement local and national monitoring efforts. Mark Halle and Robert Wolfe of the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) analyze the suggestions in the Secretary-General’s report in Follow-Up and Review for the 2030 Agenda: Bringing Coherence to the Work of the HLPF and suggest thinking about the HLPF as the apex of a pyramid of inputs, defining success as “a holistic review of the 2030 Agenda with a concrete sense of who needs to do what to follow-up.”

Johannes Jütting of PARIS21 discusses SDG indicators and monitoring roles and responsibilities for different actors in his blog SDG Data Discussion: What Next? Casey Dunning of the Center for Global Development recaps the UN Statistical Commission’s agreement on SDG Indicators and discusses measuring SDG progress in a podcast with Rajesh Mirchandani.

The BBC’s Mark McGrath discusses the legal requirements to bring the Paris climate agreement into force, and The Guardian’s Suzanne Goldenberg recaps the historic signing ceremony.

Ambassador Matthew Rycroft, Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom to the UN, gives his insider’s take on The Biggest (S)election of 2016. In World Politics Review, Richard Gowan jokes that the Secretary-General Candidates Fail in Bid to Make U.N. Hearings Boring.

Look Ahead

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