UNF Alert 20

Dear Colleagues,

With the first Security Council straw poll on the candidates running for Secretary-General (SG) and the 2016 HLPF to review SDGs progress having just wrapped up, July has been a busy month. The SG race continues to toe the line between precedent and change and has captured the attention of even more observers now that we have an informal indication of each candidates support from members of the Security Council. The first annual HLPF, convening a mere seven months after the agreement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, showed countries taking initiative on implementation even in these fairly early days. There is, of course, much work to be done, particularly on financing and means of implementation as well as making more people aware of the SDGs.

We will continue to watch the SG selection process develop throughout August, though we expect the UN to be fairly quiet on other fronts. We hope that you have a chance to get some rest before the flurry of activity resumes in September. As always, please let us know if you have any questions or suggestions.


All the best,

Minh-Thu Pham
Executive Director of Policy, UNF


Monthly Monitor: First SG straw poll and takeaways from the HLPF

Next SG Selection Process

In early July, staff from the UN Secretariat submitted an open sign-on letter on the selection of the next Secretary-General (SG). They note that the next SG “will be fundamental in the life or death of millions of people, and in global peace and security, sustainable development and human rights” and urge “Member States to make their decision accordingly, and to draw on the experience and views of staff in determining the kind of person needed.” The letter further notes that the people of the world “will be best served by an independent SG of the highest caliber.”

Christiana Figueres referenced this letter at a July 12 Al Jazeera-sponsored, televised Town Hall, her public debut to the membership, having declared her candidacy on July 7. She made a splash with her response to an open question about the UN’s responsibility in the cholera outbreak in Haiti, saying the UN is morally obliged to take responsibility even for unintended consequences; when asked, Helen Clark offered a different view, suggesting that comments should not be made on cases that are currently before the courts. The Town Hall showcased 10 of the 12 candidates (Kerim and Lajčák did not attend) to an energetic General Assembly Hall filled with member states, UN staff and members of civil society. At the event, the President of the General Assembly (PGA) Mogens Lykketoft contended that, if there are clear favorites among the candidates, it will be difficult for the Security Council to put forward someone else.

This tension over transparency persisted through the first Security Council straw poll, held on Thursday, July 21. Ambassador Geir Pedersen of Norway penned an open letter on behalf of the Nordic countries, urging the Council to maintain a spirit of openness and transparency throughout the remainder of the selection process. At minimum, he requested that the Council announce results from the various straw polls through the PGA; the Elders welcomed the letter. Despite these appeals, Ambassador Bessho of Japan, the President of the Security Council for July, said that the results of the straw poll would not be shared publicly, though information would be shared with the governments that have candidates in the race. The statement prompted the PGA to issue a letter to the membership in which he chided the Security Council for failing to “live up to the expectations of the membership and the new standard of openness and transparency.”

Notwithstanding the closed-door nature of the anonymous straw poll, results were leaked to the press within hours. Members of the Security Council voted to encourage, discourage or offer no opinion about each of the candidates, creating an aggregate score for each (encourage-discourage-no opinion): António Guterres (12-0-3), Danilo Türk (11-2-2), Irina Bokova (9-4-2), Srgjan Kerim (9-5-1), Vuk Jeremić (9-5-1), Helen Clark (8-5-2), Susana Malcorra (7-4-4), Miroslav Lajčák (7-3-5), Christiana Figueres (5-5-5), Natalia Gherman (4-4-7), Igor Lukšić (3-7-5), and Vesna Pusić (2-11-2). Anonymous ballots masked whether discourage votes came from P5 members who can veto candidates, though members of the press staked outside of the Security Council chamber speculated based on their observations of Ambassadors’ behavior and facial expressions, which could easily be misread or misattributed.

Most candidates have stated that they look forward to continuing the process, implying that they will not drop out at this stage. Pusić, with 11 discourage votes signaling that at least one came from a P5, may be the exception; her silence on social media following the straw poll suggests that she may soon withdraw. Though the straw poll was meant to narrow the list of candidates, it is possible that one or more new candidates will enter the race in the coming days. Kevin Rudd has formally asked his government (Australia) to support him.

Some Security Council members were ready to hold the second straw poll during the week of July 25, though others advocated for delaying. The next straw poll is now scheduled to take place on August 5, under the supervision of August Security Council president, Ambassador Ibrahim of Malaysia. If few candidates choose to withdraw after several straw polls, Council members may employ their own measures for narrowing the field, such as instituting a cut-off score.

HLPF takeaways:

The first High Level Political Forum (HLPF) to review progress on the SDGs after agreement of the 2030 Agenda took place July 11-20, 2016 in New York under the leadership of Ambassador Oh Joon of South Korea, with ministers, private sector and civil society leaders and many others converging on New York. During the ministerial portion, July 18-20, 22 countries volunteered to provide their national reviews of progress and share lessons, and several side events taking place as well, focusing on the theme of this year’s HLPF, Leave No One Behind. A common theme throughout the week was the need to link global issues on the agendas of political leaders (and on the minds of citizens around the world) such as refugees and migration or violence and extremism to the SDGs if the SDGs are to have traction over time. We came away from this HLPF with several other takeaways (these impressions do not represent a comprehensive picture of the last two weeks):

  • National reviews were one of the most successful aspects of this year’s HLPF. The reviews included the most substantive and innovative content across the program; so far we’ve heard from many, including government and civil society partners, that the national reviews were the most interesting and inspiring aspect of the HLPF. The reviews showed that the HLPF can be a credible, trusted and constructive forum by allowing countries to expose their successes and failures. Future annual HLPFs need to ensure that there are strong incentives for countries to keep coming back and reporting on progress.
  • Financing and the Means of Implementation will need to be elevated if we are to achieve the SDGs. Many member states are still grappling with the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, how it fits with the 2030 Agenda and the means of implementation, and how to carry these issues forward. There’s a need for more attention and action to build on the agreements last year on financing if we are to deliver on the SDGs.
  • Accountability can’t happen once a year. While the annual HLPF is a clear moment for assessing countries progress on implementation, accountability measures can and should continue throughout the year at various levels and formats. A common thread of the discussions around the HLPF was about ongoing review efforts and interim touchpoints between annual HLPFs at regional, national and subnational forums.
  • Global challenges and crises should be linked to the SDGs. Though there will not be a headline SDGs moment for some time, the SDGs are relevant as a way to address root causes of a host of other political issues. To keep the SDGs high on the agenda of political leaders and to maintain traction among the global public, the SDGs must be seen as relevant to headline crises, like refugees and migration and counter-terrorism. The SDGs are part of the solution to many of our most urgent problems.
  • Building and maintaining public awareness is still urgently needed. We consistently heard from colleagues that the SDGs are still unknown to the vast majority of world’s people. We need to keep finding opportunities to highlight the SDGs and their potential to address the challenges people face in their daily lives. Continuing to build awareness will be critical to maintaining momentum and pressure to deliver.
  • Private sector actors were very engaged. There is opportunity for the private sector to become further integrated into member state-led solutions. The private sector showed great energy at the SDG Business Forum and Partnership Exchange, driving home the message that we need to establish new multi-stakeholder partnerships and initiatives to achieve the goals. Private sector conversations will need to be better linked to government discussions.

Look ahead:

Must reads:

Security Council Report offers a deep dive into the process of appointing the Secretary General, historical precedents and the challenges that the process presents to the Security Council. Karin Landgren of NYU-CIC echoes the sentiment laid out in the secretariat letter that the expectations of the next SG are high and that the Security Council would do a disservice to the world by nominating a weak leader.

Suzanne Nossel proposes “The Women on Top Theory” in Foreign Policy this week, which discusses gender equity at the UN and in high-level government posts and suggests that a critical mass of women in global leadership could prompt the appointment of more female ambassadors and ministers by countries hoping to strengthen their rapport with key governments and institutions.

Debapriya Bhattacharya, Kate Higgins and Shannon Kindornay along with several Southern Voice researchers launched a Post-2015 Data Test report on Implementing Agenda 2030: Unpacking the Data Revolution at the Country Level, which draws on country studies from seven low-, middle- and high-income countries to identify opportunities and challenges for effectively applying and measuring a universal, country-relevant SDGs framework.

Malaka Gharib of National Public Radio (US) offers a status update on the work already done on SDGs implementation, sharing some of the major achievements as well as the areas where there is more work to be done. Oomen C. Kurian, of the Observer Research Foundation in India, describes how the 2030 Agenda has inspired the Indian government to promote comprehensive goals, clear deadlines, and measurable targets, particularly when it comes to  health, though he recognizes that tracking the SDGs will be significantly more demanding than tracking the SDGs was, and will require more onerous statistical effort at the national level.

Oswald Mashindano and Solomon Baregu write about National Level Implications of Implementing the SDGs in Tanzania for the Southern Voice Network on Post-MDGs, noting that inadequate budgetary resources had been one of the major hurdles encountered during MDGs implementation; they recommend that the government of Tanzania explore non-traditional revenue sources for financing the SDGs, such as public-private partnerships.

In a similar vein, Philippe Orliange of Agence Française de Développement argues that innovative mechanisms can help to mobilize domestic finance, noting that they will also help stem both licit and illicit outflows of resources, a goal that has been at the heart of the financing for development agenda.


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