12 March 2020
ECOSOC and UNGA Presidents Provide Guidelines for Postponing, Scaling Down Meetings
Photo by IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth
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In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, a risk assessment matrix has been used to determine the need to postpone, cancel or scale down scheduled meetings at UN Headquarters in New York, US.

The SDG Knowledge Hub events calendar has been updated as information on COVID-19 related postponements and cancellations are announced.

Updated 16 March 2020: On 13 March, the UN Secretary-General outlined the need to “reduce our physical presence” at UN Headquarters. All staff are to conduct their work through full time telecommuting unless “their physical presence in the building is needed to carry out our essential work in New York and around the world,” according to Guterres’ message to UN staff. The reduced staffing level will be reappraised after three weeks. In addition, the ECOSOC president decided not to convene any physical meetings or informal consultations of the Council for two weeks. Other meeting postponement and cancellations are also being assessed, with many consultations moved to an online format. Check the daily UN Journal for the most up to date information on meetings.


11 March 2020: A number of meetings scheduled for the next two months under the auspices of the UN General Assembly and UN Economic and Social Council are being cancelled or postponed, according to letters from the Presidents of the respective bodies on 11 March 2020. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, a risk assessment matrix has been used to determine the need to postpone, cancel or scale down scheduled meetings at UN Headquarters in New York, US.

The UN Secretariat provided the Presidents with a Meetings Risk Assessment Matrix to serve as a common evaluation tool to decide whether and how to go forward with scheduled meetings.

UNGA President Tijjani Muhammad-Bande said that his office applied the tool in assessing the risks for UNGA meetings in March and April 2020. Based on this tool and exchanges with Member States, the President announced his recommendation to apply the following guidelines:

  • Scale down the number of people at gatherings within the UN premises. Delegations are encouraged to limit participation at meetings to not more than two New York-based delegates;
  • Hold meetings in large conference rooms, when possible, to allow for adequate space among participants;
  • Refrain from inviting non-New York area residents to serve as panelists, speakers and participants at meetings;
  • Refrain from inviting visitors into the UN building;
  • Cancel side events; and
  • Postpone or scale down National Days.

Some postponements have already been decided. The Fourth Session of the Intergovernmental Conference on an international legally binding instrument under the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ), which was scheduled to take place from 23 March to 3 April, has been postponed “to the earliest possible date to be decided by the General Assembly.” The ECOSOC Youth Forum, which was originally scheduled to take place on 1-2 April, and the Youth Plenary, which was to be held in preparation for the UN’s 75th anniversary, on 31 March, have also been postponed.

Two high-level meetings in April 2020 also will not go forward, per the UNGA President’s letter: the High-level Interactive Panel on Anti-microbial Resistance, scheduled for 14 April 2020, and the High-level event to commemorate and promote the International Day of Multilateralism and Diplomacy for Peace, scheduled for 24 April 2020.

Regarding “some large-scale meetings” in March-April, the President said he is still considering them and will revert with proposals by 13 March.

In a letter to Member States from ECOSOC President Mona Juul, Juul wrote that the Bureau had met to evaluate its heavy meeting calendar for the coming months and provided a list of proposed changes to scheduled meetings. By this proposal, some meetings would not be held during the 2020 ECOSOC session or would be postponed to a later date, such as: the ECOSOC Partnership Forum, 3 April; the Multi-stakeholder Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation (STI Forum), 12-13 May; the Committee of Experts on Public Administration, 30 March-3 April; and the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (PFII), 13-24 April.

Others would proceed with New York-based participation and remote participation, such as the ECOSOC Development Cooperation Forum (DCF), which would be scaled down to a one-day meeting on 14 or 15 May, and the ECOSOC segment on Operational Activities for Development(OAS), from 19-21 May. The UN Forum on Forests (UNFF) is proposed to take place for a half-day within the originally scheduled dates of 4-8 May.

A formal ECOSOC meeting will convene on Monday, 16 March, to decide on a revised schedule of meetings. 

The SDG Knowledge Hub events calendar has been updated as information on COVID-19 related postponements and cancellations are announced. Most of the announcements have focused on events scheduled to take place in March and April. Of particular note, the annual Spring Meetings of the World Bank and IMF will take place in a virtual format this year.

On 12 March, the Government of Kazakhstan announced that it would no longer be able to host the World Trade Organization’s Twelfth Ministerial Conference due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The WTO MC12 was scheduled to take place from 8-11 June 2020, in Nur-Sultan.  

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