Delegates in the UN General Assembly's Second Committee held their annual meeting with the heads of the five UN regional commissions.
Egypt, for the Group of 77 and China, emphasized that the functions of regional commissions should go well beyond the role of think tanks.
Russia said the role and place of the regional commissions in repositioning of the UN development system must be decided by Member States themselves.
26 October 2018: Delegates in the UN General Assembly’s (UNGA) Second Committee (Economic and Financial) underscored the need to strengthen UN regional commissions’ role in SDG implementation, during the Committee’s annual meeting with the heads of the five commissions. The representatives highlighted regional challenges to SDGs implementation, including climate change, debt, natural disasters, and lack of inclusivity in economic growth.
The discussion took place on 26 October 2018, at UN Headquarters in New York, US. Olga Algayerova, Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), said natural hazards and pollution are important challenges for the region, with pollution being responsible for the deaths of 400,000 Europeans annually and reducing life expectancy in some regions by 12 months. She noted that solutions include infrastructure networks and improved connectivity, adding that better water management is also one of the Commission’s objectives that are key to advancing the SDGs. She mentioned that the digitalization of transport is critical to the efficient movement of goods, with “intelligent transport” expected to lower costs and time.
Mounir Tabet, Executive Secretary of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), said ESCWA provided support to establish/update historical disaster losses databases for six Arab States and capacity development for them to address sand and dust storms. She mentioned as conflict prevention challenges insufficient social cohesion, justice and inclusivity, frustrated youth expectations for decent jobs, economic stagnation, inequality, and vulnerability to economic and price shocks.
Vera Songwe, Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), expressed strong support for the African Continental Free Trade Agreement. She explained that tariff elimination on goods under the Agreement could increase the share of intra‑African trade from 40% to over 50%, adding that the trade increase will be larger if liberalization in services and non‑tariff barriers are tackled within Africa. She noted that total debt, external debt and debt service are rising again, up to 54% of gross domestic product (GDP) in some cases, making it difficult to raise financing for the SDGs.
Despite being a global supply chain hub, the ESCAP region is not on track to achieve the SDGs, except for Goal 4 (quality education)
Kaveh Zahedi, Deputy Executive Secretary of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), observed that, even though the Asia‑Pacific region is a hub for global supply chains, the region is not on track to achieve the SDGs, except for Goal 4 (quality education). He explained that the region has been hit hard by climate change, with disasters outpacing resilience, Asia-Pacific being five times more likely to be affected than any other region. He added that inequality in economic terms widened during a period of growth, increasing in 40% of countries.
Alicia Bárcena, Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), said growing trade tensions are a a problem, with issues between the US and China affecting ECLAC countries. She noted that the region must combat tax avoidance and illicit funds and close gaps on innovation and technology. Mentioning that lithium is a key commodity for electric cars, she observed that, as a dominant supplier of that metal, ECLAC has the potential for considerable future development. She noted the region is improving integration across multiple platforms, including in technology and biodiversity.
In the ensuing discussion, Egypt for the Group of 77 and China (G-77/China), said the regional commissions’ “key role” in supporting SDG implementation must be preserved and strengthened. He added that their existing functions should be enhanced, along with their role as crucial platforms for intergovernmental cooperation and regional integration. He emphasized that the functions of regional commissions should “continue to go well beyond” the role of think tanks (as suggested in the Secretary-General’s report on the reform of the UN development system) and the support they provide to regional coordinators and UN country teams. Mexico supported the view that regional commissions are “more than think tanks.” China said reforming the regional commissions is an important part of repositioning the UN development system. Indonesia inquired how the commissions envisage aligning themselves with the repositioning of the UN system.
Russia said the role and place of the regional commissions in repositioning of the UN development system must be decided by Member States themselves. Adding that his country is a major donor to UNECE and ESCAP, he noted that these commissions have “real potential” for implementing and achieving the SDGs. As the largest donor country to ESCAP, the Republic of Korea reaffirmed regional and subregional cooperation as key to sustainable development.
Cabo Verde said that small island developing States (SIDS) do not have a coordinated body in Africa, as they do within other regional commissions. Romania highlighted UNECE’s role in bringing together stakeholders. China and Bhutan stated that regional commissions are valuable in supporting implementation of the 2030 Agenda at the national level. [Meeting webcast] [UN meeting summary]