16 August 2016
UN Development System Gets Fit for the 2030 Agenda Purpose
UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
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One year after answering “What” should happen in the next 15 years for the UN development system, by adopting the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, UN Member States are getting ready to negotiate “How” this will take place.

One year after answering “what” should happen in the next 15 years for the UN development system, by adopting the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, UN Member States are getting ready to negotiate “how” this will take place. The negotiations on the next Quadrennial Comprehensive Policy Review (QCPR) will take place during the 71th Session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA), which commences on 13 September 2016.

The QCPR is the UNGA mechanism used every four years to assess UN operational activities for development, including the funding and functioning of the UN development system and its effectiveness. The 2016 QCPR will seek to ensure that the UN development system is fit to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This policy brief reviews the milestones in the preparatory process for the QCPR negotiations and key inputs that have been issued to inform the process.

Preparatory Process for QCPR 2016

In 2014, through Resolution 2014/14, the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) decided to convene a transparent and inclusive dialogue involving Member States and all relevant stakeholders on the longer-term positioning of the UN development system in the context of the 2030 Agenda. The first phase of the ECOSOC Dialogue took place from December 2014 to May 2015, and focused on building a common understanding among Member States of the opportunities and challenges facing the UN development system, in anticipation of the adoption of the 2030 Agenda. The purpose of the second phase, which began with a briefing session on 17 December 2015 and ended with a formal meeting of ECOSOC on 7 July 2016, was to discuss concrete ideas, options and proposals for strengthening the UN development system in six areas: functions; funding practices; governance; organizational arrangements; partnership approaches; and interlinkages.

The dialogue spanned over 18 months and was informed by analytical papers and proposals from the UN Development Group (UNDG), the UN Secretariat, Member States, and an Independent Team of Advisers (ITA) appointed by the ECOSOC Bureau. The ITA was established in February 2016, with 14 members from all regions and various NGOs, to offer specific recommendations on the Dialogue process. It was co-chaired by Klaus Töpfer (Germany) and Juan Somavia (Chile) and has produced seven background papers to inform the Dialogue workshops.

“In order to improve the UN development system, one needs first to have a system,” concluded the ITA. They called governments’ attention to a lack of an authority line or structure in UN development system that could ensure the system-wide coherence, oversight and integration necessary to deliver the SDGs. They also cautioned that “transforming the world will not be possible only with marginal changes of the UN system,” and stressed that UN agencies, funds and programmes need to be “forced” to work together, and not compete with each other for funding. They invited Member States to keep the same level of ambition that led to the adoption of the 2030 Agenda and “bite the bullet” to make the needed systemic changes. These and other recommendations informed the dialogue, which fed into the UN Secretary-General’s recommendations report for the QCPR, an advance, unedited version of which was released at the beginning of August.

The report observes that the Dialogue helped to distinguish issues that need attention in the short- and medium-term from those that will require more time. In the short term, he noted that the new QCPR should guide the UN development system in the initial years of implementation of the 2030 Agenda, while laying the foundations for fundamental changes in the medium to longer-term.

Also in preparation for the QCPR negotiations, the UN Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) and the Permanent Mission of Switzerland organized a series of trainings, which covered UN development system functions, funding for UN operational activities for development, the operational implications of the 2030 Agenda. The final module in the training, a briefing in preparation for the QCPR negotiations, is scheduled for late September.

Major Themes of Discussion

The UN development system’s core functions in responding to the 2030 Agenda, as identified through the ECOSOC Dialogue, include: integrated normative support for implementation, monitoring and reporting on global agreements, norms and standards; integrated, evidence-based policy advice and thought leadership, to support countries to embed the SDGs into national and local plans and budgets; capacity development and technical assistance; convening of stakeholders across constituencies, leveraging of partnerships and facilitating knowledge-sharing, South-South and triangular cooperation; direct support and service delivery, particularly in countries in special situations; and comprehensive and disaggregated data collection and analysis to inform evidence-based, context-specific, and inclusive policy choices.

The 2016 QCPR negotiations will need to address how to meet the funding needs identified in the Dialogue. These include: a new funding architecture; enhancing the predictability and quality of resources; increasing non-earmarked core contributions, exploring outcome-level earmarking; strengthening system-wide funding; and exploring innovative funding mechanisms.

Governance issues are also likely to be in focus during the negotiations. The ITA’s proposals aimed to address the lack of an authority structure in the UN development system that could ensure the system-wide coherence, oversight and integration. The recommendations included: the adoption of a system-wide Global Strategic Framework to align the UN development system around a common set of principles and objectives for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda; the establishment of a single Sustainable Development Board to guide the operational activities of the UN development system as a whole; and the re-designation of the Deputy Secretary-General’s (DSG) role as the DSG for sustainable development, who should become responsible for the oversight and funding of the resident coordinator system (RC system) to ensure its independence from all UN agencies. In addition, ITA also proposed to: organize the UN development system around functional groupings; align the funding of the UN development system around a consolidated budget; establish a system-wide support mechanism for partnerships to ensure a common approach to external players; and adopt a common human resource policy to ensure an international civil service dedicated to working as one.

The Dialogue discussions revealed divergences among Member States regarding recommendations related to centralization at UN Headquarters and the creation of new structures. Governments mostly agreed that improving what already exists and focusing on enhancing delivery at the country level might be the most feasible and cost-effective approach. Developed countries largely supported an independent RC, while many developing countries expressed preference for the RC to remain within the UN Development Programme (UNDP).

The recommendations on governance in the Secretary-General’s report, to be taken forward by QCPR 2016, are shaped along the lines of: enhancing horizontal governance while strengthening the capacity of governing bodies to provide strategic guidance and ensure accountability, both in the specialized mandates of each entity and across the inter-sectoral nature of the 2030 Agenda; and revitalizing governing bodies with new ways of working, better geographic balance and multi-stakeholder participation. The report underlines that efforts to improve coherence and coordination must build on efforts already taken by the UN development system, while pushing for a new generation of mechanisms, instruments and practices to operate as a system at the country, regional and global levels.

Building on the major areas of consensus during the ECOSOC Dialogue, the Secretary-General’s report further identifies several concrete proposals, including: the full implementation of the UNDG Standard Operating Procedures for UN country teams (UNCTs), adapted to country contexts; maximization of Delivery as One (DaO), as the platform for UN development system support at the country-level; a new generation of country development frameworks, retitled “UN Sustainable Development Frameworks” (SDFs), that can capture the core content and context of the 2030 Agenda and provide a strategic system-wide overview of UN activities on the ground; a RC system with the authority and neutrality required to lead an empowered UNCT on the ground; and addressing the whole system, including specialized agencies, “without prejudice to the important role of the respective oversight bodies and their specialized mandates.”

The ECOSOC Dialogue also reflected general agreement over the need to strengthen the synergies across the development, humanitarian and peacebuilding nexus in order to realize and sustain peace and development, but agreement on how this should be achieved still needs to be reached in the upcoming negotiations. Several Member States expressed concern that increased humanitarian assistance should neither lead to “de-prioritization” of development-related support to programme countries nor to weakened policy and operational independence of the respective entities.

Aligning the QCPR Agenda for 2030

In its recommendations, the Secretary-General’s report underscores the need for “a new QCPR” that should: provide strategic direction; be focused on outcomes rather than process; clearly define the role the UN development system can play in the realization of the 2030 Agenda, including funds, programmes and specialized agencies, to ensure a system-wide strategic approach; clarify the UN development system’s vision; identify the key underlying principles around functions and division of labour; identify ways to foster interagency collaboration, including to overcome the development, humanitarian and peace and security divides; and set the stage for reform areas that support key reform outcomes. The report also suggests that the new QCPR should be renamed ‘Strategic Policy Review (SPR).’

The Secretary-General’s report underlines that the QCPR should not only define the strategic direction of the UN development system, but it should also continue to facilitate a feedback mechanism to Member States on progress made in implementing that direction. In order to achieve that, the report notes that the new QCPR should: harmonize results-based management systems across UN development system entities; strengthen system-wide evaluation; and define clear mechanisms for monitoring and reporting on QCPR progress, including a new QCPR monitoring framework closely aligned to the SDGs.

QCPR 2016 Negotiating Process

The ‘Report of the Secretary-General on the QCPR of operational activities for development of the UN system: Recommendations,’ together with the Secretary General’s report on QCPR (A/71/63–E/2016/8), which provided an in-depth analysis of the implementation of QCPR 2012, will inform the UNGA negotiations on the QCPR during the final quarter of 2016. Through these reports, the Secretary-General has underlined that “the QCPR is not a panacea to implement the global aspirations of the new development agenda. Evolving from coordination to integration is a shared responsibility for UN system and national governments together.” Member States will now take up the challenge of ensuring the UNDS’ system-wide coherence and coordination for delivering the highly integrated 2030 Agenda.



Report of the Secretary-General on the QCPR of operational activities for development of the UN system: Recommendations

Implementation of General Assembly Resolution 67/226 on the quadrennial comprehensive policy review of operational activities for development of the United Nations system (QCPR): 2016

ECOSOC Resolution 2014/14

QCPR Website

ECOSOC Dialogue Website

IISD RS Coverage of ECOSOC Dialogue

IISD RS Coverage of QCPR Training Series

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