Harmonization of ECOSOC and the General Assembly for the 2030 Agenda


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The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is driving discussions on reforming UN working methods. Consultations are being held at the UN headquarters, which aim to enhance synergies and coherence, and to reduce overlap between the agendas of the UN General Assembly (GA) and the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), including in the high-level political forum on sustainable development (HLPF).

“The dialogue”, as the co-Chairs of Australia and Argentina refer to it, is premised on a previous mapping of GA committees’ mandates, and includes the reexamination of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) and other Secretariat offices, to better align with the 2030 Agenda.

To slim down overlaps, some Member States propose that the UN eliminate resolutions under ECOSOC that duplicate resolutions in the GA. Additionally, some view ECOSOC as operating in isolation from the intergovernmental negotiations of the GA committees, and therefore have called for its “overhaul”. The G77 representative pointed out that ECOSOC discussions are not often committed to institutional memory. The US delegate added, “quickly one discussion is forgotten by the time we get to the next ECOSOC event”.

The G77 and China noted while “working on the issues from different perspectives is okay”, they are still intent on prioritizing the collective views of the universal membership of the UN. Enhancing equal footing in participation “cannot be led by a restrictive group of hegemonic powers”. Many times the scheduling of the GA and ECOSOC meetings limit the participation of developing countries, who usually have less staff and smaller missions. Supporting the G77 proposal to restrict High-level meetings to only two or three a year, Kiribati added: “This simplification must also support the facilitation of smaller States’ participation”.

The Singapore representative pointed out that: “We have no choice to address old ways of working and add innovation and coherence to our work”. Discussions on creating coherence between the intergovernmental decision-making body (GA) and the operationalization body (ECOSOC) of the UN – in consultation with the Secretary-General’s efforts – are pertinent to the achievement of the 2030 Agenda.  

The 2030 Agenda mandates require a greater level coordination and a rearrangement of the UN institutional framework never before expected from the UN. Some Member States are calling for a UN system that focuses on results instead of mandates in working out synergies between the GA Committees and ECOSOC. However, calling for the UN system to focus on results instead of mandates, isn’t as simple as it seems. The co-Chairs have posed the following questions: how can we best differentiate between overlap that is useful and overlap that is duplicative? How can our process be consistent with resolution 70/299, which addresses the follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at the global level? To do this they are exploring possible ways to create an incentive-based system to produce results. Yet, financial incentives are being tip-toed around by the very Member States asking for results.

The next meeting for the dialogue process in June 2017 will be in the format of small group meetings, which aim to test the recommendations of the co-Chairs.

Further information on the mandates and mapping of the UN General Assembly and ECOSOC can be found in the 24 March 2017 letter from the co-Chairs. (http://www.un.org/pga/71/wp-content/uploads/sites/40/2015/08/Synergies-between-work-of-GA-and-ECOSOC-in-light-of-2030-Agenda.pdf). More on the ad hoc working group on the revitalization of the General Assembly, (AHWG) can be found on their webpage (http://www.un.org/en/ga/revitalization/revital_current.shtml).