Panel Discusses Role Of ECOSOC In The UN’s Post-2015 Goals

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The contribution the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) can make to the formation of a post-2015 UN development agenda was at the centre of a thematic debate in Geneva last week. The agenda, to be developed by the General Assembly, is expected to include issues such as innovation, public health and the transfer of technology.

Speakers on the 4 July panel of the ECOSOC High-level Segment examined topics relating to a post-Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) sustainable development agenda, including good governance, finance, and the role that ECOSOC has to play in the development of such an agenda. A number of delegations spoke in the general debate that followed the initial discussion.

The speakers on the panel examined different approaches to integrating sustainable development into a post-2015 agenda in a uniform fashion. This is one of the international community’s highest priorities, said Wu Hongbo, under-secretary-general for economic and social affairs at the UN.

All panellists spoke of the need to have the post-2015 agenda shaped not only by UN bodies but by the member states of the UN, as well as other international partners. Wu said ECOSOC is in a strong position to bring these different bodies together for discussion, a statement echoed by the delegation of Belgium.

Wu underlined that the UN system must not only support implementation of the framework, but must also monitor the steps taken and the gains made towards the goals. It was argued by several speakers as well as by the delegation of Croatia that ECOSOC has a valuable role to play in the evaluation of this ongoing progress.

Wu also stressed the need for a framework at a global level that supports action at the national and regional level, underlining that national rather than international actions determine whether commitments on sustainable development and poverty are translated into results. Amina Mohammed, the UN secretary-general’s special adviser on post-2015 development planning, echoed this. She said that the targets should be set at the national level, a statement for which the delegation of China voiced its support.

A common argument was the need for a simple, easily communicable agenda. For instance, Helen Clark, administrator of the UN Development Programme, said that the post-2015 focus should be on a limited number of goals and challenges that could realistically be achieved rather than a large number of less attainable goals – a suggestion that was supported by Michael Anderson, the UK Prime Minister’s special envoy for post-2015 UN development.

It was generally agreed that progress had been made towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals (although the extent to which this has happened was less unanimous), but that there is still a great deal of progress to be made. A common refrain among the speakers was the need to avoid completely shifting focus to a post-2015 view, and avoid prematurely moving on from the MDGs.

Anthony Mothae Maruping, commissioner for economic affairs at the African Union Commission, stressed the need to ensure there are no relapses from progress already made towards the MDGs. Anderson argued that maintaining focus on the MDGs is important not only for the sake of the MDGs themselves but also because the international community can learn from working towards the goals and apply this information to the post-2015 agenda.

In keeping with the theme of the High-level Segment, innovation was discussed as an important element of the post-2015 agenda. Although it was mentioned on occasion, innovation was not at the forefront of the discussion – a fact noted by Ann Aerts, head of the Novartis Foundation for Sustainable Development. She argued that more emphasis should be placed on the topic of innovation. Given the level of discussion of innovation at other ECOSOC discussions, it is likely the issue will play a bigger role than the 4 July discussion suggested.

A major topic of the morning was good governance. François-Xavier de Donnea, from the Belgian Chamber of Representatives, argued that the lack of achievement of the MDGs was not due to lack of financing but rather due to poor governance at the international and national level (particularly in some least-developed countries). He said that post-2015, more emphasis should be placed on good governance. He argued that parliaments must be truly representative and represent the poorest people, since governments are more attentive to the people to whom they are accountable.

The issue of good governance proved to be somewhat divisive. Donnea argued that good governance should be a stand-alone goal for post-2015 sustainable development, rather than just functioning as a small aspect of other goals. Wu disagreed, suggesting that this would be difficult since good governance is difficult to measure, and that there is no “one-size-fits-all” standard for different countries. He suggested that although the issue is clearly important, it should be enshrined in other goals rather than act as its own goal. Anderson countered Wu’s argument, and suggested that it was indeed possible to measure good governance by weighing up a number of factors relating to the freedom and safety of citizens in their own country. He said that whether good governance is its own goal or not, ECOSOC would nevertheless have an important role to play in monitoring this issue.

Although there was some disagreement over whether good governance could form its own goal, all speakers agreed it would have to be a crucial aspect of the post-2015 agenda. Mohammed argued that good governance plays an important role in holding all the other goals together, since a convention must be transformed into individual laws, and these laws must be implemented and enforced. All speakers agreed that good governance is a necessity, at both the national and international level. Donnea proposed that in future, ECOSOC meetings should include representatives of national and regional parliaments.

Another topic addressed in detail was inequality. Clark especially emphasised the dangers of inequality for sustainable development, and stressed that this issue should be at the heart of ECOSOC’s work and at the heart of the post-2015 agenda. She argued that inequality must not be put off until 2015, however, but that it should be addressed immediately, as inequality is on the rise around the world and that this, as well as the resulting instability, is at odds with the vision of the Millennium Development Declaration. Donnea suggested that the best way of fighting inequality is to have a democratic system where the poorest are able and encouraged to vote.

The topic of financing the post-2015 goals was also discussed at length. Most speakers agreed that investments from a range of institutions, such as governments, international organisations and the private sector, are necessary.

Maruping of the African Union Commission suggested using public-private partnerships (PPPs) as another way to raise funds, speaking in their favour and speaking out against criticisms of PPPs as ‘social experiments’. Mohammed emphasised that since the goals are not legally binding, potential investors must be convinced that funding them would be beneficial rather than a burden. Donnea spoke about the political aspect of financing, stating that political will – not money – is what is lacking. He argued that the key to obtaining financing would be to address this issue.

Underlying the statements made not only by the speakers but also by the various delegations which spoke in the general debate was the notion that all progress made must be on the global level. In order for this to happen, ECOSOC must effectively act as organiser and cheerleader, focusing discussions and maintaining the momentum of the General Assembly. It has a crucial role to play in bringing together parties from various sectors and bringing important policy considerations to the table to be discussed by everyone. As Aerts emphasised, ECOSOC must engage in dialogue with all stakeholders. Anderson stated that ECOSOC is in a good position to do so and has an important role to play in encouraging the process in a timely, ambitious and focused manner.

Many speakers made reference to the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development which took place in June 2012, where member states agreed on the economic, social and environmental importance of ECOSOC, and reaffirmed its role as co-ordinator of a post-2015 agenda. The general tone of the 4 July discussion was that ECOSOC must carry out this role with dedication and commitment to the post-2015 goals.

Caitlin McGivern is currently studying at the University of Law in London and will graduate with an LLM in 2014. She previously obtained a Bachelor’s of Arts in Philosophy and Theology from the University of Oxford. She is a summer intern at Intellectual Property Watch. She is of Swiss, Canadian and Irish nationalities.

Caitlin McGivern may be reached at info@ip-watch.ch.

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