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ECOSOC Special Ministerial Meeting Discusses the Multilateral System for Sustainable Development

24 September 2012: On the margins of the 67th session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA), the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) held a Special Ministerial Meeting on strengthening the multilateral system for sustainable development.

Convened as a formal meeting of the Council, at UN Headquarters in New York, US, this event sought to discuss steps needed for a strengthened and more effective multilateral system that governs the global economic, social and environmental spheres, as recognized by the outcome document of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD, or Rio+20).

In his opening remarks, Miloš Koterec, President of ECOSOC, announced that a joint statement on, inter alia, strengthening ECOSOC, would be circulated to delegates in the room. Referring to the online global forum “Building the Future We Want” launched by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) and the Department of Public Information (DPI), he mentioned that members of the public would help to shape the discussion. He later added that questions had been received from about 7,000 people around the world.

Vuk Jeremić, President of UNGA 67, said a more dynamic ECOSOC will bring a stronger contribution to the Assembly's work. He stressed the importance of advancing the social aspect of sustainable development, of promoting human rights, and of effective collaboration with the international financial institutions (IFIs) and the Group of 20 (G20). Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General, highlighted challenges ECOSOC could answer, including: a coordinated solution to the global job crisis; the need for donor countries to honor their commitments to the developing world; and the need to put food security and nutrition at the top of the development agenda, and to increase green growth and support the Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) initiative. Wu Hongbo, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, said while ECOSOC has several advantages including its interconnecting role between commissions and agencies, a make-over is necessary, including substantive changes to its agenda-setting.

Following these opening remarks, a panel discussion moderated by David Steven, Senior Fellow at the Center on International Cooperation (CIC), New York University, was held on steps needed for an inclusive, strengthened and effective multilateral system for achieving sustainable development. Steven called for speakers to offer practical and visionary proposals for the future. Gert Rosenthal, Permanent Representative of Guatemala to the UN and former ECOSOC President, discussed issues that need to be addressed in order to strengthen ECOSOC. He said the UN, the Secretariat and its intergovernmental machinery are particularly well-placed to play a robust role in the area of development. He added that coordination of efforts is insufficient, and the agendas of ECOSOC and UNGA are overlapping.

Timothy Wirth, United Nations Foundation President, stressed that, based on past experience, ECOSOC should focus on specific areas such as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), energy, gender and the private sector. Munir Akram, former ECOSOC President, called for strengthening the ECOSOC system, noting a great need for policy coherence and effective implementation of international community decisions, and said ECOSOC is the right organ to provide these functions. He called for revising the functions, the structure and the Secretariat of the Council.

A few questions from the online global forum were read to the room, and delegates were invited to intervene. Delegates emphasized: the need for ECOSOC to be inclusive with a greater involvement of different types of actors including civil society, the private sector and academia; the need for an accountability mechanism for development results (including monitoring and evaluation); and the need to avoid duplication, to focus on key priorities and to be coherent with subsidiary bodies, funds, programmes.

Following the panel discussion, a Ministerial dialogue was held, with interventions from more than 30 high-level officials. Points raised included the importance of: reaffirming the role of ECOSOC as a coordination body; ensuring that ECOSOC has a role in the post-2015 development agenda and that it promotes compliance with the MDGs, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the high-level political forum on sustainable development; promoting complementarity, and ensuring coordination between ECOSOC and other UN bodies like the UNGA and the high-level political forum; improving integration, coherence, consistency and effectiveness in international development policy; and streamlining ECOSOC's agenda. The dialogue also called for: new innovative finance mechanisms and greater collaboration between ECOSOC and multilateral financial institutions; a focus on substance rather than negotiations; greater involvement of the Least Developed Countries (LDCs); the need for ECOSOC to follow up on its resolutions; and global economic governance reform to enhance the participation of developing countries.

Closing the meeting, Navid Hanif, Director of the Office for ECOSOC Support and Coordination (DESA), for Wu Hongbo, said the post-2015 development agenda can only be realized through a strong, inclusive and effective multilateral framework.

Koterec stressed the importance of reflecting the role of ECOSOC in the path to the future we want. He said: a multilateral framework for sustainable development should build on lessons learned and provide policy guidance; and the high-level political forum should be made an integral part of the ECOSOC system.

An official summary of the Meeting by the President of ECOSOC is expected to be circulated to all Member States and taken up by the Council for further action. [IISD RS Sources] [Concept note] [Programme] [UN Journal 24 September] [UN Press Release] [Statement of UN Secretary-General] [ECOSOC Meeting Summary]