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UN Secretary-General Reports on Mainstreaming Sustainable Development in UN System

UN logo8 May 2013: The UN General Assembly (UNGA) and the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) have issued an advance unedited copy of the 'Report of the Secretary-General on mainstreaming of the three dimensions of sustainable development throughout the United Nations system.' The report responds to a mandate from the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD, or Rio+20) for the UN Secretary-General to report to the UNGA, through ECOSOC, on the progress made on this topic.

The report serves as a preliminary stocktaking of how the three dimensions – economic, social and environmental – have been integrated into the work of the UN system to date. It suggests building blocks for further integrating the three dimensions of sustainable development, to support Member States' work on the post-2015 development agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and describes challenges, lessons learned and recommendations.

On mainstreaming sustainable development within the UN system, the report recommends, inter alia: building on the UN Environmental and Social Sustainability Framework; applying sustainability conditions such as safeguards; and finding “triple win” approaches to support progress across all sustainable development dimensions. It describes how the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT), UN Development Programme (UNDP), the International Labour Organization (ILO), and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) have integrated the three dimensions of sustainable development in their strategic planning, and notes that the UN Statistical Commission adopted a System of Environmental-Economic Accounting Central Framework, the first international environmental-economic accounting standard. Despite these examples, the report identifies “an ad hoc approach with varying levels of thoroughness and rigor” and an “institutional gap between policy and practice” on sustainable development. It recommends reviewing internal UN structures and workflows to ensure consideration of all sustainable development dimensions.

The report highlights institutional strengths, challenges and lessons learned in integrating sustainable development. Institutional strengths include institutional awareness on sustainable development as an overarching framework for development, and coordination mechanisms to support multi-disciplinary approaches and policy coherence. Challenges include: unclear, inconsistent terminology and understanding on translating sustainable development in the UN's work; sectoral silos; imbalances among the three dimensions; assessing impacts and progress; and scaling up success. Lessons learned relate to: ensuring high-level support for mainstreaming; developing a clear objective, methodologies and tools for integrating sustainable development dimensions; and establishing a common reporting mechanism.

The report recommends future steps, including a road map for accelerating integration of the three dimensions into the UN's work; a report of the Secretary-General to the high-level political forum on sustainable development (HLPF) on the UN system's progress in this integration, beginning in 2014; support to Member States in preparing strategic plans to integrate sustainable development; and integration of sustainable development dimensions in UN Development Assistance Frameworks (UNDAFs). [Publication: Report of the Secretary-General on Mainstreaming of the Three Dimensions of Sustainable Development throughout the UN System]