Regional Commissions Vital to Guiding Development Policy, Achieving 2030 Agenda, Speakers Say in Second Committee Dialogue

Regional commissions had a long-established role in guiding development policy and analysis in their parts of the world, and each faced its own challenges to implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Member States heard as the Second Committee (Economic and Financial) held a dialogue on the topic of “One Year of SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals]:  Where the Regions Are”.

Christian Friis Bach, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Europe, and current Coordinator of the Regional Commissions, moderated the segmentation on presentations by the Executive Secretaries.  Regionalism had seen a strong wave over the past 70 years, he said.  However, there were also divisive forces, including competing regionalism.  The role of the commissions was more important now than ever, as the 2030 Agenda would “hit the ground in the regions”, he said.

Khawla Mattar, Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, said that the ability of the region to implement the 2030 Agenda was at risk due to intensifying conflicts and crises, foreign occupation, the increased flow of refugees, high unemployment and marginalization.  Youth unemployment was the highest in the world at 28.4 per cent and one in five women was unemployed.  More than 40 per cent of people in the region were either poor or vulnerable.

Abdalla Hamdok, Deputy Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), said that his continent had achieved impressive progress on a number of socioeconomic development issues.  There was improved infrastructure investment, rapid urbanization, an improved business environment and a growing middle class.  Nonetheless, that growth had had limited impact on poverty and unemployment and in many instances had led to increasing inequality.  ECA had a key role to play.  It worked with other partners to establish continental indicators for Agenda 2063 and the 2030 Agenda and assisted countries in integrating those agendas into their national plans.

Antonio Prado, Deputy Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), said that the implementation of the 2030 Agenda was complex in his region due to lower growth rates, the economic slowdown, a decrease in trade and a lack human resources, research and development tools.  Other factors included a lack of diversification in product structure, the end of the commodity boom and vulnerability to climate change.

In an ensuing interactive dialogue, the representative of Algeria asked about the mobilization of domestic resources and about illicit financial flows.  His continent needed extensive annual financing for funding and infrastructure, and he asked if the mobilization of domestic resources would really work given the needs at hand and the lack of income in many African States.

The representative of Egypt said it was important to focus on the challenge of terrorism, one of the greatest threats to stability in the West Asian region.  He also highlighted the importance of integrating the 2030 Agenda and Agenda 2063 in the African region.

Also speaking were representatives from Mexico, Belarus, Ethiopia, Russia, the European Union, Brazil, Peru, Vanuatu, and Argentina.  A representative of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women) also spoke.  Representatives of regional commissions also responded to questions.

The Second Committee will meet again on Wednesday, 2 November, at 10 a.m. to hear the introduction of available draft resolutions submitted under its various agenda items.

Presentations

DIAN TRIANSYAH DJANI (Indonesia), Chair of the Second Committee, said the theme of today’s discussion was timely and commensurate with the Regional Commissions’ long-established leading role in guiding development policy and analysis in their regions.  Compared with the Millennium Development Goals, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development represented a more robust and integrated approach, and the 2030 Agenda welcomed the cooperation of regional and subregional organizations.  Inclusive regional processes would draw on national level reviews and contribute to follow-up and review at the global level.

The focus areas, he said, included institutional arrangements to ensure integration and intersectoral coordination for the implementation; statistical capacity; adaptation and alignment with national and regional contexts of Member States; financing in support of the 2030 Agenda; and partnerships and engaging diverse stakeholders.

CHRISTIAN FRIIS BACH, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Europe (ECE), and current Coordinator of the Regional Commissions, moderated the segmentation on presentations by the Executive Secretaries.  Regionalism had seen a strong wave over the past 70 years, he said.  However, there were also divisive forces, including competing regionalism.  The role of the Regional Commissions was more important now than ever, as the 2030 Agenda would “hit the ground in the regions”, he said.  It was necessary to have a well-designed institutional framework, and the Commissions already worked closely in support of implementation and institutional development, setting up intersectoral platforms for implementation.  Those platforms were multi-stakeholder, and provided a greater voice to the subregions and countries in special situations, as well as including United Nations agencies and the private sector.

The Regional Commissions had a strong role on statistical capacity as well, and they were actively involved in helping countries build the capacity they needed to acquire the data that was necessary.  And the Commissions worked with Member States to mobilize the necessary financial resources for the 2030 Agenda, providing analysis and policy advice and promoting innovative sources of financing.

SHAMSHAD AKHTAR, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), said Governments in her region were mainstreaming and integrating the 2030 Agenda into their development plans.  Subregional platforms and the Pacific Islands Forum were seeking cooperation to reinforce sustainable development through development of cross border infrastructure and realization of transboundary goals.  The region had benefited from ESCAP’s enhanced conference structure, which now included finance, science, technology and innovation and energy.

Turning to national data and indicators, she said the 2015 ESCAP statistical survey had shown data gaps.  The region must develop new ways to source statistical information, as it currently only had data for about half the defined indicators of the global monitoring framework.  Subregional statistical consultations were held to share emerging knowledge and seek collective actions.

As for operationalization of development frameworks, countries had been establishing and operationalizing institutional and legal frameworks for steering sustainable development, she said.  For example, Sri Lanka had established a dedicated Ministry of Sustainable Development and Pakistan as well as Indonesia had integrated development goals into national legislation.  Armenia, China, Japan, Indonesia, Philippines and Turkmenistan had established bodies or mechanisms to coordinate actions across ministries and sectors for the 2030 Agenda.

On financing for the Agenda, she said investment needs in ESCAP’s developing countries would range from 5 to 10 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP).  The Asia-Pacific Financing for Development Forum had underscored the need to tap the region’s tax potential, promote financial inclusion, strengthen public expenditure management and foster public-private infrastructure financing.  Promoting partnerships would be key to catalyse action for sustainable development. ESCAP’s Asia-Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development had benefited from extensive partnerships with civil society, the private sector and business groups.  ESCAP had also sponsored “knowledge networks” with regional trade, academic, research and private institutions to promote trade research.

CHRISTIAN FRIIS BACH, presenting for the ECE, said that the continent’s member States understood that the Sustainable Development Goals needed to be integrated into national planning.  It was crucial to focus policies on the marginalized and the excluded to leave no one behind.  There were still significant data challenges left from the Millennium Development Goals, and significant differences between States on implementation.  Some countries already had national sustainable development strategies they could build upon, while others were just beginning to establish structures.  All countries recognized the need to work on advocacy awareness.  The United Nations could offer policy recommendations and expert advice, among other services.

He highlighted the intersectoral nature of the Regional Commissions, noting that the ECE was working substantively on 16 of the 17 Goals — the sole exception was the oceans.  One key role was in statistics, and the ECE had hosted a conference of European statisticians, which had played a key role in developing recommendations, including on big data, climate statistics and modernization of statistical production.

The regional follow-up and review was a feature of all regional commissions.  It was necessary to avoid duplication and additional reporting.  “We want a regional mechanism that can build on existing mechanisms but add value by peer learning, exchange of best practices, identify the regional trends that we see in our region … and then to address transboundary issues,” he said.  Transboundary issues included trade and air and water pollution, giving the Regional Commissions a key role to play.

He pointed to the need for stronger regional integration and cooperation.  “Of course, we see right now strong and divisive forces in our region, but I think there is a recognition that in the long run, what is needed in our region is stronger integration towards sustainable development,” he said.  Europe had learned painfully from its history of the importance of integration, and carefully, the member States were coming together to discuss what could be done towards stronger integration towards 2030.

KHAWLA MATTAR, Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), said Arab States had achieved significant progress on some Millennium Development Goals, including access to education and maternal health.  However, the ability of the region to implement the 2030 Agenda was at risk due to intensifying conflicts and crises, foreign occupation, the increased flow of refugees, high unemployment and marginalization, especially of women.  Youth unemployment was the highest in the world at 28.4 and one in five women was unemployed.  More than 40 per cent of people in the region were either poor or vulnerable.  Wages as a share of GDP had declined and inequalities were high — between the rich and poor, men and women and urban and rural areas.

Malnutrition had persisted and the status of children in developing and conflict countries had deteriorated, she continued.  For the past five years, 40 per cent of Arab countries had witnessed some form of conflict, which was an enormous setback to development.  There was little to suggest a reversal of that trend in the near future.  There had been a frightening increase in wasting of food, starvation among children and school enrolment rates had dropped to half their pre-war levels in conflict areas.  Countries did not suffer alone and troubles in the region had affected neighbouring States as well as even more distant ones.

The region’s strategy to implement the 2030 Agenda included supporting nations to incorporate the Sustainable Development Goals into national development plans and frameworks, she said.  ESCWA had formed a partnership with the League of Arab States.  A definitive feature of the Agenda was the integrated nature of the Goals, which must be translated at the country level into coherent policies, and ESCWA was assisting with that integration.  It was also identifying challenges which could be meaningfully tackled through regional cooperation.  However, she noted that implementation tools could only be successfully used with accurate and reliable data.  ESCWA was working to strengthen statistical systems and the quality of data.  As it enlarged the knowledge base, the strategy could be tailored to serve priority areas.

ABDALLA HAMDOK, Deputy Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), said that his continent had achieved impressive progress on a number of socioeconomic development issues.  Africa achieved 5.5 per cent growth in the first decade of the new millennium, and the second decade saw growth of about 4.4 per cent, which was still impressive considering the fall in commodity prices.  There was improved infrastructure investment, rapid urbanization, increased demand, an improved business environment and a growing middle class.  Nonetheless, that growth had limited impact on poverty and unemployment and in many instances had led to increasing inequality.

Africa’s performance on the Millennium Development Goals had been remarkable, he continued.  At least five of the Goals had been achieved.  Several had met poverty targets, but the number of people in extreme poverty was growing.  Access to education had improved, but there were challenges about the quality of it.  Gender equality had improved in education and representation of women in parliaments across the continent.  There had been an unprecedented decline of child mortality and a decrease in the prevalence of HIV/AIDS.  Africa’s percentage of global trade had declined, which was a serious issue and called for a shift from aid to trade.  African countries continued to depend on official development assistance (ODA).

On the 2030 Agenda, Africa was the only region that came up with a common regional position on the post-2015 development agenda, he said.  There were several challenges that needed to be translated into opportunities.  There was a need to increase awareness of the 2030 Agenda; for an integrated framework; and for a joint monitoring framework and evaluation.  ECA had a key role to play.  It worked with other partners to establish continental indicators for Agenda 2063 and the 2030 Agenda and assisted countries in integrating those agendas into their national plans.  On policymaking capacity, it supported in three ways:  statistics, development planning and policy advice.  ECA had worked with partners on articulating common positions for Africa, including on issues such as industrialization, illicit financial flows, South-South cooperation and migration from an African perspective.  Highlighting the harrowing images of Africa’s young people crossing the Mediterranean, he said, “This is talent, this is skills, and we would like to create an environment to retain them.”  On the question of financing, deepening financial assistance, increasing microfinance, tapping into innovative sources of finance, strengthening domestic sources of finance and recognizing the importance of remittances were all key.

ANTONIO PRADO, Deputy Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), said his region had actively been implementing the 2030 Agenda.  It was creating interministerial entities related to implementation and follow-up into national and territorial plans, raising awareness of the Agenda among relevant stakeholders, fostering dialogue to address its challenges and assess capacities of member countries to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.  Implementation of the Agenda was complex in the ECLAC due to lower growth rates, the economic slowdown, a big decrease in trade and a lack of human resources, research and development tools.  Other factors included a lack of diversification in product structure, the end of the commodity boom and vulnerability to climate change.

ECLAC was working to implement the 2030 Agenda’s global mandate by strengthening the regional architecture for follow up and review and revising the framework for implementation, he continued.  It was promoting the incorporation of the Goals into development plans and building the data and statistical capacities for achieving them.  ECLAC was also supporting integration plans and budgets, integration of the Goals into national and territorial planning schemes, strengthening capacities through technical assistance, boosting regional and national data ecosystems and promoting regional as well as South-South cooperation.

Questions and Comments

The representative of Mexico said that the contributions of the regional commissions were broadly recognized.  Mexico’s objective was to make the 2030 Agenda a reality through national plans and institutional arrangements, and it had presented in July its vision of that in the high-level political forum.  The Forum of the Countries of Latin America and the Caribbean on Sustainable Development needed to carry out three functions:  a dialogue and exchange of views; a space for the region to find standardization for statistics, planning and indicators; and support for every country in the region to carry out the Sustainable Development Goals.  Financial dishonesty and diversion was a serious challenge that undermined resources for the financing of sustainable development.  “We should strengthen the scope of the Forum by increasing the power of ECLAC,” he said, and it should be given the resources it needed.

The representative of Belarus said it was necessary to avoid any opposition to integrational models.  Belarus proposed making use of the experience of the ECE and its activities in the region, and believed it would be appropriate in that regard to have the ECE operate on a permanent basis.  Mutually advantageous cooperation in the European and Asian continent was of great significance for global political stability and for progress.  “Only together, working together, can we deal with today’s world’s problems and its threats,” she said.

The representative of Ethiopia said regional commission played an important role in supporting implementation of the 2030 Agenda.  One challenge countries faced was how to make the transition from implementation of the Millennium Development Goals to the Sustainable Development Goals, which would determine the success of African development.  He also stressed the need for synergy and coherence between the 2030 Agenda and other multilateral agreements.  He questioned whether coordination among regional commissions was important for sharing experiences and best policy practices.

The Russian Federation’s delegate said regional commissions were important components in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals and could even accelerate it.  It was necessary to provide the commissions with financial support and contribute to the Goals’ review at the global level.  He looked forward to the improvement of regional cooperation in achieving the 2030 Agenda, especially for information technologies and trade, which would benefit the region as a whole as well as particular countries.

The representative of Algeria asked Mr. Hamdok about the mobilization of domestic resources, and about illicit financial flows.  Africa needed extensive annual financing for funding and infrastructure, and he asked if the mobilization of domestic resources would really work given the needs at hand and the lack of income in many African States.

The representative of Egypt said it was important to focus on the challenge of terrorism, one of the greatest threats to stability in the West Asian region.  Highlighting Sustainable Development Goal 6, water resources and sanitation, he said that the Middle East was one of the largest areas in the world which had to deal with water issues.  He asked about what important programmes were being carried out by ESCWA to that end.  “What can we do?” he asked.  In the African region, he also highlighted the importance of integrating the 2030 Agenda and Agenda 2063.  There was a tremendous outflow of illicit financial flows from his continent every year, and the “Group of 77” developing countries and China would be tabling an important resolution on the topic, at the initiative of the African Group.

The European Union’s representative said his region was committed to robust follow up and review of the 2030 Agenda at the regional, national and global levels.  The reviews would be useful opportunities for peer learning and discussions on shared targets.  He encouraged the commissions to focus on the importance of review with its member States, identifying the most suitable fora for engagement.

Brazil’s representative said the role of regional commissions in implementation of the 2030 Agenda was crucial, as they were well-positioned to translate it into regional and national action plans.  He stressed the importance of exchanging ideas and experiences with countries that had similar challenges.  Interregional exchanges should also be fostered.  The engagement of civil society was also crucial for the Agenda’s success.  Brazil was promoting synergy between the Sustainable Development Goals and its national development plan.  At the subnational level, it had an agenda of commitments, was building channels of dialogue with the private sector and was harmonizing guidelines of the 2030 Agenda with South-South cooperation.

The representative of Peru, associating himself with those who had emphasized the role of the regional commissions in supporting the 2030 Agenda, said that Latin America and the Caribbean was based on institutions that countries participated in at various levels and in various sectoral ways.  ECLAC dealt with analytical issues and thus contributed to consistency of the United Nations system.  The forum the region had created allowed for the sharing of best practices and common challenges, as well as South-South cooperation.  He noted that Peru would be carrying out a voluntary national presentation at the 2017 meeting of the high-level political forum, and asked what role the forum could play for countries preparing their voluntary national presentations.

Vanuatu’s representative welcomed the assistance in data and the platforms for implementing the 2030 Agenda provided by ESCAP.  Noting the ongoing discussion of United Nations reforms, he asked to what extent those discussions were being informed by the quadrennial comprehensive policy review, given the discussions on “One UN” and the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.

The representative of Argentina noted that the issue of data collection and statistics had been included in all presentations, and asked what kind of coordination existed between regional commissions on data collection and statistics.

The representative of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women) said her agency had developed a road map for the gender component of the 2030 Agenda, which focused on five areas.  Those included the need to build on the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, mainstream gender into economic and financial policies, ensure a gender balance in decision-making related to the Agenda, the importance of strengthening gender-responsive data collection and the need for gender equity in developing national arrangements.  She questioned the extent to which gender equality was integrated in the development of regional frameworks.

Responses

Mr. BACH said that technical cooperation on regional integration was important and Belarus had played a role.  Even in today’s times, there was a role for technical cooperation, and member States could come together, as they had even under trying political times in the past.  Responding to questions on coordination among the regional commissions, he said the commissions sought to continuously improve that area.  Just the previous week, there had been a forum for sustainable energy.  That was a joint forum by all the commissions, and they were now working towards a ministerial conference on sustainable energy in Astana, Kazakhstan, in 2017.  That was just one example, and there was stronger cooperation on everything from trade facilitation to road safety.  There was also extensive statistics cooperation, and there was synergy between the conferences of statisticians across regions.  Member States had requested further support on integrating the 2030 Agenda into national planning, as well as review monitoring, statistics and more.

Ms. AKHTAR said regional commissions dealt with the multidimensional challenges, integrated environments and social dimensions of development.  As holistic and competent entities with historical memory and expertise, they were change agents and norm setters, which linked and reinforced national agendas.  Addressing the quadrennial comprehensive policy review, she said it needed to move from process–oriented to more of an action mechanism.

She also noted the need to find a mechanism to integrate and optimize regional commissions.  The quadrennial comprehensive policy review resolution should propose that the commissions became a primary and integral part of the development agenda and adequate funding should be provided to them.  Sustainable development fora would emerge as principle, regional platforms for coordinating the review.  She stressed that regional cooperation and integration were important dimensions of commissions and much had been done to promote cross-boundary interaction.

Ms. MATTAR, responding to the representative of Egypt, said ESCWA was working with water utilities to improve management of wastewater and water treatment, and designing policies that ensured reliable access to clean water.  It was also taking part in water monitoring exercises and supporting development strategies to manage water, which had a technical, institutional and legal component.

Mr. HAMDOK, responding to the representative of Ethiopia on the harmonizing of the Agenda 2030 and Agenda 2063, said it was a challenging process, but both were informed by the common African position.  “On synergy, there is about 70 per cent,” he said.  The domestication process at the national level was complete in about 30 countries.  On the question raised by Algeria’s delegate, the issue of domestic resource mobilization was very challenging, “but I think today Africa managed to collect domestic resources in the tune of about $500 billion”, or 10 times the ODA.  That masked great diversity, as some countries could mobilize domestic resources more than others.  The most important thing was to embark on a process of innovative financing, addressing the issue of remittances.  The cost of money transfer was higher in Africa than in any other region. However, there was room in the region for improving tax collection at the national level.  That included stopping illicit financial flows, where, contrary to established wisdom about corruption in Africa, nearly two thirds of illicit finance was linked to activities of multinational corporations, with the rest mostly due to criminal activity.  On the issue of UN-Women on gender mainstreaming, the ECA’s work was inspired by the gender mainstreaming, which was a major driving factor of its activities.

Mr. PRADO said regional commissions were attempting to assist countries in implementing the 2030 Agenda.  A document had been presented in Mexico on finding a common foundation for implementation, which was widely supported by countries in the region.  There was an interdivisional group with a plan that was integral and applied to all, although each country had their national plans.  He stressed the importance of technical training and resources in implementing the Agenda.  He noted that Peru and Mexico were working towards providing fora on the Agenda.  Such events would be opportunities for countries to present reports, exchange thoughts and experiences and make the necessary adjustments to their implementation plans.  As for implementation resources, he stressed the need to combat tax evasion, as those resources would be a vital source of financing.

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