Unfinished business: an appraisal of the latest UNDS reform resolution

Unfinished business: an appraisal of the latest UNDS reform resolution

Download PDF 1.29 MB

Baumann, Max-Otto / Silke Weinlich
Briefing Paper 13/2018

Bonn: German Development Institute / Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE)

DOI: 10.23661/bp13.2018

Can the United Nations Development System (UNDS) become a resourceful, well-organised partner for member states in implementing the 2030 Agenda? The UNDS is the biggest multilateral development actor, accounting for $18.4 billion, or 33 per cent, of multilateral aid in 2015. Its functions range from providing a forum for dialogue, decision-making and norm-setting, to research, advocacy, technical assistance and humanitarian aid. Numerous governments, including those of high-income countries, are counting on the UN’s assistance for advancing their development in a sustainable way. More than any other development organisation, the UNDS needs to adjust in order to fulfil these expectations.
In May 2018, UN member states set the course for reforming the UNDS by agreeing on a draft resolution. The resolution contains five potentially transformative decisions that will bring the UNDS a step closer to being “fit for purpose”, the term under which the reform process was initiated more than three years ago. The global structures of the UNDS are to be strengthened, making the system more strategic and accountable; Resident Coordinators are to coordinate more effectively and objectively; their funding will be guaranteed by a new 1 per cent levy on tightly earmarked contributions; common business operations are to be advanced, with potential efficiency gains of $380 million per year; and the UN’s vast network of country offices is to be consolidated for more efficiency and effectiveness.
In the context of a resurgence of nationalist agendas and mistrust of multilateral approaches in many corners of the world, agreement on the draft resolution is a significant achievement.
However, the resolution falls short of the reform proposals suggested by the Secretary-General and others. Member states chose, yet again, an incremental approach. Key novelties of the 2030 Agenda, such as universality and policy integration, have not been translated into meaningful organisational adjustments. There is still a long way to go if the UNDS is to become the UN’s universal branch, facilitating the implementation of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in and by all countries of the world.
Nevertheless, the resolution is a viable starting point. Member states must play their part in making the reform a success. They need to push for reform in the respective governing boards across the system – this should be the most obvious and effective way of advancing the reform. They could ask the heads of all UNDS entities to subscribe to the reforms and to initiate all necessary adjustments. Furthermore, they should ensure coherence within their own governments and speak with one voice – for the implementation of the reforms, as well as for the acceleration of the implementation of Agenda 2030.
A more reliable funding for the UNDS as a whole, and specifically for the strengthened country coordination, will also be decisive for the changes to be effective. Member states across all income groups should show their support for the reforms and engage in the Funding Compact. They should be prepared to bolster multilateralism in uncertain times by stepping up core contributions and reducing tight earmarking. Specifically, they could link an increase in core-funding to advances in the area of common business operations, which would improve efficiency and enable smoother collaboration among UN agencies.


About the authors

Weinlich, Silke

Political Scientist

Weinlich

Baumann, Max-Otto

Political Scientist

Baumann

Further experts

Bauer, Steffen

Political scientist 

Bergmann, Julian

Political Scientist 

Brandi, Clara

Economist and Political Scientist 

Burni, Aline

Political Scientist 

Erforth, Benedikt

Political Scientist 

Furness, Mark

Political Scientist 

Grimm, Sven

Political Scientist 

Götze, Jacqueline

Political Scientist 

Hackenesch, Christine

Political Scientist 

Hilbrich, Sören

Economist 

Hägele, Ramona

Political Scientist 

Högl, Maximilian

Political Scientist 

Iacobuta, Gabriela

Environmental Researcher 

Janus, Heiner

Political Scientist 

Keijzer, Niels

Social Scientist 

Kloke-Lesch, Adolf

Urban and regional planner 

Koch, Svea

Social Scientist 

Laudage, Sabine

Economist 

Marschall, Paul

Economist 

Mathis, Okka Lou

Political Scientist 

Richerzhagen, Carmen

Agricultural and Environmental Economist 

Scholtes, Fabian

Economist 

Scholz, Imme

Sociologist 

Schwachula, Anna

Sociologist 

Srigiri, Srinivasa Reddy

Agricultural Economist 

Sturm, Janina

Economist and political scientist 

Vogel, Johanna

International Cultural Economist 

Wehrmann, Dorothea

Sociologist