'New Regionalism' and the UN Development System

United Nations, New York. Photo Credit: UN Photo/Milton Grant

Mr. President,

Evolving Development Challenges

Thank you for the opportunity to address you this morning on behalf of the five Regional Commissions.

Allow me to provide some broader reflections on the two questions before us today – drawn from the experience of the Regional Commissions, working closely with our member States and with our UN and non-UN partners in the regions.

The relevance of the UN development system today cannot be meaningfully addressed without taking account of the evolving global, regional and national development contexts in which the UN system operates.

We are in a time of great transition, facing the multiple new development challenges and opportunities of the 21st century and an ever-growing number of transboundary issues – from financial crises to food price volatility and climate change.

In addition to these emerging issues, we still face the persistent problems of development – including poverty, hunger, growing inequalities, energy, water, health and natural disasters.

These challenges are converging, and increasingly call for more effective and coordinated responses, and a rethinking of our global development paradigm – business as usual is no longer an option.

To deliver effectively within this evolving context, we cannot continue to approach development from a traditional aid perspective, while responding to the needs of diverse groups of countries including LDCs, LLDCs and SIDs as well as emerging middle income developing economies. We need to shift our focus to building partnerships for development cooperation, including South-South and regional cooperation, strengthening multi-sectoral approaches, and linking our norms and standards to our operations. The role of the UN system is pivotal in this context.

The current global financial architecture and institutions are poorly-equipped to handle these development challenges and the “new normal” of persistent volatility and turbulence in financial and commodity markets. Regional solutions – through regional cooperation – are increasingly providing vital pathways towards more sustainable economic growth, closing development gaps between and within countries, and lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, taking into account the carrying capacity of our planet.

Regional initiatives have evolved from a means to improve the capabilities of countries to what can be described as a “new regionalism” in the context of multilateralism, driven by issues such as trade, connectivity, and financial coordination and cooperation, and meeting the health, food security and social protection concerns of an increasingly mobile world population.

Consequently, regional architectures are becoming the essential building blocks of a more effective global multilateral system, with important implications for decision-making processes at the global level.

The synergies between global, regional, and national levels are a clear indication of the need and importance for the UN system to work coherently and effectively horizontally at the national level, as well as to connect vertically at the regional and global levels.

Opportunities for the United Nations

Coming from the Rio+20 Conference which reasserted the importance of a balanced and integrated approach to sustainable development, and at a time when the Member States are preparing to define a development agenda for the UN post-2015, it is clear that the UN system, with its various assets, remains deeply relevant.

These assets include its normative, people-centered agenda, anchored in the UN values. They include the UN’s convening power and legitimacy, as well as its development expertise and multi-sectoral approach. They also include its country and regional presence as well as its partnerships and networks at all levels.

The UN country teams (UNCTs) should be enabled to draw more upon the UN system capacities and assets at the regional and global levels. Many of these exist in specialized and non-resident agencies, including the Regional Commissions. Similarly, the Regional Commissions should be enabled to draw on the UN system capacities and assets in support of regional cooperation and integration. The specialized agencies should also be enabled to draw on the capacities and assets of the UN system, including those of the Regional Commissions, in support of their sectoral programs.

The Importance of the Regional Commissions

The UN Regional Commissions have been functioning as regional arms of the UN in their respective regions since the decade of the fifties at least, and are an integral part of the current regional institutional landscapes.
Despite being established in different moments and organized differently to cater to the specific needs and priorities of the regions which they serve, all the Regional Commissions share key objectives aiming to foster economic integration at the subregional and regional levels, to promote the regional implementation of internationally agreed goals, including the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and to support regional development by contributing to bridge economic, social and environmental gaps among their member countries and subregions.
Our method of work is based on close partnerships with networks of experts and governments in: (a) providing evidence based analysis to support discussions and dialogue; (b) using our convening authority to bring together experts and policymakers to address regional issues; (c) advocating substantive and political support for key initiatives; (d) ensuring regional coordination, through the Regional Coordination Mechanisms (RCMs), bringing together UN and other regional development partners to coordinate efforts in policy and thematic areas; and (e) knowledge-sharing and networking by building capacity and sharing experiences across region, in areas such as statistics, economic and social analysis and development trends.

Priorities for the Next QCPR Cycle

Looking ahead, to the strategic directions and priorities of the next cycle of the QCPR, I would like to propose five key points for your consideration:

• The regional dimension of development must be seen, not as an ‘add-on’ to collective development efforts, but fully integrated across all UN development planning and implementation, with the Regional Commissions embedded as a vital bridge between global and national development agendas.

• Also critical is to recognize and mainstream the contribution of UN normative work and up-stream policy engagement with member States in ways which complement and support operations on the ground. The intergovernmental platforms provided by the Regional Commissions have much potential to help meet the needs of member States for upstream policy advice; to identify and meet the changing needs of countries in economic transition to middle income status; and to enhance knowledge-sharing and mutual support between countries facing similar development challenges.

• Fully harnessing the power of UN partnerships with regional and subregional actors is a further key to strengthening UN development effectiveness, maximizing the potential for synergies and long-term development impact. Effective partnerships at regional level help to create the cooperative landscape within which national level development partnerships can flourish. An indication of the growing importance of strong partnerships between the UN and regional organizations, was the adoption last year of the Joint Declaration on Comprehensive Partnership between ASEAN and the UN – strengthening cooperation in areas including human rights, peace and security, disaster management and regional connectivity.

• There is great scope to enhance the coherence and effectiveness of UN development operations at regional level through the ongoing strengthening of existing regional coordination structures. Principle amongst these are the ECOSOC-mandated Regional Coordination Mechanisms which focus on UN policy coherence at the regional level and are convened by the Regional Commissions; and the UN Development Group Regional Teams which are convened by UNDP and focus on country level support. As highlighted by both the QCPR draft before us and the outcome of the recent Tirana High Level Intergovernmental Conference on Delivering as One, there is potential to further strengthen the cooperation and synergies between these two complementary parts of the global UN architecture and to strengthen UN inter-agency cooperation and regional coordination.

• Finally, we believe that a concrete recommendation should include the recognition of the importance of regional dimension and a specific mandate to establish a strategic framework for development assistance at the regional level, through the RCM and the UNDG Regional Teams. This approach would address the broad range of the needs of the countries of the region in policy advice, normative, analytical and technical assistance, facilitate exchange of experiences and best practices and support their efforts in beneficial integration in the global economy and achieving sustainable development.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Mr. President, this may seem like an ambitious agenda, but I believe that we need to embark, at least gradually, towards these goals if we are to deliver on the expectations of Member States in the next cycle of QCPR.

The Regional Commissions are certainly working towards that objective, with many specialized agencies. We are committed to continue on this route with all of our partners.

We trust that some of these important issues would be looked at by Member States in the upcoming consideration of the QCPR and look forward to their guidance in this regard.

Thank you.