The UN’s budgetary and administrative committee recently expressed its clear displeasure with Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s proposals for implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The committee called for “a comprehensive proposal addressing the effective and efficient delivery of mandates in support of [Agenda 2030] and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda of the Third International Conference on Financing for Development.”
How can Secretary-General-designate António Guterres respond to this demand?
Agenda 2030 does not exist on a continuum from the Millennium Development Goals – it is an entirely different order of magnitude. Rather than implementing the SDGs, the UN will play four different roles: champion, catalyst, connector and crisis manager (as we argued here).
The Agenda is incredibly complex. It contains common threads (climate change) and agreed norms (leave no-one behind), but its stated scope – to move the world onto a path to sustainability – is vast.
How can Mr Guterres transform an unwieldy, fractious family to make it capable of delivering on such a task? Creating a single, monolithic United Nations is both politically impossible and operationally undesirable. Maintaining the status quo would both be ignoring the wishes of Member States who have recognised the need for reform, and failing to live up to the demands of Agenda 2030.
Mr Guterres should work with the Member States to answer three basic questions and create a common understanding of what must be done:
There are partial answers in existing work. The universality of Agenda 2030 makes it a source of norms. But the Secretary-General must engage Member States substantively, and support them in articulating what they want and need from the UN, while guided by the principle of form following function.
This is a multi-year process. While he seeks answers Mr Guterres could take concrete steps to improve the effectiveness of the UN by:
The one area where there remains a clear consensus on the role of the UN is as a crisis manager. It has both a mandate and moral obligation is to serve peace, and Agenda 2030 recognises that there is no sustainable development without peace and no peace without sustainable development. Since the 2015 Review of the Peacebuilding Architecture and the report of the High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations, the Security Council and the General Assembly have repeated their rhetorical commitments to a more efficient, coherent and empowered UN that is capable of delivering a sustainable peace.
There are some risks. Mr Guterres must remain conscious of Member States’ desire not to ‘securitise development.’ But he can, and should, be upfront about the fact that the majority of the UN’s operational work and political relevance is in fragile states. He should equally be clear that addressing fragility is critical to advancing the battle against chronic poverty and fulfilling his task of leaving no-one behind.
UNU-CPR has explored how the UN System can respond to the challenge of building peaceful, just and inclusive societies at the request of the UN System Chief Executives Board for Coordination. While the paper is for internal use, our conversations with UN entities during its preparation identified three key areas of opportunity:
Embracing these shifts will require a cultural shift within the organisation, a common theme that is emerging from our exploration of new ideas for a new Secretary-General.
 General Assembly resolution 70/1, “Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” A/RES/70/1 (21 October 2015), Accessed at http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/RES/70/1&Lang=E.