Speech at the Special Ministerial Meeting of ECOSOC, United Nations, New York, 24.9.2012

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my great pleasure to participate and speak in this Special Ministerial Meeting of ECOSOC.  As we all know, the discussion about strengthening ECOSOC has been going on for some time. The urgency of finding solutions, however, has increased. The outcome document of Rio +20, “The Future We Want” gave ECOSOC a key role in achieving a balanced integration of the three dimensions of sustainable development.

ECOSOC is also featuring prominently in the discussions on the High Level Political Forum that was decided to be established in Rio. The need to prepare for and agree on the new development framework after 2015 further adds to the exigency. The future and role of ECOSOC, with its mandate in the crossroads of the three dimensions of sustainable development is extremely relevant for these discussions. 

The multilateral system of global governance should be strengthened. ECOSOC can be a central element of this system. The advantage of ECOSOC lies in the fact that it brings nations and stakeholders together to discuss issues of sustainable development. Valuable discussions took place during this year’s session and its side events. This is partly thanks to the participation of various stakeholder groups; governments talking to each other do sometimes need outsiders to intervene in order to enable discussions to move on and to find new perspectives.  

This said, I would like to emphasize that were ECOSOC to assume an even more robust role in the coordinated follow-up of the outcomes of major UN conferences and summits, it is crucial to ensure that concrete decisions will be taken in those meetings. One of the most valuable features of the UN system is the link between normative and operational, i.e. the ability to jointly set up goals, organize activities and allocate resources to achieve them.

Consequently, it is only against concrete goals that we can mandate ECOSOC to carry out its follow-up function and create more effective operational arrangements. We have to make sure that the clear decisions are made in order to allow the UN system to function properly.

One of the most important issues to be addressed in coming years is the post 2015 development framework and the role of eventual Sustainable Development Goals. We have to be able to create a logical, concise framework to guide national and international development efforts, and to allow ECOSOC to take a due role in it.

Let me now turn to possible ways to strengthen ECOSOC:

When the global goal setting for sustainable development has been done, there are various issues related to ECOSOC that we should consider in order to make it work better, for example:

  1. Improved Civil Society and stakeholder participation

It is not enough to let people participate only in setting the goals for our cooperation, as for example the UN Development group rightly is trying to do through regional and thematic consultations on the post 2015 agenda. We also have to ensure that citizens, including the marginalized and vulnerable groups, can participate in bringing about the intended development impact, in following up the progress and in programming for future activities.

  1. Membership and representation

Is the current governance structure of ECOSOC adequate for its strengthened and more active role? In Rio we decided to establish a universal intergovernmental high-level political forum for sustainability issues. ECOSOC Council Membership is currently based on regional representation. Is the current membership broad enough to ensure that views of all countries and stakeholders are properly accommodated? This question becomes relevant, if the new forum will be located organizationally within the framework of ECOSOC. Does the current membership base of the Council allow it to address rapidly emerging sustainability issues?

  1. Cooperation with financial and trade institutions

The issue and differing views on developing the international environmental governance are well known. There is a need for improvement in ECOSOC’s cooperation with multilateral financial and trade institutions. To be effective, the SDG’s for example, should require governments’ measures in the realm of traditional economic policy, like incentives and taxes to promote sustainable consumption and production patterns, or granting concessions for natural resource use. The three pillars of sustainable development – economic, social and environmental – are truly interlinked and require smooth and effective cooperation between multilateral organizations. To assume a stronger role in the international governance of sustainable development, the ECOSOC therefore has to interact more with the Bretton Woods institutions, World Trade Organization and alike.

  1. Clear goal setting and political guidance

I would like to acknowledge the valuable work done at the moment in many UN organizations and specialized agencies on enhancing the effectiveness and efficiency of their operations. It is of utmost importance that the goals we set and the working methods we choose to achieve them run coherently through the UN system from political level to implementation arrangements. Due attention has to be given to how the political goals are set, and how clearly we actually articulate our instructions to the operational level.

  1. Avoiding overlapping and superfluous bodies & organs

The role and functions of ECOSOC have already been strengthened on a few occasions in the past. The Annual Ministerial Meeting (AMR) and the Development Cooperation Forum (DCF) are significant results of this and have added to the importance of the Council. I would be hesitant, however, to add more bodies or organs to the ECOSOC structure. We should primarily try to get best out of the current structures, even if we want to add to enhance the role of ECOSOC in sustainability issues.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

At the end of the day, ECOSOC, as any multilateral organization or body is just as strong and dynamic as the Member States allow it to be. We, therefore, have to ask ourselves whether we are ready to put the best of our efforts to enhance its role, and whether we are convinced about the benefits of doing so. I hope that we can make sure that discussing ECOSOC’s role will become a serious policy making effort and not just an academic exercise.