Helen Clark: 2nd Regular Session of the UNDP/UNFPA Executive Board

09 Sep 2009

Statement by Helen Clark
Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme
On the Occasion of the Second Regular Session of the Executive Board of UNDP/UNFPA

9 September 2009, New York

Mr. President,

Members of the Executive Board,

Colleagues and Friends,


A. Introduction

It is a great pleasure to be with you today for my second Executive Board session.

I have now been able to interact with many more of you than I had when I first addressed the Board in May. Thus, this room is filled with familiar faces who have helped welcome me to UNDP and its broader constituency.

September is always an especially busy month at the UN with the General Assembly general debate getting underway.

This September is especially important. The Summit on Climate Change which the Secretary-General is convening here on the 22nd will bring together many Heads of State, Heads of Government, and other senior participants.

It is an opportunity to inject momentum from such a senior level into the climate change negotiations, in which developing and developed nations alike have such a big stake.

Then, down the road in Pittsburgh, G20 leaders will meet to discuss the world economy. The Secretary-General will represent the UN there, and it will be important to ensure that the voices of developing countries so badly affected by the global recession can be heard.

Since I first addressed you in May, it has become even clearer to me what UNDP, as part of the broader UN system, can contribute to tackling critical issues like the recession and climate change which impact on development.

Today my address will focus on moving the development agenda forward, even in these challenging times; ongoing UN reform issues; and some introductory comments on UNDP’s finances.

B. Moving the development agenda forward

Since May I have continued to meet with a wide range of representatives of governments, other multilateral agencies, NGOs, and other partners here in New York and in capitals.

My visit to Liberia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Ethiopia in June was my first visit to programme countries as Administrator. As I said to the Board in May, this was a very deliberate choice.

The Millennium Development Goals are at the core of UNDP’s Strategic Plan. With 2015 now barely six years away, we need an enormous focus on the MDGs.

Nowhere is that more important than in Africa, especially in these challenging times when African nations and their peoples have been hit hard by the economic crisis.

As is well known, no country in sub-Saharan Africa was on track to achieve all the MDGs before the crisis.

It would be a double blow if the global recession acted to reverse hard won progress towards the MDGs.

Together with the broader collection of agencies which make up the United Nations Development Group, UNDP is working to help those who are already poor and vulnerable, while also working to maintain momentum on the MDGs.

We are supporting developing countries to analyze the impacts of the recession on their people. We are advising on policy responses, including on approaches to social protection.  We are assisting with resource mobilization.

For example:

•       In India, we have assisted the government in implementing the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act.  This has been an important safety net for workers in the informal sector.

•       In Mauritius, we helped the government prepare its stimulus package, based on its ongoing performance-based budgeting work there.

•       In Namibia, Paraguay and Syria, we are helping fund studies on the impact of the crisis, as well as on the design of appropriate policy instruments in response.

The United Nations Chief Executives Board in April agreed that there should be a common framework to tackle the economic crisis, help speed up recovery, and build a more inclusive and greener globalization. The framework developed includes initiatives for food security, trade, a global jobs pact, and a social protection floor. 

The Conference on the World Financial and Economic Crisis and its Impact on Development, held here at the UN in June, called for this type of comprehensive crisis response to be further developed in support of national development strategies. We hope that the international community will respond to the call to provide adequate support for this work.

With many developing countries facing reduced domestic revenue streams this year, their governments need support to maintain budgets for basic services like health and education –which are so vital to meeting the MDGs.

If children are pulled out of school because of the effects of the crisis on their families and their countries’ budgets, they may never get a second chance in education. If children have poor nutrition because of the crisis, the long term effects on their cognitive skills and productive potential are serious.

Profound economic crisis in vulnerable countries then may extend into a humanitarian crisis, and at worst precipitate instability and conflict. The consequences may take years or even decades to remedy, ultimately at a much greater cost to the international community than timely support right now.

That is why UNDP will continue to support the Secretary-General in his advocacy for the G8 to fulfill its oft-stated Gleneagles ODA commitments. These were recently reaffirmed yet again in Italy, but still remain far short of delivery – for Africa in particular.

We are all aware that the recession has hit developed countries and their peoples hard too. Yet, in the final analysis, they have deeper pockets to dip into to carry their countries through.

Even in these tough times, many donors have made huge efforts to maintain their support for development, and I want to record my personal thanks to them for continuing to prioritise support for those who are more vulnerable.

As I indicated in May, UNDP and the IMF have been working closely with African countries and their multilateral partners to develop “Gleneagles Scenarios”. These demonstrate the development results which could be obtained with ODA scaled up to the levels pledged by the G8. We will soon begin a process of seeking resource mobilization around these country specific scenarios.

The total financial requirement for the first ten Scenario countries is estimated to be around $4.5 billion- a small sum when compared to the more than $18 trillion raised to stabilise the world’s financial system.

In just over two weeks I will accompany the Secretary-General to the G-20 meeting at Pittsburgh.  Prior to that I will be attending the G20 sherpa meeting in Washington tomorrow and Friday.

The agenda for the G20 meeting at Pittsburgh is rightly forward looking on the basis that the international financial system has indeed stabilized, but it is important for us to continue to advocate for meeting the needs of the poorest countries which are still in crisis.

Follow through from the G20’s London meeting on financing for the most vulnerable will be crucial. As well, the availability of fiscal space is an important tool in dealing with economic shocks, and needs to be available to the least developed countries too.

With focused assistance at this time, we can support vulnerable countries to maintain traction on the MDGs.

This time next year, the spotlight will be on MDG progress again at the high level event planned here at the UN.

UNDP, along with the broader UN Development Group, is currently working to identify, country by country, where the gaps are in MDG achievement, and what more we could collectively do to overcome them.

This effort needs to be strategic and co-ordinated,  as progress towards each MDG is linked to progress on others.  This makes it all the more important that all parts of the UN development system work together to support each other’s mandates. 

For example, UNDP is not a specialized agency in the area of maternal health. Yet our convening and co-ordinating role must be fully leveraged to support those agencies which do have that specific mandate.

Achievement of the maternal health goals and targets links closely to our ability to achieve the MDGs for children’s health and education, and for poverty and hunger reduction, on an ongoing basis.

Fundamentally, development cannot be achieved if fifty per cent of the population is excluded from the opportunities it brings.

That is why raising the status of women must be written into all our interventions.

Making the links between MDG achievement and sustainable development has also led me to prioritise UNDP’s support to programme countries on climate issues and the ongoing negotiations for a new agreement.

Development and the impact of climate change and variability cannot be treated as distinct issues.  They are inextricably linked.

By some estimates, forty per cent of development investment from ODA and concessional lending is sensitive to climate risk. Thus, if resilience and adaptation to that risk are not built into development strategies, precious investments in development and the advances which result from them are undermined.

Ongoing climate variability and change affects the poorest and most vulnerable people the hardest. It is estimated that a person in a developing country is 79 times as likely to be affected by a climate disaster as a person in a developed country.

Yet, out of facing problems, opportunity can also be created. The financing which should flow from a new climate agreement will need to be significant. Therefore it will form a major part of the financing available for development in the future.

At the same time, a commitment to a credible reduction of emissions and to effective mitigation is critical to securing our climate future.

In this connection, we are very encouraged by the recent announcement by Japan regarding the target it is setting for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

Scientists tell us that we have about ten years to prevent a rise in greenhouse gas emissions which could cause catastrophic and irreversible climate transformations and impacts.

A successful outcome to the climate negotiations would help us simultaneously reduce emissions, resulting in more sustainable production and consumption processes; address energy poverty; and direct climate financing towards adaptation and affordable low carbon growth plans.

Addressing climate change, generating sustainable economic growth, and advancing towards the MDGs can, and should, therefore go hand-in-hand.

As you know, UNDP has developed significant expertise in the areas of climate variability and change and climate risk management, as well as in energy, the environment, and sustainable development. We are totally committed to supporting programme countries respond to the climate challenges they face. This includes supporting them to analyse and articulate their needs in the climate negotiations, and to develop their capacity to access carbon finance now and in the future.

During my visit to Africa, I was able to see for myself the work of the UNDP and UN country teams, and of major UN missions, in complex environments. 

It is essential that the work we do in nations which have experienced traumatic conflict helps bring a peace dividend and lays foundations for longer term recovery and stability. Our early recovery programming on disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration of former combatants; on livelihood generation; and on combating sexual and gender-based violence all have a critical role to play. 

So does our work on promoting better and more accountable governance, whether that be in strengthening the justice sector, supporting the development of effective public administration, or assisting the development of local and regional governance, and of the functioning of electoral and legislative systems.

I stressed in my May address to the Board that capacity building and development must be at the heart of UNDP’s work. 

In order to provide the type of high impact, upstream policy advice and support increasingly expected of us by programme countries, we must lift our own skills base and our capacity to lead in development thinking.

Early next month I will be launching in Bangkok UNDP’s annual Human Development Report, which this year focuses on migration.

This flagship publication is a core part of UNDP’s work to ensure that the full range of factors which impact on human development gets attention.

It is part of the huge knowledge resource our people have developed which we must make good use of. All our knowledge, including that gathered from the impressive and thorough evaluations which are systematically prepared on our work in the field, needs to be applied to making us a development partner who adds huge value.

I should also acknowledge here our associated funds and programmes - UNCDF, UNIFEM, and UNV. All three have tremendous skills and expertise in their respective fields which complement well what UNDP does.

C. Supporting Coherence in the UN Development System

The more I have seen and learned in the five months since I became Administrator, the more I am convinced of the importance of the considerable efforts which are being made to get the UN development system better co-ordinated.

I have met with a very large number of agency heads, individually and within the UNDG framework. It is clear that each agency has specific capabilities and mandates and comparative advantages. There is more than enough work for each of us. If we are well co-ordinated our resources for development will go much further.

Right now there is a number of opportunities to strengthen our co-ordination in support of countries to achieve the MDGs.

Between 2010 and 2013, more than ninety countries will establish new UN Development Assistance Frameworks.  This is a huge opportunity to position our efforts in support of the MDGs and sustainable development.

UN Country Teams themselves will need to have the right capacities in place to deliver the support which programme countries need, including through relevant policy advice and capacity development assistance.

Therefore, each UN Country Team will need to review its current capacity mix with that in mind, and make changes where needed.

It is also important that UNDP continues to support and manage the Resident Co-ordinator function so that it helps lead system-wide coherence at the country level.

The UN Development Group continues to gather the lessons and experiences emerging from the “Delivering as One” pilots, so that we can jointly improve the UN’s response to national development plans and priorities. 

The 2008 stocktaking reports of the pilot country governments and UN Country Teams suggest that by “delivering as one”, the UN can be more strategically focused and effective in responding to country-led development agendas.

We also value the important efforts of a number of other governments and UN Country Teams around the world which are working together, on their own initiative, to improve the UN’s ability to respond to national priorities.

The “Delivering as One” initiative is now at a crucial phase. The initial, but important, indications suggest that real development gains can be made if we are better co-ordinated in our partnerships with programme countries. 

I believe that it is imperative that the UN moves to commission an independent evaluation of the pilots. This will help us adapt identified best practices to other settings as appropriate.

D. Managing for Results

In these economically straitened times, UNDP is pursuing greater efficiency and prioritisation.

Akiko Yuge, Assistant Administrator and Director of the Bureau of Management, will shortly be discussing our financial situation with you in more detail. Let me, however, underline a few points from the outset.

In 2008 UNDP received total contributions of $5.5 billion, which was six per cent above the 2007 level. Overall expenditures in 2008 increased by thirteen per cent over 2007 levels.

The Strategic Plan approved by the Board was based on total projected resources, including regular voluntary contributions. The current economic climate and the volatile exchange rate environment may mean that resource targets approved by the Board are not met. 

It goes without saying that without secure and predictable funding, UNDP cannot plan ahead and be fully effective in helping programme countries achieve their development goals.

I am concerned that we may not meet our income targets for 2009 and 2010, and that we will face a continuing imbalance between contributions to regular and other resources.

We will, however, spare no effort to meet our resource projections. We do deeply appreciate the ongoing support of our donors, and urge them to continue, and ideally boost, their current commitments. We can also consider how our donor pool could be expanded. 

At the same time, we have also been reviewing what and how we spend, in order to cut costs and maximize efficiency gains.

The documentation before the Board notes that the reductions we are proposing to current spending from within the biennial support budget could be in excess of $50 million. This move helps us free up resources for new investments in priority areas.

The results of this exercise will be reflected in the biennial support budget which will be presented to you in January.  It will reflect some reallocation of resources in line with priority areas and in response to a number of General Assembly and Executive Board decisions.

These include strengthening investments in meeting the MDGs, with a special focus on Africa and the least developed countries; strengthening South-South development activities; maintaining crisis prevention and recovery-related development interventions; and improved knowledge management.

The paper in front of the Board this week looks at how UNDP considers the methodology behind and the approach to the biennial support budget could be changed. This is in response to requests from the Board to ensure a more transparent and accountable attribution of costs. The approach presented makes it more clear which of our expenditure relates to management, which to development activities, and which to special-purpose activities.

Inter-agency harmonization, including in budget formulation and management, is important. That will require a realignment of the classification of costs as requested by the Executive Board in various recent decisions. UNDP’s approach is a positive step towards harmonization.

For UNDP to be effective, our staff must be able to develop professionally.  We have many thousands of dedicated staff who have committed their working lives to development. We are in every respect a people business.

Precedence will be given to building staff capacity at all levels, and to ensuring that our workplace is characterized by the highest standards of integrity. 

Sadly, staff of UNDP and other parts of the UN system continue to face threats in the course of supporting humanitarian and development work.   Thus, the safety and security of staff must be a top priority in all UNDP operations. As was agreed at the Chief Executives Board meeting in April, greater focus must also be given to ensuring the coverage of national staff within the UN security management system.
 
UNDP works closely with, and follows the advice of, the UN
Department for Safety and Security in all matters of safety and security.

We also are dependent on the continued and full support of host governments in putting in place required strengthened security arrangements.

We count on Member States’ continued assistance in making sufficient resources available to enhance the safety and security of UNDP staff and premises so that we can best fulfill our mandate.
 
E. Conclusion

What attracted me to step forward as a candidate for the position of Administrator was the prospect of being able to contribute to poverty reduction, the achievement of the MDGs, and sustainable development.

While we face economic difficulties around the globe, the next few months also offer many opportunities to advance the development agenda.

My experience over the last few months has also deepened my conviction that UNDP and the wider UN development system have a vital role to play in support of development.

Thank you once again for all your support.