UNESCO and reform of the United Nations system
15 May 2006
The present paper contributes a UNESCO perspective to the current debate on specific aspects of the follow-up to the World Summit Outcome Document, especially concerning the issue of coherence.
I UNESCO’s Basic Position
1. The World Summit Outcome Document, which was unanimously agreed upon at the highest level at the September 2005 Summit, should be the starting point for any reform effort of the UN system. UNESCO appreciates the need for change and for a reform of the UN system, particularly at the country level, to which it is firmly committed.
2. The main purpose of the review being conducted by the High-level Panel on UN System-wide Coherence is to strive towards coherence, yet there is also a need to reflect on the value and importance of complementarity within the UN system. Therefore, respect for the constitutional mandates of the UN agencies and, in particular, those of the specialized agencies, should be one of the cornerstones of any reform effort.
3. The discussions on the UN reform should be broadened to include the Bretton Woods organizations, in particular the World Bank, given their involvement in development. Over the years, the World Bank has expanded its scope of action from financing economic infrastructure to the social area, thus blurring the demarcation line between the Bank and the UN. Whereas the strength of the World Bank is its expertise in addressing needs on a country-by-country basis, the strength of the UN system - especially through its specialized agencies - lies in its sectoral expertise (such as health, food, agriculture, culture and education) that must be preserved and fully utilized.
4. UNESCO is extremely wary of any tendency towards separating operational activities from normative, analytical and policy matters and considers this to be a false dichotomy. UNESCO’s firm position is that its intellectual, ethical and normative functions cannot be divorced from implementation and operational action. To be effective, the feedback loop between theory and practice needs to be direct, not mediated or second-hand. The question of the right balance between the normative and the operational is crucial.
II UNESCO’s position on the need to establish a coherent UN country team
5. In conformity with the Outcome Document’s emphasis and the UN Secretary-General’s view that the whole of the UN system should become more field-oriented, UNESCO is seeking to further develop its action at regional, sub-regional and country levels, especially in key areas and in key countries.
6. UNESCO fully subscribes to the Secretary-General’s vision of the need to create one United Nations at the country level – one team, one programme and one leader. It is imperative that UNESCO strengthens its capacity for teamwork at country level so that it is increasingly an integral and active member of coherent UN country teams (UNCT). UNESCO is equipping itself to engage more effectively with processes relating to Common Country Assessments (CCA), UN Development Assistance Frameworks (UNDAF), Poverty Reduction Strategies (PRS), Sector-Wide Approaches (SWAs) and Joint Assistance Strategies (JAS) and has allocated 1% of its programme funds for capacity-building and participation in these exercises. Furthermore, efforts are under way to begin preparing UNESCO country programming documents.
7. UNESCO entirely subscribes to the principles of the Paris High-level Forum on Aid Effectiveness, in particular to the principle that countries themselves must ‘own’ the process and that the UN system and its partners must align themselves with country-driven strategies and priorities.
8. However, the best efforts in this regard will be severely constrained if UN common country programming is not fully inclusive of all UN system agencies and if donor funds were to be channeled at country level exclusively to so-called ‘operational agencies’. Support should be given to measures aimed at enhancing the coherence and effectiveness of action by the UNCT as a whole and reflecting its diverse competencies and contributions. This could be even more enhanced by joint efforts involving all external contributors and donors, such as through joint assistance strategies called for by the Paris High-level Forum. Instead of calling generally for an enhanced authority of the UN Resident Coordinator, coherence should be sought through a subtle, fine-tuned and balanced approach. The UNDG structure as a whole may need to be revisited in order to create the balance that is warranted by the diversity of mandates, approaches and contributions of the UN system as a whole.
III UNESCO’s contribution to development, humanitarian assistance and the environment
9. UNESCO, which covers education, sciences, culture and communication, has contributed and is contributing in an inter-disciplinary manner to all three areas identified in the Outcome Document – development, humanitarian assistance and the environment. Hence, any structural or other change affecting these areas will be of direct relevance to and have an impact on UNESCO.
10. UNESCO recognizes the importance of strengthening the coordination of humanitarian assistance, including OCHA. It is a particular concern to UNESCO that the transition from humanitarian assistance to reconstruction and development is well coordinated and ensures coherence in the UN system’s long-term role. UNESCO has a technical role to play and is regularly called upon by Member States, even during the earliest stages of post-conflict and post-disaster situations, to address the human, more than the physical, aspects of recovery and reconstruction, such as education, media capacity-building or cultural heritage protection.
11. In the area of development, UNESCO makes contributions through all its fields of competence, within the framework of the global development agenda in general – as defined in the 2000 Millennium Declaration and the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document - and the MDGs and other internationally agreed development goals in particular. Recognizing the vital link between education and development, the Outcome Document reflects the commitment of world leaders to support Education for All (EFA) and UNESCO’s strategy in that regard. The EFA Global Action Plan is being designed in order to create a more coherent, strategic partnership among the five EFA convening agencies (UNESCO, UNICEF, UNFPA, UNDP, the World Bank) so that greater progress can be achieved towards the six EFA goals and hence to the whole MDG agenda. UNESCO’s contribution to EFA is not confined to coordination at the global level, but includes concrete programmatic action at country level in close cooperation with governments, civil society and international partners.
12. With regard to environment, UNESCO’s natural sciences programme has been a pioneer in devising and implementing scientific approaches to environmental and ecological questions in the overall framework of the quest for sustainable development. Today, UNESCO is a major international actor in the field of water, which is at the heart of many sustainable development issues. UNESCO’s work is not narrowly normative in this field but is deeply engaged with practical aspects of implementation, lessons from which inform the further elaboration of technical advice and guidance to governments.