Remarks at the Joint Briefing by the UNGA President and the ECOSOC President

Ambassador Kelley Currie
U.S. Representative for Economic and Social Affairs
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
January 31, 2019


Thank you both, Madam Presidents. It is lovely to say that. This likely will be my last time addressing this body. I want to thank you both for your leadership and the cooperation that our Mission has enjoyed with both of you during your time in office, as well as with your predecessors. The United States continues to call on all Member States to address the inefficiencies in the United Nations System arising from duplication of work, and in particular negotiated outcomes and resolutions. Such reform efforts should lead to better allocation of scarce resources system-wide.

Despite lengthy discussions on the alignment of the work of the Second Committee and ECOSOC, the agenda only continues to balloon. In this year’s Second Committee session in particular, but also in Third Committee and the plenary, we saw a number of problems that underscore the need for agenda reduction, including:

The Second Committee considering resolutions that duplicated content that has been biennialized in the Third Committee. Namely, resolutions on illicit finance and corruption. Some resolutions actually undermined the work of competent bodies in the UN System.

The extensive program of work led to problems in coordination – as noted by my other colleagues – especially within groups, making positions more rigid and making it harder for participants in the negotiations to work out compromises; in short, the overloaded program meant the quality of our work suffered.

The extensive program of work also led to opportunity costs for delegations and capitals – time spent in negotiating rooms on resolutions with little effect is time taken away from other forms of engagement. There has also been recognition that the HLPF suffers from uneven attention and attendance due to the overcrowded agenda and drawn out negotiations.

In the Second Committee, agenda items and resolutions where there are limited changes year-to-year, such as Harmony with Nature, Sand and Dust Storms, International Financial System, and many others continue to be rolled over year after year rather than biennialized, triennialized or sunsetted altogether. Our time and attention would be better used elsewhere.

Disappointingly, the Second Committee continues to consider a resolution on Agenda 21, which has been effectively superseded by more recent agreements.

We also see negotiations on issues that have recently been deliberated at a higher level, both duplicating processes and undermining recent agreements. For instance, just weeks after the High-Level Meeting on NCDs, a small group of countries tabled a plenary resolution that re-litigated key points of the ministerial outcome. Why?

In the fall’s most egregious case in Second Committee, a new agenda item on “rural poverty alleviation” was added to the agenda, despite the fact that resolutions and agenda items were already fit-for-purpose for this discussion. We agreed with the 49 other Member States that voted against this wasteful exercise; there was no need for this resolution or for further burdening our already overloaded agenda. We need to face the fact that we spend too much time on stale, decades-old resolutions long past their expiration datesAt the same time, our responsibilities under the 2030 Agenda continue to grow past the boundaries of our capacity to manage themNone of these wasteful processes do anything at all to improve the lives of those in rural poverty or anyone else for that matter. If we are to revitalize the General Assembly and ensure the ECOSOC plays its mandated role within it, we absolutely need to stop wasting each other’s time and really work on the efforts that we have all agreed to undertake.

Together, all of these examples and many more represent a serious waste of resources, impose costly overlapping mandates on Secretariat entities, and also do real harm to the relevance and credibility of these UN bodies, not to mention our ability to support the SDGs

To echo my Swiss colleague, it’s hard to manage what we cannot measure. Therefore, we support the Secretariat providing data on the growth of resolutions, both in number and length, agenda items and sub-items, and negotiated high-level outcomes since the Millennium Summit. The United States appreciates that the 2019 HLPF and SDG Summit will have only one negotiated outcome. We take this opportunity to comment that the 2019 Financing for Development Forum and dialogue should also be limited to a single negotiated outcome. To conserve time and resources, ensure coherence, and allow delegations time to prepare effectively for the dialogue itself, that outcome should be negotiated in March and April under the auspices of the ECOSOC FFD Forum, as in years past.

Finally, the work of the General Assembly and ECOSOC need to be more inclusive of stakeholders. We all understand and respect the special role of Member States in UN bodies – no one disputes this. And that is why it is so puzzling that any one of our Membership would fear opening the doors of these bodies just a little bit wider — to our own people. After all, in order to make real progress toward sustainable development and human rights for everyone, we need to be more inclusive and bring in innovators – those who are making changes on the ground. We have all attended far too many poorly attended UN meetings that were nothing more than echo chambers for well-known positions. We look to ECOSOC and GA leadership – and the UN Secretariat that supports them – to be more innovative and inclusive and bring vigor and relevant engagement back to our meetings. As we look this year to examine our progress under Goal 16 which encompasses good governance, it is incumbent on us to set a better example.

Madam Presidents, colleagues, we look forward to working with you throughout the next year to address these challenges. Thank you.