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Work of Economic and Social Council ‘Vital’ to Achieving Global Solidarity for Era of ‘Austerity and Uncertainty’, Says Secretary-General, Opening 2012 Session



Economic and Social Council 2012 Organizational Session 1st Meeting (PM)

Miloš Koterec of Slovakia Elected President for New Session; Says Sustainable Development, Post-2015 Development Architecture Critical Themes for Year Ahead

As the United Nations embarked on an important year of milestone events, Secretary-General Ban-Ki-moon said today that the work of the Economic and Social Council — the central forum for discussing and coordinating action on such issues as sustainable development, disaster risk reduction, and economic growth — would be vital in realizing his vision of global “solidarity for an era of austerity and uncertainty”.

“We must deepen our efforts to achieve the internationally agreed development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals, our main framework for development to 2015,” said the Secretary-General, as he opened the Council’s 2012 session with a call on the body to use the tools at its disposal, especially its Annual Ministerial Review and Development Cooperation Forum, to help ensure a successful outcome to the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development — known as Rio+20 — and the broader effort to curb the impacts of climate change.

He said the Annual Ministerial Review and Development Cooperation Forum could promote wider engagement at all levels and encourage greater accountability for the international community’s commitments. Along with taking forward progress on his priority initiative “Sustainable Energy for All”, the Forum, he added, should also have a central place in the development cooperation framework established to implement the recommendations of the recent High-Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan, Republic of Korea.

Recalling the set of “generational priorities” for action he had presented to the General Assembly this past September, the Secretary-General emphasized the instrumental role the Economic and Social Council could play in fostering better disaster-risk reduction and preparedness and building a safer and more secure world. In the aftermath of last year’s “Arab Spring”, which he described as “a wake-up call for the world,” he said that Council could help support nations in transition by sharing its experiences in post-conflict peacebuilding, as well as the success of its ad hoc advisory groups with the Peacebuilding Commission.

Finally, he urged stepping up efforts to empower women and young people. “Women are the bedrock of families, communities and societies. Youth play a vital role in contributing to the process of sustainable development,” he said, calling for decent jobs and wider opportunities for women and young people to participate and thrive at all levels, in all contexts. To that end, he said he was encouraged that this year, the Council’s Annual Ministerial Review would address that theme.

Speaking immediately after his election by acclamation, Council President Miloš Koterec, of Slovakia, said making the 54-member body a “truly meaningful organ” with the capacity to make a difference, called for a new approach. That was especially true during the current economic uncertainty, which had greatly increased the Council’s role and relevance, he said, echoing the Secretary-General.

“In 2012, the Economic and Social Council must carve out its niche as the forum for frank, free-flowing discourse on development cooperation”, he said, adding that the Council’s Development Cooperation Forum was ideally placed for that task. While some were unsatisfied with the Forum’s biennial meeting schedule and its “limited toolkit”, such perceived limitations could in fact become strengths, if the Council cultivated itself as the place where fresh, game-changing ideas were incubated, new policies established and global partnerships formed.

As for the Council’s Annual Ministerial Review, he announced that in 2012, nine counties — Algeria, Brazil, Ecuador, Kenya, Mauritius, Qatar, Russian Federation, Senegal and Ukraine — would deliver National Voluntary Presentations. However, despite that innovative mechanism’s past successes, “resting on our laurels is not an option”. In that vein, he made several suggestions on ways to “tweak” the Review’s format, including “dual presentations” and more inclusive participation beyond Governments.

Two themes would compete for the Council’s attention in the year ahead, he continued: sustainable development and the post-2015 development architecture. In the sustainable development arena, the Rio+20 Conference must set its sights on changing the terms of the debate from neutralizing human influence on the planet to better managing and mitigating its impact. A truly empowered Council could significantly contribute to solving that challenge, he said, adding that it was both well placed and well equipped to become the central place for follow-up to the Rio Conference.

Visionary thinking was also required when it came to the post-2015 framework. The best aspects of the Millennium Development Goals must be retained, while a “sharpened focus” on outcomes and delivery should be adopted. In this area as well, it was necessary to fully realize the potential of the Council, whose legitimacy, complementarity with other intergovernmental bodies and system-wide reach made it a naturally important actor in the system of global governance.

Outgoing Council President Lazarous Kapambwe of Zambia recounted the many successes of the Council’s 2011 session, but joined the other speakers urging the body to press ahead with efforts to “make itself seen”. Calling on members to “start with the small, practical things”, he said that one such gesture would be to ensure that the President of the Economic and Social Council was given one of the special United Nations lapel pins worn by the President of the General Assembly and senior United Nations officials. That, he said, would make the Council President recognizable and would avail him or her easy access to United Nations premises.

More importantly, he said it is was his humble opinion that it would greatly help the Council measure up to its mandate if its President was elected on a one-year, full time basis with a budget and an appropriate staff structure. Indeed, given the number of commissions, funds, programmes and other bodies that currently fall under it, the Council was unable to provide effective policy coordination and guidance or monitor implementation of decisions and policies with a “part-time President” and a small support Secretariat. A full-time President with undivided focus would raise The Council’s visibility by responding to issues more quickly and representing the Council where its presence was needed.

Along with the election of President Koterec, the Council also elected by acclamation three Vice-Presidents: Maged Abdelaziz of Egypt; Desra Percaya of Indonesia; and Juan Pablo de Laiglesia of Spain. President Koterec informed members that consultations were still ongoing within the Group of Latin American and Caribbean States and that the election of a Vice-President from that region would take place at a letter date.

In other business, the Council, following tradition, set the seating arrangements for the new session by lottery. By the results, Nigeria would take the first seat and be followed by Pakistan. Seating of the remaining members would continue in the English alphabetical order.

The 54 members of the Economic and Social Council are: Argentina; Australia; Bahamas; Bangladesh; Belarus; Brazil; Bulgaria; Burkina Faso; Cameroon; Canada; Chile; China; Comoros; Cuba; Dominican Republic; Ecuador; Egypt; El Salvador; Ethiopia; Finland; France; Gabon; Germany; Ghana; India; Iraq; Indonesia; Ireland; Italy; Japan; Latvia; Lesotho; Libya; Malawi; Mexico; Mongolia; Netherlands; Nicaragua; Nigeria; Norway; Pakistan; Philippines; Qatar; Republic of Korea; Russian Federation; Rwanda; Senegal; Spain; Switzerland; Turkey; Ukraine; United Kingdom; United States; and Zambia.

The Economic and Social Council will meet again at a date and time to be announced.