United Nations Development Group (UNDG)
  • Date submitted: 1 Nov 2011
  • Stakeholder type: United Nations & Other IGOs
  • Name: United Nations Development Group (UNDG)
  • Submission Document: Download
Keywords: Data (8 hits),

Full Submission

Summary of the Findings from a Survey of UN Country Teams on Rio+20 Themes Prepared by UNDG Task Team on Environmental Sustainability, Climate Change and Rio+20 as input for the Rio+20 Compilation Document

I. Introduction

Based on the responses of United Nations Country Teams (UNCT) to a survey, this paper puts forth a set of observations and recommendations on how the United Nations (UN) at country-level can better support Member States to further the Rio+20 themes in their countries. A longer report with more detailed analysis of the survey responses, including cases and examples of work being done by the UNCTs, will be forthcoming before the end of 2011.

The Data: The United Nations Development Group (UNDG) Task Team on Environmental Sustainability, Climate Change and Rio+20 distributed an online survey on 24 August 2011 asking 135 UNCTs covering 180 countries to describe how they are providing support to their host government on: (i) preparedness to address new and emerging issues, (ii) green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication, and (iii) the institutional framework for sustainable development (IFSD.

UNCT Survey Participants: As of mid-October, 57 country teams had responded. Of those, six were in Delivering as One (DaO) pilot countries, and ten were in self-starter DaO countries, providing an overall 28% response from country teams involved in the DaO process. Seventeen respondents were based in Least Developed Countries, and three were in Small Island Developing States. (See Annex for a list of countries where responding UNCTs are located)

Some responses were a result of a team effort and submitted by the Office of the Resident Coordinator on behalf of the team, while others were prepared and submitted by individual agencies. Not all respondents covered all of the questions. Some provided a varying degree of detail on individual questions. Hence the present survey results have limitations as to how definitive a picture they can draw. However, a number of informative trends and challenges could be observed.

The UNCTs: Respondents were asked to list the members of their country teams and a total of 50 entities were listed in the various UNCT lists provided. In addition to the Resident Agencies that are typically a part of the UNCT, a number of Non-Resident Agencies (NRAs), and International Financial Institutions were also reported as members. Of the NRAs, UNEP was noted the most (18), followed by UNESCO (15) and the Regional Commissions (14).The World Bank participated in 16 country teams, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in 8, and the International Financial Corporation (IFC) in 5. The many references to non-resident UN agency members of country teams (28 such UN entities were identified) may suggest that UN country teams are making significant efforts to expand their team?s sectoral expertise. This increasing diversity within the UNCT is an excellent trend of inclusiveness although it may also point to coordination challenges for the Resident Coordinators.

Recommendation 1: Further systematized inclusion of the expertise of NRAs and IFIs at country-level should be supported, which also requires support from governing bodies for the NRAs to develop the capacity to respond to such requests and, not least, support for the Resident Coordinator to ensure appropriate coordination of UNCTs with potentially wider membership.

II. UNCT Experiences Supporting Rio+20 Themes Country teams that responded to the survey reported a very high percentage of support for all three areas, respectively: preparedness to address new / emerging issues (96.2%), green economy (91.4%), and institutional coordination on sustainable development (90.9%).

However, the surveys suggest there is room for improvement in the integration of and balance among the environment, social and economic pillars. Some UNCT activities noted integration, while others highlighted it as a desired outcome that is not yet fully realized. The environmental pillar is most often the obvious entry point, with the economic pillar articulated most often in the green economy theme, generally in the context of green jobs and support to Small and Medium sized Enterprises (SMEs). Social benefits are more often inferred. In new and emerging issues, the social pillar comes across strongly in the emphasis on public safety and climate change adaptation plans. Very few references are made to the MDG?s or to links between the sustainable development agenda and the MDG agenda.

A. Preparedness to Address New and Emerging Issues

A lack of understanding of the inter-relationship between the three pillars of sustainable development appears particularly evident in responses to new and emerging issues. For example, most disaster risk reduction efforts are viewed as capacity building for public safety, with far less being mentioned about social and economic disruption, or the long-term impacts of environmental damage. A number of issues considered important or central in sustainable development are not mentioned or mentioned little. Population dynamics and the emerging issue of increased urbanization are not mentioned once in the UNCT responses, even though population dynamics is understood as a central factor in sustainable development at the global level (and within many sectors at country level) and the urban agenda provides a helpful and significant cross-sectoral platform. The intersection of environment and food security, or access to natural resources and local economies, are rarely mentioned. Additionally, the heavy reporting emphasis on risk reduction and emergency response preparedness suggests that ?emerging? issues may have been interpreted in some cases as emergency-related activities.

Requests for support: Requests for support from UNCTs to address new and emerging issues was less centered in one or two sectors than the other themes. The greatest number of requests still originated with government ministries that cover the environment, natural resources, and sustainable development. However, disaster protection and preparedness came in second place, followed closely by Civil Protection, a ministry not yet seen in the survey except in responses for this theme. As activities are linked between civil protection and disaster and emergency preparedness, it can be concluded that the protection of citizens from emerging issues produced the greatest response.

Support provided to host countries: Fifty-two of 57 respondents said UN agencies in their country were coordinating responses to new and emerging issues. Activities in this category fall predominately into three areas:

? Environmental sustainability

? Climate change

? Disaster preparedness and mitigation

The majority of country teams provided support in disaster preparedness, emergency response and/or early warning systems as part of their activities. This included for example, support for vulnerability assessments, Data collection and contingency planning exercises. Guidance for climate change policies and strategies, particularly Climate Adaptation Policies, was the next most frequent activity in this category.

B. Green Economy in the Context of Sustainable Development and Poverty Eradication

The survey findings suggest that UNCTs and their country counterparts predominately frame sustainable development in general, and green economy in particular, as an environmental issue.

Requests for support: Requests for support from UNCTs on green economy issues and activities predominantly came from ministries that cover the environment, natural resources, and sustainable development. Requests also came from other national environmental organizations such as the Romanian Green Building Council and Togo?s National Committee for Sustainable Development. The ?non-environmental? government ministries most frequently requesting assistance in this area were: Planning, Economic Development, Trade, and Regional/ Rural Development, followed at a distance by agricultural ministries.

Support provided to host countries: A wide variety of activities were reported, falling into the following general categories of support:

? Development of national strategies, regulations, frameworks and policies

? Capacity building

? Assistance to implementation of protocols/ conventions

? Economic development initiatives

? Strengthening natural resource protection/ management

? Other areas worth noting: reduction of energy dependency and increased energy efficiency; capacity assessment on disaster risk management; assessment of regional food security.

Recommendation 2: Greater effort is needed to better balance the social, economic and environmental aspects of green economy, and sustainable development initiatives in general and at country level. Support for the further development of coordination mechanisms for governments and stakeholders around these issues will help in creating fora where inter-linkages among the multi-sectoral viewpoints can be identified. Particular approaches may include expanding the range of partners, and providing guidance on the linkages (between sectors and sustainable development).

C. Institutional Framework for Sustainable Development (IFSD)

Survey responses suggest that IFSD is not a widely understood theme area. In terms of support provided, the development of national strategies and policies was the most common activity, rather than strengthening institutional coordination. However, some insights could be drawn on coordination activities.

Requests for support: Results show the same support profile for IFSD as in green economy, with requests predominantly coming from ministries and government institutions that cover the environment, natural resources, and sustainable development. Other national environmental organizations, like Mexico?s National Institute of Ecology and Madagascar?s National Unit on Ozone, were also among those entities seeking UN assistance. Other government ministries most frequently requesting assistance in this area were Planning and Economic Development.

Support provided to host countries: Most activities under this theme focused on two areas:

? Development of national strategies, regulations, frameworks and policies

? Capacity building

National planning documents that inform the UNDAF: When looking at the type of national documents commonly used to inform a UNCT?s planning, it was found that the jointly Government and UN owned United Nations Development Assistance Frameworks (UNDAF) mainly responds to National Development Plans (80% of respondents); followed by National Sustainable Development Strategies (41%), Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSP, 32%), and Low Emission Climate Resilient Development Strategies (15%). It is worth noting that the National Development Plans were most often paired with: National Sustainable Development Strategies followed fairly equally by PRSPs, and Low Emission Climate Resilient Development Strategies. UNCTs in a few countries listed only the PRSP as informing their UNDAF, while only one used all three documents but not the National Development Plan. A few other planning tools were also noted: such as the strategic national plan ?Vision 2030? in Namibia as well as strategies on climate change, national agriculture and health policies.

International decisions reflected in the UNDAF: Respondents were asked how UNCTs can help ensure that normative decisions made at international conferences are better reflected in the UNDAF. In response many UNCTs offered recommendations that fell into following five general categories:

? Provide guidance/policy advice

? Develop indicators/ measurements/ targets, such as on country implementation of MEAs

? Capacity building for government to deliver on international commitments

? Improve information sharing/ knowledge networking

? Link issues/ frameworks for greater cooperation and cross-sectoral outcomes.

Governments often note implementation of internationally agreed norms and standards as an area needing the attention at all levels. Including the internationally agreed goals and targets in the UNDAF as outcomes and outputs can potentially contribute to implementation, if based, in each case, on a reasonable degree of national recognition and ownership of the goals and targets. The above UNCT recommendations provide a list of specific areas where support is needed such as developing relevant indicators, and better information and knowledge sharing.

Delivering as One: While some DaO countries presented a strong unified approach to addressing Rio+20 themes in their work, others did not. Of those that did, the coordination extended in many cases to helping host governments develop coordination capabilities themselves. As examples of good practice, the Kyrgyzstan UNCT supported the creation of an inter-ministerial, cross-sectoral coordination mechanism within the scope of individual projects; while the Uruguay UNCT coordinated with three ministries, the National Planning Office, and a municipal government in efforts to integrate environmental concerns in to poverty eradication plans.

Coordination strengths and weakness: Respondents were asked to describe the successful elements of coordination of responses to new and emerging issues (see Section C below). UNCTs identified a number of elements that they felt strengthened UN coordination, such as:

(i) UNCT coordinated support, including strong UNCT leadership and team commitment; UNDAF focusing on thematic areas, like green economy and education; the Delivering as One approach; and joint programmes (some global, such as the Poverty Environment Initiative, UN REDD Programme, the MDG-Fund, and many national programmes were referenced); activities aimed at enabling joint UN-Government coordination such as joint steering committees and joint forums for dialogue;

(ii) Enabling internal conditions, such as UNCT willingness to work together, including NRAs and IFIs; funding for multi-agency efforts; support to UNCT provided by the Resident Coordinator?s Office; physical proximity of UNCT offices in the same compound; and

(iii) Internal coordination mechanisms, such as: Thematic Groups, Working Groups, Humanitarian Cluster, UNDAF Outcomes Group, Interagency Programme Team, and coordination forums.

At the same time, country teams identified two main types of coordination challenges: (i) those that can be mitigated or overcome with more, or more effective use, of resources, technical assistance and capacity building, such as: lack of adequate financing; lack of a coordinating mechanism to provide a framework for supporting government; low priority for sustainable development and environmental concerns; and lack of UNCT commitment; and (ii) those that are extremely difficult to change and are often outside the abilities of the UNCT to affect, such as: limited government leadership; government preference to work with agencies individually rather than the UNCT; and ongoing insecurity or conflict, undermining development efforts and gains.

Recommendation 3: Many important elements to build on for strengthening coordination already have been identified and are being put into practice by the UNCTs responding to this survey. It will be important for the UNDG and agencies at headquarters level to strengthen support for the further application of these good practices and for the further development of coordination mechanisms at country-level including joint coordination mechanisms with the host government, and to make sure that these coordination mechanisms address sustainable development in its totality, that is, address the three dimensions of sustainable development and their integration.

Improving country level service delivery: Twenty-five of the 26 responses sent on this issue felt that the UN could improve its service delivery in the context of the Rio+20 themes. Suggestions from UNCTs include:

? Focus on national ownership and capacity enhancement;

? Support greater coordination and information sharing;

? Ensure adequate and predictable resources, allowing UNCT to respond more quickly and effectively;

? Increase engagement with NRAs that have expertise in the Rio+20 themes, such as UNEP;

? Establish capacity building programs within government and the UN to better integrate the three pillars of sustainable development;

? Simplify routine organizational procedures and norms for addressing emerging issues.

Recommendation 4: Provide support for identifying good practices in what strengthens coordination; and build capacity for better coordination within government counterparts to improve coordination between the UNCT and the host government.

III. Challenges and Gaps

A number of key challenges and obstacles were identified by UNCTs that hinder supporting all sustainable development themes, such as:

? Limited financial and human resources, in both the government and UNCT. A related challenge was high turn over in management and project staff.

? Lack of coordination at the UNCT level, and among stakeholders and government entities as many different ministries address various aspects of sustainable development.

? Lack of knowledge and reliable Data/ information.

? Sustainable development themes being a low government priority, and the concept not being well understood.

? Poor capacity in some environmental ministries, and similarly, government in process of significant change and cannot address these issues.

Other challenges were more specific to a single issue or sector, such as:

? Green economy is often viewed as an environmental sector theme.

? Political controversies, such as some countries not supporting the green economy agenda.

? Difficulty in measuring outcomes of environmental projects to show either improvement or deterioration.

? Uncertainty of ongoing funds for maintenance of disaster risk reduction initiatives.

? Lack of a private sector, and limited economic opportunities in general.

A frequent comment among survey responses was the need for more Data, and better information collection and dissemination. This ranged from a need for national and regional statistical Data to inform planning, to a frequent request for a systematic way to share information on developments related to MEA negotiations and international conventions. A number of UNCTs highlighted activities where databases were being developed to capture knowledge, particularly about environmental trends and patterns, which will help provide information for better planning and more such activities should be supported. One country team mentioned having a strategy for keeping the UNCT up to date on MEA negotiations and international conventions. No references were made to conventions in other areas, such as labor or human rights.

Also often noted was a lack of priority given by some governments to the Rio+20 themes, and weak government capacity to address the issues. Greater awareness raising and advocacy about the issues is still needed to raise the profile, and urgency, of these issues for national governments.

Recommendation 5: Sustained support is needed for financial and human resources, and Data collection and knowledge management. Support for analysis of existing Data is also a critical need, including use of datasets like population censuses that are highly relevant but tend not to be applied to environment or sustainable development issues. Recommendation 6: There is a need for country level initiatives and incentives for greater coordination not only within government agencies and UNCTs, but also between the two. Recommendation 7: Greater support to governments and UNCTs is needed to further strengthen capacity building to address sustainable development themes effectively at the individual, the institutional and systemic level. Given the wide substantive range of sustainable development, capacity building needs to target ministries beyond those that are generally tasked with it to enable an integrated three-pillar approach.

IV. Conclusion

The survey response highlighted a number of key areas that warrant further consideration and action.

A significant challenge for Rio+20 and beyond is that countries and UNCTs mainly define sustainable development as an environmental issue. Hence, greater effort is needed to better balance the social, economic and environmental aspects of sustainable development initiatives.

Support for the development of coordination mechanisms for UNCTs and governments ? and between the two - around these issues are needed to create fora where multi-sectoral viewpoints can be better balanced.

There is a lack of clarity and understanding around the Rio+20 themes, particularly IFSD, at both the UNCT and government level. At the same time, UNCTs found a lack of prioritization by and capacity within governments for these issues.

A lack of clear Data, indicators and outcomes to inform sustainable development activities was noted as a challenge; as was a lack of up-to-date information on international conference decisions and their actionable implications at the country level.

Annex: Country location of UNCTS WHO RESPONDED TO THE SURVEY (57)


Burkina Faso


*Central African Republic

Congo Brazzaville

Guinea Bissau











Arab States




Saudi Arabia








*Mauritius and Seychelles




*Sri Lanka


Timor Leste

*Viet Nam

Europe and Central Asia






*Kyrgyz Republic




Russian Federation



Latin America and the Caribbean




Dominican Republic









* Provided UNCT-wide coordinated response (27)

DaO countries (5)
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