Global Policy Forum

High Level Panel on System-Wide Coherence


In February, 2006, Secretary General Kofi Annan established a new High Level Panel on System Wide Coherence, as requested by the 2005 World Summit. The panel will explore how to strengthen and "more tightly manage" the UN's work in development, humanitarian assistance and the environment. Discussion has centered on a reorganization of the UN's agencies, funds and programs into three large "pillars" to avoid duplication of work and increase efficiency. Progressive reformers have long criticized the system's balkanized structure and argued for more centralization. But in the current political climate, many fear that the streamlining will lead to downsizing and budget-cutting and that it may weaken the UN. The G-77 oppose these changes, out of concern that the reforms will ignore the interests of poor countries and cater instead to the demands of the rich and powerful.

GPF Perspectives |UN Documents | Articles 

GPF Perspectives

The Reform of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC): A Never-Ending Story? (November 14, 2006)

In light of the need for an international body with sufficient legitimacy and authority to make inclusive and effective decisions on world social and economic affairs, Global Policy Forum's Jens Martens outlines the history of proposals to reform ECOSOC. Due to its lack of decision-making power and inappropriate size, reforming ECOSOC or establishing an alternative has been a recurrent issue of debate. Martens concludes this piece with hopeful expectations for the proposal to establish a "Global Leaders Forum" within the framework of ECOSOC, as set forth by the High-level Panel on UN System-wide Coherence in its November 2006 report. (World Economy & Development/Global Policy Forum)

UN Documents

Secretary General's Report on UN System-Wide Coherence (April 3, 2007)

In this report to the General Assembly, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon welcomes the recommendations of the High Level Panel on System-Wide Coherence for improving the UN. While urging governments to support the panel's suggestions for streamlining the UN's work in development, the environment and humanitarian assistance, Ban concedes that "other areas will require fuller discussions and deliberations."

Delivering As One: Report of the Secretary General's High-Level Panel (November 9, 2006)

Calling for "One UN" within individual countries, the High-Level Panel on System-Wide Coherence in this report proposes wide-ranging structural reforms of UN agencies to reduce any overlap in their programs. Furthermore, the panel endorses strengthening women's role in the development process by "consolidating" the existing UN gender entities into one. But the report does not directly address poor countries' concern that streamlining the UN's activities could result in the reduction of UN resources available to tackle issues of development.

Secretary General's Statement to High-Level Panel on System-Wide Coherence (April 5, 2006)

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan states that the primary focus of the High Level Panel on System-Wide Coherence will be the UN's international development cooperation work. But the Panel's work will complement other ongoing UN reform efforts in management, peacebuilding, human rights and the environment.

Annan Sets Up Panel to Mesh UN System's Humanitarian and Development Work (February 16, 2006)

This UN News article describes the establishment of the new UN High Level Panel on System Wide Coherence. The panel will explore how to better carry out the UN's worldwide work in development, humanitarian assistance and the environment. The panel was called for in the 2005 World Summit Outcome document and "will complement "other major reform initiatives" and achievement of the Millenium Development Goals.

Spokesman for the Secretary General Statement on High Level Panel on System Wide Coherence (February 16, 2006)

This UN statement lists the 15 participants of the UN High Level Panel on System Wide Coherence. The panel will examine how best to strengthen the coordination of UN operational activities and the possibility of the "creation of more tightly managed UN entities" in the fields of environment, development and humanitarian assistance. The UN expects the panel to conclude work by mid-2006, and possible implementation in 2007.



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System-Wide Coherence: the 62nd GA Session and the Road Ahead (December, 2008)

Several initiatives have moved forward since the High-level Panel on System-wide Coherence presented its report in 2006. An evaluation of the results will be presented in the end of 2009, but so far development "assistance is being delivered with greater effectiveness."  The UN body on women established in September 2009 was one of the results of the panel's discussions. (Center for UN Reform)

Improving System Wide Coherence: An Albanian Perspective on "Delivering as One" (July 24, 2008)

Albania was one of eight countries to volunteer when a UN high-level panel suggested that UN agencies should coordinate their activities in field countries under one administrator, one office and one budget framework. But, in the absence of clear priorities, it was like "walking in the fog" in the beginning explains an Albanian diplomat. On the one hand, UN agencies seemed "afraid of centralization," and on the other hand, poor countries feared rich countries would decrease their funding to UN programs and dominate their national priorities. (Center for UN Reform Education)

If Dunkin' Donuts Can Do It, Why Can't the UN? (May 22, 2008)

In 1997, former Secretary General Kofi Anan created the UN Development Group (UNDG) as part of an effort to promote closer cooperation between the UN funds and programs working on development and those working on humanitarian aid. In this interview, the director of the UNDG describes how this initiative was controversial since many UN agencies feared losing autonomy and funds because of increased coordination. The director also argues that it will not be possible to achieve full policy coherence since "90 percent of the current dysfunctions of the UN comes from the incoherent funding structure." (Center for UN Reform Education)

System-Wide Coherence (April 2008)

This paper analyzes the effort to increase cooperation between UN agencies in the field. In Tanzania, for example, 17 different UN agencies came together under one administration. But, many developing countries warn that rich countries may promote such reforms mainly to reduce costs, without any plans to reinvest the savings in development work. (Center for UN Reform Education)

Member States Move Towards a "Basket" Approach to System-Wide Coherence (March 21, 2008)

Following up on the "UN System-Wide Coherence Panel" report, member states are discussing how to improve coordination between UN activities in the field. To speed up action, the two co-chairs proposed to deal with the different thematic issues in two "baskets." Member states will start discussing the "first basket" issues, such as gender and funding, and then move on to the issues in the "second basket." While G77 and NAM (Non-Aligned Movement) members argued that the basket approach will downplay the issues in the "second basket," including human rights and environment, they agreed to begin consultations if delegates discuss all eight issues before considering a resolution. (

One UN Pilots: Aligning UN Capabilities in Support of National Development (March 2008)

Eight pilot countries are hosting the UN initiative, "Delivering as One," which aims at a more coherent UN development strategy through better cooperation of UN agencies. This article argues that agencies need more funding to reduce their heavy reliance on voluntary contributions. The article also warns that by focusing on quick results, governments will give priority to reducing costs rather than promoting development. (Stanley Foundation)

Member States Resume Talks on the Future of the System-Wide Coherence Process (February 12, 2008)

During a General Assembly meeting on "System-Wide Coherence," UN members reviewed efforts to improve coordination between the different UN development agencies. Several governments argued that the UN's work on gender equality is insufficient and fragmented and needs more financial investment. Rich and poor countries disagreed on future funding for the system-wide coherence process. The European Union and other large donor countries favored funding that would encourage "efficiency on the ground." The G77, on the other hand, adopted a more "holistic" approach that would increase funding of national programs and pay more attention to "sustainable development." (Center for UN Reform Education)


Bold Gambit for Disjointed UN: Oneness (June 28, 2007)

This Christian Science Monitor article highlights the challenges faced by the "One UN" pilot project which advocates greater UN efficiency through the integration of resources of various UN agencies. According to Sally Fegan-Wyles, director of the project's New York office, disagreement among member states will likely hamper such reform efforts. James Paul, executive director of Global Policy Forum, notes that "most of the projects for reform of the UN are driven by state interests," which "rarely coincide with peace, justice, development, and the end of poverty." (Christian Science Monitor)

South Faults One-Size-Fits-All Approach (April 6, 2007)

The Group of 77 and the Non-Aligned Movement have reiterated their concerns about plans to merge UN agencies in order to "reduce duplication and transactions costs" in the organization's social and economic development work. Many fear that such reform could actually limit the UN's impact in the field and even stymie poor countries' own development efforts. Global Policy Forum's Executive Director James Paul calls the proposal "a way to avoid directly addressing the crisis of development and the dilemma of an aid system that is making so little progress." (Inter Press Service)

A Civil Society Response to the Report of the UN High-Level Panel on System-Wide Coherence (April 2007)

A coalition of NGOs in this report expresses concern that UN "system-wide coherence" could further harm the world's poor and under-represented communities. The report also warns against reform proposals that target the UN but overlook other players engaged in development work, particularly the Bretton Woods Institutions. (Center of Concern, International Trade Union Confederation, UBUNTU and World Federalist Movement)

Joint G77-NAM Letter on UN "Coherence" Sent to UN S-G (March 28, 2007)

In a letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, the Group of 77 and the Non-Aligned Movement oppose recommendations of the High Level Panel on System-Wide Coherence. The two blocs argue that the panel's proposals to "reduce duplication" among UN agencies "should not [become] a cost-cutting exercise." Furthermore, they stress the need for a more open reform process that allows for greater consultations with all Member States. (Third World Network)


Paths to Development: The UN vs. Business (November 21, 2006)

This openDemocracy piece analyzes reform proposals of the UN High Level Panel on System-Wide Coherence. Referring to the Panel's calls for greater coordination of UN programs, the author says this "mantra drives the UN organization into more bureaucracy and less delivery." Though the author suggests that such redundant reform proposals might weaken the UN's impact in development, he concedes that the organization "does a great job" despite its limitations. (openDemocracy)

The Coherence Panel's Mixed Bag of Proposals (November 19, 2006)

This World Economy and Development piece calls the UN High-Level Panel on System-Wide Coherence's November 2006 report a "hybrid of innovation and status quo," with few proposals likely to elicit North-South support. Moreover, the author argues that the UN member states – rich and poor alike – have played a "pivotal" role in the organization's "shortcomings" in development. He concludes that the UN cannot make progress as long as donor nations try to push their own agendas while others remain strongly resistant to any form of change. (World Economy and Development)

Gender Equality Architecture and UN Reforms (July 2, 2006)

In spite of their promises at the fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, governments have failed to support the UN agencies and programs that promote gender equality and the empowerment of women. UNIFEM, for example, suffers from insufficient funding and limited access to decision making. Gender at Work proposes a new entity that can strengthen the UN's work on gender equality. This entity must be autonomous, well-resourced and have sufficient authority to enforce women's rights. (Gender at Work)

Don't Use Reform to "Collapse" Or Merge Agencies, Says G77 (June 3, 2006)

The proposal for system-wide "coherence" entails grouping UN bodies into three big pillars: development, humanitarian assistance and the environment. The proposal has drawn much criticism from the Group of 77 and China, who fear that such a plan might impede the activities and cut down the resources of several UN agencies. According to the group, the reform process should boost multilateralism and equity rather than cater to the demands of the rich countries. (Third World Network)

Briefing Note on Women's Rights and the "Coherence Panel" in the UN Reform Process (May 8, 2006)

UN reform and the High Level Panel on System-Wide Coherence must address the lack of an "independent women-specific agency with adequate stature, resources [and] operational capacity." The authors argue that gender issues have either been monitored by a few under-resourced agencies or are a "low priority" for other larger agencies such as UNDP. This briefing calls for an autonomous UN agency with a comprehensive mandate and an Under Secretary-General devoted to guaranteeing women a say in UN decision making. (CIVICUS)

The Pre-Requisite to UN Leadership in Development: System-Wide Coherence (May 8, 2006)

The UN Group of 77's (G77) anxieties about System-Wide Coherence results from the speed of the panel process and the lack of consultations undertaken by rich countries. Furthermore, reform proposals submitted by individual countries give radical solutions, such as three pillars of development, environment and humanitarian assistance. But the author argues the G77 would commit a "strategic error" in blocking UN operational reform and prevent the UN from becoming a "global player" in international development. (World Economy and Development)

Frontal Attack on the UN (April 28, 2006)

The author argues that the High Level Panel on System-Wide Coherence faces "an extremely short period of time to deal with a tremendously ambitious agenda." The process also appears biased – rich European countries have quickly offered "radical" reform proposals, but poor countries are struggling to take part in the discussions. Although the many UN organizations often overlap and cause administrative problems, merging agencies into larger units means marginalized groups will lose "both a voice and a means of action." Creating three "pillars" risks isolating development, humanitarian action and environment from each other, when in the field, these three areas are inextricably linked. (Dagbladet)

UN Urged to Create Separate Agency for Women (April 18, 2006)

Activists call on the UN to create a separate stand-alone agency for women issues to rectify the "gender shortcomings" of the UN. Gender issues are dispersed through several smaller UN bodies and some advocate it should be represented more powerfully at UN headquarters, in specific countries and peacekeeping operations. A proposal before the High Level Panel on UN System-Wide Coherence recommends combining current departments and bodies, such as UNIFEM, and creating a new women's agency "with a broad mandate on gender equality." (Inter Press Service)

UN Reform Process Hotting Up (March 27, 2006)

The author writes that rich countries have pushed for UN reforms to "erode the influence of developing countries." In particular, the reforms reduce the UN's role in development. This allows institutions, such as the WTO dominated by rich countries to monopolize. The number of UN mandates under review "runs into the thousands," many falling under the newly established High-Level Panel on System Wide Coherence. The panel will propose new structures for the UN's work in development, humanitarian assistance and the environment. (South North Development Monitor)

Developed Countries Press for Big Changes in UN structure (March 28, 2006)

The new high level panel on system wide coherence will report how the UN and its agencies should operate in the future. Rich nations are pressing for the closure and merging of several UN agencies, fund and programmes to avoid "too many cooks" and overlap of work. "Non-papers" submitted by Belgium, the Netherlands and the UK, argue that the UN's social and economic work can be organized in three main "pillars" dealing with development, humanitarian assistance and the environment. But, critics fear this streamlining of UN bodies could also result in a too narrow approach to development work, perhaps one that abides by the interests of the rich rather than the needs of the poor. (South North Development Monitor)

Stephen Lewis's Speech on the Creation of a UN Agency for Women (February 26, 2006)

Stephen Lewis, UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, strongly urges the High Level Panel on System-Wide Coherence to create a separate women's agency, replacing the current approach of mainstreaming gender throughout development, environment and humanitarian assistance. Lewis describes this practice as "near criminal" and a "pathetic illusion of transformation." A new UN women's agency deserves financing, staff and a broad mandate to place it on equal footing with other UN agencies. Lewis argues that the staggering vulnerability of women to AIDS could have been diminished if such a multilateral agency had existed. (Harvard Law School)


Discussion Paper: Towards a Redesign of the UN Development Architecture (December 2, 2005)

This paper submitted by the Delegation of Belgium discusses the "fragmentation" of the UN's development work because of the creation of a "whole series of funds and programs" and specialized agencies with overlapping mandates. The report argues that this overlap has weakened the UN's efficiency and impact and caused an inflation of administrative costs. Instead Belgium recommends "one consolidated local representative" for the whole system and a single UN Development Agency that would take over the mandates of all current funds, programs and humanitarian agencies. (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development)

A UN Operational System for Development Fit to Face the Challenges of Reaching the MDGs (December 2, 2005)

This paper describes the current UN system as "highly complex" with "many overlapping mandates," which prevents the UN from realizing the Millennium Development Goals. The report recommends as an alternative a small number of strong organizations with "one consolidated representative at country level for the whole system." The report includes several suggestions for the merger of many UN agencies and funds into three large organizations on development, environment and humanitarian assistance. (Development Assistance Committee)


UN Reform - Looking Beyond the High Level Panel (December 2, 2004)

Inspired by the founders of the League of Nations, this article calls for a more visionary approach to UN reform. The author argues that it is crucial to make UN reform a popular discussion topic, engage the public and allow for input in other ways than through the High Level Panel, which was "narrowly composed by elder statesmen" who did not challenge the current political system. The article argues that it is possible to gain both popular and political support through improved cooperation between think tanks at a global level and through civil society campaigns, similar to those for debt relief and for the establishment of the International Criminal Court. (openDemocracy)


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