Economic and Social Development

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Article 55 of the charter, on international economic and social cooperation, calls on the UN to promote higher standards of living, full employment, and conditions of economic and social progress and development. The fostering of economic and social development, however, was only one of several objectives specified in the charter, and no special emphasis was accorded to it. The League of Nations and the early ILO were concerned primarily with defensive or protective action, such as the protection of countries against diseases that might cross international frontiers, prevention of international traffic in women and children and in illicit drugs, and protection of workers against unfair and inhumane conditions of labor. Such early action in the economic and social fields was taken in a climate of thought that hardly recognized the concept of economic and social development.

Toward the middle of this century, however, the concept took root as a major objective of international cooperation, and the primary goal of the UN and the specialized agencies in the economic and social fields came to be promoting the development of the less developed countries.


The UN's preoccupation with development is tied to the division of its membership between rich and poor nations, a division that the Secretary-General has frequently characterized as a leading long-term threat to world peace and security.

In 1945, when the UN was established, this sharp dichotomy could not be drawn. The wealth of Europe had been wasted by the ravages of war. Only the United States could claim to be rich, and even the United States, with the depression of the 1930s still a fresh memory, could not be confident of lasting prosperity. What made the challenge of development central to the thinking of every aspiring country was the rapidity with which the countries of Western Europe recovered their prosperity and went on to attain higher levels of economic and social well-being than they had ever experienced. Meanwhile, economic expansion continued apace in the more prosperous countries that had not been directly hurt by the warthe United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. And within a few years, in Asia, the miracle of Japan's recovery and growth was matching Europe's postwar record.

Nothing comparable occurred among the colonial peoples and former colonial peoples. Tropical Asia, Africa, and Latin America had been cultivated in preceding generations largely as appendages to industrial Europe and North Americaon the one hand, supplying essential primary commodities not commonly found in the temperate regions and, on the other hand, serving as profitable markets for consumer goods produced in the temperate regions. The peoples of these economically underdeveloped areas made rapid political progress in the postwar era. Significant economic progress also was recorded in a number of these countries, so that by the late 1950s, it was considered not only tactful but also proper to refer to them as "developing" rather than "underdeveloped" nations. As a group, however, the developing countries were far outdistanced in economic growth by the temperate zone industrialized countries, which were finding the postwar era the most propitious in history for their development. Before the UN had completed its first 15 years, it was abundantly evident that a very disturbing gap had opened up between the industrialized and the developing nations and that, despite very substantial foreign aid efforts, the gap was growing broader year by year.


The international community was not slow to recognize the political and economic dangers inherent in such an imbalance of national wealth. As early as 1946, when "recovery" rather than "development" dominated UN thinking on economic matters, the General Assembly requested the Economic and Social Council to study ways and means of furnishing advice to nations desiring help in developing their resources. As a result, the UN, in cooperation with the specialized agencies of the UN system, began its first programs of technical assistance.

This chapter describes the principles and goals of the UN development effort. It also discusses some of the factors influencing development, such as science and technology, the role of transnational corporations, and the use of natural resources, and it summarizes the work of the regional commissions. Programs of technical cooperation undertaken by the UN and its related organizations are described in the chapter on Technical Cooperation Programs, and social and humanitarian programs in the chapter on Social and Humanitarian Assistance. The work of the specialized agencies in supporting economic and social development is described in the separate chapters on those agencies.


The first UN Development Decade was launched by the General Assembly in December 1961. It called on all member states to intensify their efforts to mobilize support for measures required to accelerate progress toward self-sustaining economic growth and social advancement in the developing countries. With each developing country setting its own target, the objective would be a minimum annual growth rate of 5% in aggregate national income by the end of the decade.

The economically advanced states were asked to pursue policies designed to enable the developing countries to sell more of their products at stable and remunerative prices in expanding markets in order to finance more of their economic development, and to follow policies designed to ensure developing countries an equitable share of earnings from extraction and marketing of their natural resources by foreign capital. Industrialized states were also called on to pursue policies that would lead to an increase in the flow of developmental resources and stimulate the flow of private capital to developing countries on mutually acceptable terms. The General Assembly recommended that the flow of international capital and assistance to developing countries should be about 1% of the combined national incomes of the economically advanced countries.

Throughout the decade of the 1960s, however, the growth rate in the economically advanced market economies accelerated, and the gap between the per capita incomes of the developing countries and those of the developed countries widened. Two-thirds of the world's population living in the less developed regions of the world still had less than one-sixth of the world's income. In 1962, annual per capita income in those regions averaged $136, while that of the economically advanced market economies in North America and Western Europe averaged $2,845 and $1,033, respectively.

In a report issued in 1969, Secretary-General U Thant noted that the slower progress in development had been accompanied by the emergence or aggravation of major imbalances that imperiled future growth. Without greater progress in food production and the more effective control of communicable diseases, the necessary conditions for steady economic and social development could hardly be said to have been created. At the same time, the Secretary-General pointed out, the experience of a few countries had demonstrated that "given a favorable constellation of circumstances and policies, an adequate and sustained pace of development can be achieved," and acceptance of development as a fundamental objective had gradually wrought a desirable change in attitudes and modes of action on the part of developing countries. Public decisions were no longer made solely in response to expediency, and policies and programs previously decided upon in relative isolation were gradually being integrated and harnessed to a common purpose. At the international level, the Secretary-General noted, the institutional machinery for the review and advancement of international policies had been considerably strengthened by the creation of such bodies as the UN Conference on Trade and Development and the Committee for Development Planning.

The first UN Development Decade ended in December 1970 with one of its major goals, the attainment of a 5% growth rate, unattained in the developing countries. During the period 196067, those countries achieved an annual rate of increase in their total domestic product of about 4.6%, but, because of the population increase, the increase in their per capita gross product was only about 2%. The General Assembly concluded that one of the reasons for the slow progress was the absence of a framework of international development strategy.


At its 25th session, in 1970, the General Assembly adopted a resolution outlining an international development strategy for the second UN Development Decadethe 1970s. The main objectives of the plan were to promote sustained economic growth, particularly in the developing countries; ensure a higher standard of living, and facilitate the process of narrowing the gap between the developed and developing countries. The General Assembly declared that the developing countries bore primary responsibility for their development but that their efforts would be insufficient without increased financial assistance and more favorable economic and commercial policies on the part of the developed countries.

Under the goals and objectives of the second decade, the General Assembly stated that the average annual rate of growth in the gross product of the developing countries as a whole should be at least 6%, with the possibility of attaining a higher rate in the second half of the decade. Such a rate of growth would imply an average annual expansion of 4% in agricultural output and 8% in manufacturing output.

The General Assembly also stated that it was essential to bring about a more equitable distribution of income and wealth in order to promote social justice and efficiency of production; to raise the level of employment substantially; to achieve a greater degree of income security; to expand and improve facilities for education, health, nutrition, housing, and social welfare; and to safeguard the environment. Thus, qualitative and structural changes in society should go hand in hand with rapid economic growth, and existing disparitiesregional, sectoral, and socialshould be substantially reduced. The General Assembly believed that developing countries must bear the main responsibility for financing their development. To this end, they were asked to pursue sound fiscal and monetary policies and to remove institutional obstacles through the adoption of appropriate legislative and administrative reforms. At the same time, each economically advanced country was called upon to endeavor to provide annually to developing countries financial resource transfers of a minimum net amount of 1% of its gross national product (GNP). A major part of financial resource transfers to the developing countries should be provided in the form of official development assistance.

Progress achieved during the first half of the decade was reviewed by the General Assembly in 1975. It noted that the gap between the developed and the developing countries had increased alarmingly during the first half of the decade, but it found the generally gloomy picture lightened by one elementthe developing countries had emerged "as a more powerful factor, as a necessary consequence of the new and growing perception of the reality of interdependence." The General Assembly also found that some of the aggregate targets set in the strategy for the decade had been met or exceeded, "owing mainly to the developing countries' own efforts and, to a certain extent, to external factors such as the commodity boom" (a short-lived rise in commodity prices between 1972 and 1974). Those aggregates, however, did not reflect the variation in achievement among developing countries, for many countries did much worse than the average. A major area of shortfall was in agriculture, where less than half the target rate of 4% annual growth was realized by the developing countries as a whole.

The General Assembly further noted that the net flow of financial resources from developed countries in the form of official development assistance had decreased in real terms and as a percentage of GNP. At the same time, the burden of debt-service payments of developing countries had continued to increase in relation to their export earnings.


In September 1973, in Algiers, the Arab petroleum-exporting countries discussed the possible uses of oil as a political weapon. When a new Arab-Israeli conflict broke out on 6 October, the Arab countries reduced the flow of oil to Europe and Japan and suspended exports to the United States, the Netherlands, and Portugal. The embargo against the United States was lift ed in March 1974, that against the Netherlands in July 1974, and that against Portugal after a new regime instituted a policy leading to independence for African territories under Portuguese administration in 1974 and 1975. However, the measures taken by the petroleum-exporting countries marked a turning point for the world economy. Members of the Organization of Petroleum-Exporting Countries (OPEC) undertook a long-term study of the collective fixing of oil prices and increased them periodically thereafter.

On 31 January 1974, President Boumedienne of Algeria requested a special session of the General Assembly to consider the question of all raw materials and relations between developed industrial and developing states. Within two weeks, 70 nations endorsed his proposal.

Sixth Special Session of the General Assembly.

The special session, held in AprilMay 1974, adopted a declaration and program of action on the establishment of a new international economic order. The declaration and program of action called for a fundamental change in the international economic order, in the absence of which the gap between developing and developed countries would only continue to widen. Such a change would require the industrial countries to make adjustments in their policies and economies for the benefit of the poorer countries, which in turn were determined to control their own resources.

The program of action called for efforts to link the prices of exports of developing countries to the prices of their imports from developed countries. It suggested the formation of producers' associations, orderly commodity trading, increased export income for producing developing countries, and improvement in their terms of trade. It also looked to the evolution of an equitable relationship between the prices of raw materials, primary commodities, and semi-manufactured goods exported by developing countries and the raw materials, primary commodities, food, manufactured and semi-manufactured goods, and capital equipment imported by them.

In the declaration, UN member states proclaimed their determination to work urgently for "the establishment of a new international economic order based on equity, sovereign equality, interdependence, common interest, and cooperation among all states, irrespective of their economic and social systems, which shall correct inequalities and redress existing injustices, make it possible to eliminate the widening gap between the developed and the developing countries and ensure steadily accelerating economic and social development in peace and justice for present and future generations."

Though the program and declaration were adopted without a vote and enthusiastically supported by almost all developing and socialist countries, most Western European and other industrialized states with market economies entered reservations, often very far-reaching. They warned against constraints to the flow of trade that might result from the establishment of producers' associations and argued that nationalization should be carried out in accordance with the existing rules of international law.

Charter of Economic Rights and Duties of States.

At its regular session in 1974, the General Assembly adopted a charter of Economic Rights and Duties of States. The charter affirmed that every state has the right to exercise freely full permanent sovereignty over its wealth and natural resources, to regulate foreign investment within its national jurisdiction, and to nationalize, expropriate, or transfer the ownership of foreign property. The charter provided that appropriate compensation should be paid in cases of nationalization and that any controversies should be settled under the domestic laws of the nationalizing states unless all states concerned agree to other peaceful means. It also set forth the right of states to associate in organizations of primary producers in order to develop their national economies.

Seventh Special Session of the General Assembly.

The General Assembly held a seventh special session devoted to development and international cooperation in September 1975. The polemical atmosphere in which the program and declaration on the new international economic order and the charter on the economic rights and duties of states had been adopted was replaced by a pragmatic approach. Negotiations were carried on chiefly in private meetings between "contact groups" representing the developing countries and the Western European and other states with market economies. Since the market economy states were the buyers of approximately three-quarters of the exports of the developing countries, agreement between the two groups was essential to significant progress. At the close of the session, Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim declared that it had been "about change rather than the smoother management of the status quo."

The results of the special session were embodied in a resolution that proposed a large number of initiatives and was unanimously adopted by the General Assembly. It reaffirmed the target, originally defined in the strategy for the second Development Decade, of 1% of the GNP of developed countries to be devoted to official assistance to the developing countries, and it called for the accumulation of buffer stocks of commodities in order to offset market fluctuations, combat inflationary tendencies, and ensure grain and food security.

In 1979, the General Assembly called for the launching, at the third special session on development in 1980, of a round of global and sustained negotiations on international economic cooperation for development. The negotiations, however, failed to achieve the hoped-for progress at the special session held in September 1980, but at the regular session that year, an international development strategy for the third UN Development Decade was adopted.


In the new international development strategy adopted by the General Assembly for the third UN Development Decade, beginning on 1 January 1981, governments pledged themselves, individually and collectively, to fulfill their commitment to establish a new international economic order based on justice and equity. They agreed to subscribe to the goals and objectives of the strategy and to translate them into reality by adopting a coherent set of interrelated, concrete, and effective policy measures in all sectors of development.

The strategy set forth goals and objectives for an accelerated development of the developing countries in the period 198190, including the following: (1) a 7% average annual rate of growth of gross domestic product (GDP); (2) a 7.5% annual rate of expansion of exports and an 8% annual rate of expansion of imports of goods and services; (3) an increase in gross domestic savings to reach about 24% of GDP by 1990; (4) a rapid and substantial increase in official development assistance by all developed countries, to reach or surpass the target of 0.7% of GNP of developed countries; (5) a 4% average annual rate of expansion of agricultural production; and (6) a 9% annual rate of expansion of manufacturing output. Other goals and objectives of the strategy included the attainment, by the year 2000, of full employment, of universal primary school enrollment, and of life expectancy of 60 years as a minimum, with infant mortality rates no higher than 50 per 1,000 live births.

The strategy also set out a series of policy measuresin international trade, industrialization, food and agriculture, financial resources for development, international monetary and financial issues, science and technology for development, energy, transportation, environment, human settlements, disaster relief, and social development, as well as in technical cooperation, including cooperation among developing countries themselves, and special measures for the least-developed countries and for geographically disadvantaged countries, such as island and landlocked developing countries.

In fact, the 1980s was a terrible decade for the economies of developing countries. By 1990 only five donor countries had met the UN's target of donating 0.7% of their GNP to development: Norway, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, and France. Canada and Germany had achieved a level of 0.4% of their GNP. The United States, which had never agreed to the UN target, had given 0.2% of its GNP. Intransigent recession in the industrialized world, declining commodity prices, rising interest rates, trade barriers, and crippling international debt meant human suffering for the vast majority of the world's population. By 1990 4.2 billion of the world's 5.3 billion people lived in developing countries. Overall growth in these nations shrank to about 3% annually, and per capita growth to 1%, compared to averages of 5.5% in the 1960s and 3% in the 1970s. Lending by the IMF and World Bank group of institutions often came with requirements for "restructuring" that carried a heavy price in terms of human sacrifice. Debt-laden developing countries found themselves spending vastly more on debt service than on social services.

This dismal result was illustrated by the fact that the number of countries designated by the General Assembly as "least developed" had grown from 24 in 1972 to 47 in 1991.


In 1990, the General Assembly concluded that its goals for the Third UN Development Decade had not been attained. It set new priorities and goals for the growth of the developing member nations with its International Development Strategy (IDS) for the Fourth United Nations Development Decade (19912000). Within one year of its passage, however, the former USSR had dissolved, forever changing the landscape of international economic relations. Many of the assumptions on which the IDS had been based were upset by the historic forces that were thus set in motion.

In September 1990, the Second United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries set targets for official development assistance (ODA) to those nations. The General Assembly, through the new IDS, urged industrialized countries to reach or surpass those targets. It also recommended that developing countries try to raise their rate of industrialization by 810% and increase their annual food production by 4%.

The General Assembly set forth six goals for the new IDS that amounted to an early manifestation of a new philosophy of "sustainable" development that would be vigorously developed at the historic UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), two years later. The goals of the IDS were:

  • To speed up the pace of economic growth in the developing countries;
  • To devise a development process that meets social needs, reduces extreme poverty significantly, develops and uses people's capacity and skills, and is environmentally sound and sustainable;
  • To improve the international systems of money, finance, and trade;
  • To strengthen and stabilize the world economy and establish sound macroeconomic management practices, nationally and internationally;
  • To strengthen international cooperation for development;
  • To make a special effort to deal with the particular problems of the least developed countries.

The philosophy for the new IDS was based on the principle that, because the developed countries have the greatest influence on the international economic environment, they have a special responsibility for the success of development efforts. It also recognized that speeding up development would require strenuous efforts by developing countries to increase domestic savings, raise investment and investment returns, hold down inflation, exercise monetary and fiscal discipline, maintain realistic exchange rates, and allocate resources more efficiently.

Improving the state of international trade was paramount for any development plan. The Uruguay Round of the GATT talks were stalled and protectionism was on the rise in the developed nations. The strategy proposed that the following actions be taken to accelerate international trade in the 1990s:

  • Stand by the commitment made in 1986 to halt and reverse protectionism;
  • Liberalize trade and improve developing countries' access to all markets by reducing or removing tariffbarriers;
  • Free up trade in tropical products and products based on natural resources;
  • Bring trade in textiles under the normal rules of GATT;
  • Substantially reduce agricultural subsidies and other protective policies;
  • Implement and improve the generalized system of preferences under which some developing countries' exports are admitted to industrialized countries at reduced rates or duty-free;
  • Ensure that regional economic arrangements and trade blocs conform with GATT rules;
  • Make sure that GATT contracting parties adhere strictly to the agreement's rules and principles.

Other provisions of the IDS included establishing more stable commodity markets, obtaining concessional terms for the transfer of technology to developing countries, and finding agreement on a way that the intellectual property system (which protects ownership of copyrights, trademarks, industrial designs, and patents) can promote development while protecting intellectual property. It also recommended that work on international rules and standards to govern the exchange of technological information (the code of conduct on the transfer of technology), which had come to a halt at the end of the 1980s, should be completed.

The underlying causes of economic stagnation also were decried. The IDS called for the eradication of poverty, hunger, adult illiteracy, lack of basic education for women, and runaway population growth in developing countries, and noted the catastrophic deterioration of the environment by shortsighted development projects.

In 1992, the Secretary-General gave the General Assembly a guardedly optimistic report on the progress of the IDS to that point. The developed market economies themselves had grown by only about 1% in 1991. Although a recovery had begun in 1992, it was considered to be weak. There was concern that the urgent needs of the newly independent countries of the former USSR, often referred to as "economies in transition," would divert assistance from developing countries. Per capita incomes remained stagnant or declined in all the developing regions, except South and East Asia and China. The debt crisis of the developing countries had not worsened, but little progress had been made in terms of debt relief and forgiveness. However, some of the Latin American countries had again become creditworthy.

The 1993 Report on the World Social Situation, commissioned by the General Assembly to review the implementation of the Declaration on Social Progress and Development made 20 years earlier, also was cautiously optimistic. It noted the positive direction of reform in the United Nations system towards coordination between various UN agencies with operations in the same countries. "Although the major development goals, proclaimed more than 20 years ago in the Declaration on Social Progress and Development, have not changed significantly, the priorities, approaches and emphases have been reviewed and renewed, as the understanding of the forces behind development have deepened. Thus, emphasis is now on assisting the recipient countries to strengthen their institutional capacity to sustain the development process" the report said. In other words: helping them learn how to help themselves.

In October 1999, as the Second Committee began consideration of sustainable development and economic cooperation in the year 2000, it reviewed a report evaluating the implementation of the commitments and policies agreed on in the IDS. The report concluded that though there were improvements in the 1990s, economic growth had not accelerated in all developing countries. The Uruguay Round had led to progress being made with the betterment of the global trading system, but the international financial system had not been stabilized. Nor had there been a marked improvement in international development cooperation. The world's least developed countries had seen "negligible" economic and social advancement during the decade. For future purposes, the report went on to differentiate between growth, which may carry with it negative social consequences, and development, which means more than simply increased purchasing power (as reflected in gross domestic product per capita). According to the report, development also pertains to education, health, and environmental standards, as well as to social (including gender) equity. For this reason, "the spotlight is now shifting from a focus on macroeconomic challenges to a number of institutional preconditions, including good governance, transparency and accountability, decentralization and participation and social security," said the UN report. Acceptable and viable development strategies in the new millennium would have to take into account the prevailing circumstances in developing countries, which could not be expected to keep pace with industrialized, developed societies in the North.

The economic and social initiatives of the 1990s had highlighted that neither growth nor development necessarily eliminates poverty, which was one of the key objectives of IDS. The UN concluded that sustainable development, of both urban and rural human settlements, was directly linked to the alleviation of poverty, which became the focus of economic and social development at the dawn of the 2000s. At the October 1999 meeting of the Second Committee, the Group of 77 developing countries and China presented draft resolutions for the first United Nations Decade for the Eradication of Poverty (which technically began in 1997 and extended through 2006). On 9 December 1999 the General Assembly voted to implement the Decade and called on all nations to formulate and implement "outcome-oriented national strategies and programs" and set time-bound targets for poverty reduction. The Assembly further called on developed countries to strengthen their efforts to achieve the agreed target of 0.7% of their gross national product for overall official development assistance, and within that target to "earmark 0.15% to 0.20% of their gross national product for the least developed countries." Acknowledging the information age, the Assembly resolution highlighted the importance of strengthening the cooperation between developed and developing nations in order to "promote capacity-building and facilitate access to and transfer of technologies and corresponding knowledge."


The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), popularly dubbed the "Earth Summit," brought together 117 heads of state and government in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on 314 June 1992. The product of this historic meeting, an 800-page document called "Agenda 21," set forth global measures to protect the planet's environment while guaranteeing sustainable economic growth. An important statement of the basic principles of sustainable development, The Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, was adopted by acclamation. The conference also spawned a new functional commission of ECOSOC, the Commission on Sustainable Development, which has a mandate to monitor international treaties on the environment, provide policy direction, and coordinate action within the United Nations system to achieve the goals of Agenda 21.

In addition to Agenda 21, two important conventions on the environment were opened for signature and received widespread endorsement: the Global Warming Convention, which set guidelines for regulating emissions of gases believed to cause global warming, was signed by 153 nations; and the Biodiversity Convention, which committed signatory nations to protection of endangered species and cooperation on genetic and biological technology, was signed by representatives of 150 countries. The Biodiversity Convention became legally binding in December 1993, after 30 countries had ratified it. Two important documents setting forth the principles behind the concept of sustainable development also were widely adopted at the Earth Summit: the Statement on Forest Principles, recommending preservation of world forests and monitoring of development impact on timberlands; and the Declaration on Environment and Development, a statement of principles that emphasized the coordination of economic and environmental concerns.

More than two years were spent preparing for the Earth Summit and drafting the documents that would achieve widespread international acceptance. However, many controversial propositions had to be deleted or scaled down in the final documents to achieve the final consensus. For example, negotiators removed or excluded specific targets on pollution controls, resource protection, and financial aid to developing countries that restrain their economic development in order to protect their natural resources. Developing countries had sought to establish a "green fund" to support their efforts to implement environmentally sustainable development. However, the G-7 group of industrialized countries succeeded in specifying that such development funds would be channeled through the World Bank's Global Environment Facility (GEF), effectively retaining control of funding in the hands of the industrialized world. The European Community had recommended a tax on fossil fuels in industrialized nations, but, opposition from oil-producing countries killed this provision. Also deemphasized in the final documents were references to population control. Passages referring to contraception were completely deleted at the insistence of an odd coalition that included the Holy See (Vatican), Roman Catholic countries, and Moslem countries.

The sense of urgency that brought 35,000 accredited participants and 117 heads of state to Rio de Janeiro for the Earth Summit is perhaps well summed up by the UNCED secretary-general, Canadian Maurice Strong: "The Earth Summit must establish a whole new basis for relations between rich and poor, North and South, including a concerted attack on poverty as a central priority for the 21st Century. We owe at least this much to future generations, from whom we have borrowed a fragile planet called Earth."

At the Earth Summit+5 meeting held in June 1997 in New York City, the objectives were to revitalize and energize commitments to sustainable development, to recognize failures and identify their causes, to recognize achievements (there were many Agenda 21 success stories that were highlighted during the event), to define priorities for the post-97 period, and to raise the profile of issues addressed insufficiently by Rio. In addition to assessing progress since the last meeting and outlining areas requiring urgent action, attendees called for greater cooperation and adherence among intergovernmental organizations and developed a program of work for the Commission on Sustainable Development for the years 19982002. The program included a comprehensive review of the program of action for the sustainable development of Small Island Developing States (SIDS), developing integrated management and planning of land resources, and developing strategic approaches to freshwater management.


The 47th General Assembly requested the Secretary-General to consult with member states and prepare an "agenda for development." After obtaining submissions from member states, agencies of the UN system and public and private sources worldwide, he presented his report to the 49th General Assembly in 1994. Entitled Development and International Economic Cooperation: An Agenda for Development, this wide-ranging document summarized the basic tenets of the experience gained during the UN's 50 years of development work. The agenda was intended to offer guidelines for thought and action by member states.

One reason put forward for creating such a document was that with the end of the cold war, funding development projects as a mechanism for establishing spheres of influence also had ended. The fundamental social, political, and economic changes that had altered the map of Europe and provided a new atmosphere of consensus at the United Nations, also threatened to bewilder and exhaust the potential donors to UN programs for development. Some quarters had even suggested that the UN was expending more for its many new peacekeeping operations than for development. The Secretary-General produced statistics in an annex to the agenda that demonstrated that this was not the case, even exempting the funds expended by the specialized agencies.

Several major themes of the agenda set forth a new underlying philosophy regarding international development programs.

  • National governments bear the major responsibility for development. However, the United Nations' vast experience and global reach made it a unique resource for the developing nations. The United Nations could act as facilitator and communicator, but it could not substitute for the commitment of individual states and their domestic and international partners.
  • However, national governments could no longer be assumed to be paramount economic agents. The internationalization of trade and the ascendance of the market system worldwide meant that governments must, however, provide a regulatory framework for effective operation of a competitive market system. They must also invest in human capital by ensuring that social safety nets are in place.
  • Economic growth should promote full employment and poverty reduction, not just economic growth as an end in itself. If, despite national economic improvement, great poverty continued in a nation, no development effort could be sustainable.
  • No mechanism exists by which the major economies could be induced to make globally beneficial structural change in their own economies, or to adopt more globally responsible economic, fiscal, and monetary policies. This single point represents a sea change in philosophy from the "new international economic order" of the 1970s.
  • UNCED's historic Agenda 21 demonstrated that the environment had finally been recognized by the international community as a resource for development that must be nurtured and protected. Governments had the responsibility to provide the leadership and regulatory structure to protect their natural environment. Successful development required policies that incorporate environmental considerations. The Secretary-General pointed out that pioneering efforts were being made to make local inhabitants incentive partners rather than simply collateral beneficiaries of sustainable development programs. As the keyword and rallying cry of the Earth Summit, "sustainability" must be the guiding principle of development, to be achieved by a true partnership of governments, international organizations, and nongovernmental organizations; a true partnership between humanity and nature.
  • No development could be considered sustainable in the presence of poverty, disease, illiteracy, great unemployment, discrimination against women, armed conflict, or lack of social integration; the manifestations of social integration being discrimination, fanaticism, intolerance, and persecution.
  • Democracy and development are processes (not events) that are fundamentally linked because people's participation in the decision-making processes that affect their lives gives legitimacy to governments and their development programs.

In his conclusions, the Secretary-General admitted that, over the years, absence of clear policy guidance from the General Assembly and the lack of effective policy coordination by ECOSOC had resulted in an overall lack of focus in the UN development system. The fundamental changes under way included the restructuring of development efforts to be channeled through UNDP resident coordinators, by means of the development of one comprehensive "country strategy note." This alone would bring about better (if not perfect) coordination and more rational use of available funds.

However, the Secretary-General also noted the growth of other obstructions to the urgent need for social and economic development in the developing countries: "At present the UN mechanism is caught in a confining cycle. There is a resistance to multilateralism from those who fear a loss of national control. There is a reluctance to provide financial means to achieve agreed ends from those who lack conviction that assessments will benefit their own interests. And there is an unwillingness to engage in difficult operations by those who seek guarantees of perfect clarity and limited duration. Without a new and compelling collective vision, the international community will be unable to break out of this cycle."


The UN's Millennium Summit was held from 6-8 September 2000 in New York City. The largest-ever gathering of world leaders came up with a document, the "United Nations Millennium Declaration," which contained a statement of values, principles and objectives for the international agenda for the 21st century. It also set deadlines for many collective actions. The leaders declared that the central challenge of today was to ensure that globalization becomes a positive force for all, acknowledging that at present both its benefits and its costs are unequally shared. The Declaration called for global policies and measures, corresponding to the needs of developing countries and economies in transition. The Summit Declaration cited freedom, equality (of individuals and nations), solidarity, tolerance, respect for nature and shared responsibility as six values fundamental to international relations for the 21st century. There are eight Millennium Development Goals:

  1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger.
    1. Reduce by half the proportion of people living on less than a dollar a day
    2. Reduce by half the proportion of people who suffer from hunger
  2. Achieve universal primary education.
    1. Ensure that all boys and girls complete a full course of primary schooling
  3. Promote gender equality and empower women.
    1. Eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education preferably by 2005, and at all levels by 2015
  4. Reduce child mortality.
    1. Reduce by two thirds the mortality rate among children under five
  5. Improve maternal health.
    1. Reduce by three quarters the maternal mortality ratio
  6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases.
    1. Halt and begin to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS
    2. Halt and begin to reverse the incidence of malaria and other major diseases
  7. Ensure environmental sustainability.
    1. Integrate the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programs; reverse loss of environmental resources
    2. Reduce by half the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water
    3. Achieve significant improvement in lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers, by 2020
  8. Develop a global partnership for development.
    1. Develop further an open trading and financial system that is rule-based, predictable and non-discriminatory, includes a commitment to good governance, development and poverty reduction-nationally and internationally
    2. Address the least developed countries' special needs. This includes tariff- and quota-free access for their exports; enhanced debt relief for heavily indebted poor countries; cancellation of official bilateral debt; and more generous official development assistance for countries committed to poverty reduction
    3. Address the special needs of landlocked and small island developing states
    4. Deal comprehensively with developing countries' debt problems through national and international measures to make debt sustainable in the long term
    5. In cooperation with the developing countries, develop decent and productive work for youth
    6. In cooperation with pharmaceutical companies, provide access to affordable essential drugs in developing countries
    7. In cooperation with the private sector, make available the benefits of new technologies-especially information and communications technologies


From 26 August to 4 September 2002 in Johannesburg, South Africa, the UN held the Johannesburg Summit 2002, or the World Summit on Sustainable Development, to continue the efforts begun by the 1992 Earth Summit, and to adopt concrete steps and identify quantifiable targets for better implementing Agenda 21. The Summit also pledged to further implement the Millennium Goals set forth by the UN in 2000, including: eradicating extreme poverty and hunger; achieving universal primary education; promoting gender equality and empowering women; reducing child mortality; improving maternal health; combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; ensuring environmental sustainability; and developing a global partnership for development.

It was recognized that progress on sustainable development since the Earth Summit had been disappointing, with poverty deepening and environmental degradation worsening. No agreements that would lead to new treaties were established, but new targets were set, such as:

  • to halve the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation by 2015
  • to halve the proportion of people whose income is less than $1 a day by 2015
  • to use and produce chemicals by 2020 in ways that do not lead to significant adverse effects on human health and the environment
  • to maintain or restore depleted fish stocks to levels that can produce the maximum sustainable yield on an urgent basis and where possible by 2015
  • to achieve by 2010 a significant reduction in the current rate of loss of biological diversity.

Over 300 voluntary initiatives were launched by governments, NGOs, intergovernmental organizations, and businesses. One hundred eight heads of state addressed the Summit and more than 22,000 people participated in it, including more than 10,000 delegates, 8,000 NGOs and representatives of civil society, and 4,000 members of the press.


The UN General Assembly Resolution 56/183 (21 December 2001) endorsed the holding of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in two phases. The first phase took place in Geneva from 10 to 12 December 2003 and the second phase took place in Tunis, from 16 to 18 November 2005. A WSIS Plan of Action sets time-bound targets to turn the vision of an inclusive and equitable Information Society into reality. The objectives of the Plan of Action are to build an inclusive Information Society; to put the potential of knowledge and information and communication technologies (ICTs) at the service of development; to promote the use of information and knowledge for the achievement of internationally agreed development goals, including those contained in the Millennium Declaration; and to address new challenges of the Information Society, at the national, regional and international levels.

Targets include:

  • to connect villages with ICTs and establish community access points;
  • to connect universities, colleges, secondary schools and primary schools with ICTs;
  • to connect scientific and research centers with ICTs; to connect public libraries, cultural centers, museums, post offices and archives with ICTs;
  • to connect health centers and hospitals with ICTs; to connect all local and central government departments and establish websites and email addresses;
  • to adapt all primary and secondary school curricula to meet the challenges of the Information Society, taking into account national circumstances;
  • to ensure that all of the world's population have access to television and radio services;
  • to encourage the development of content and to put in place technical conditions in order to facilitate the presence and use of all world languages on the Internet;
  • to ensure that more than half the world's inhabitants have access to ICTs within their reach.

The objective of the 2005 Tunis phase was to put Geneva's Plan of Action into motion as well as to find solutions and reach agreements in the fields of Internet governance, financing mechanisms, and follow-up and implementation of the Geneva and Tunis documents.


Almost all the organizations in the UN family contribute in one way or another to development planningby helping to evolve and introduce new planning methods, by assisting governments in establishing realistic growth targets, and by trying to ensure that overall plans take account of the needs of the different sectors of society.

Within the UN, problems relating to development planning are the concern of the Economic and Social Council's Committee for Development Policy. The 24-member committee, established in 1966, is a consultative body that meets annually to consider problems encountered in implementing development plans.

The UN Secretariat provides an account of the state of the world economy through its annual publication of the World Economic and Social Survey, which has appeared every year since 1948. Since 1990 UNDP has stimulated debate about the concept of human-centered development through the publication of the annual Human Development Report, written by an independent team of development specialists and published by Oxford University Press. Statistical data, considered indispensable for economic and social development planning, also appears in a number of UN publications, including the Statistical Yearbook, Demographic Yearbook, Yearbook of National Accounts Statistics, Yearbook of International Trade Statistics, World Energy Supplies, Commodity Trade Statistics, Population and Vital Statistics Report, and Monthly Bulletin of Statistics.


The world food situation in the early 1970s was marked by extreme food shortages in many developing countries in Africa and parts of Southeast Asia, by a general lack of progress in the world fight against hunger and malnutrition, and by very slow progress in the creation of a system of internationally coordinated cereal reserves to meet crop shortfalls and other abnormal situations.

It was against this background that the General Assembly decided, in 1973, to convene a conference to deal with global food problems. The UN World Food Conference, held in Rome in November 1974, called for the creation of a 36-member ministerial-level World Food Council to review annually major problems and policy issues affecting the world food situation and to bring its political influence to bear on governments and UN bodies and agencies alike.

Each year up through 1992 the WFC met in plenary session at the invitation of one of its member states. The council, as a subsidiary body of the UN General Assembly, reports annually to it through the Economic and Social Council.

At first, the WFC's approach to solving world food problems was to encourage the adoption of national food strategies by developing countries. Under this plan, each country would assess its present food situation, including needs, supply, potential for increasing food production, storage, processing, transport, distribution, marketing, and the ability to meet food emergencies. In the early 1980s, this concept was taken over by the World Bank.

In 1989, at its 15th session held in Cairo, Egypt, the WFC delineated a Programme of Co-operative Action with four main goals for UN member countries within the next decade: the elimination of starvation and death caused by famine; a substantial reduction of malnutrition and mortality among young children; a tangible reduction in chronic hunger; and the elimination of major nutritional-deficiency diseases. The Programme of Co-Operative Action contained proposals for immediate action to be taken on food-for-work programs in rural areas where employment opportunities are not available and measures to make specific food items affordable to the poor. Over the longer term, the WFC recommended projects to create production and employment opportunities in rural and urban areas; community initiative projects designed to enable the communities themselves to identify and implement projects; vocational training schemes; retraining schemes; food stamp schemes. In the area of nutrition, the WFC recommended the implementation on an emergency basis of supplementary feeding programs for children; primary health care programs, including programs to improve sanitation and drinking water; family planning programs; nutritional education programs; and support to food and nutrition programs undertaken by WHO, UNICEF, and other international agencies.

At its 16th session in 1990, held in Bangkok, Thailand, the council observed that most countries had not yet set specific goals and targets to implement its call to action. However, by 1991 those goals had been adopted by all UN member states as part of the International Development Strategy for the Fourth United Nations Development Decade.

The WFC also considered the coordination of the activities of some 35 international agencies that have programs significantly related to hunger problems. The WFC observed that its own role was that of providing a central, undivided focus on hunger and recommended the creation of an inter-secretariat consultative mechanism among the four Rome-based food organizations (FAO, IFAD, WFC, and WFP). In 1991, meeting in Helsingor, Denmark, it reiterated this support. It noted with concern the great financial difficulties facing these international organizations.

The 18th session of the WFC met in 1992 in Nairobi, Kenya. Its report to the General Assembly noted that although most developing regions made some headway during the 1980s in reducing hunger and malnutrition, this was not the case for the peoples of Africa where disastrous droughts and civil disturbances had caused widespread starvation in recent years. The council praised the IFAD Special Programme for Sub-Saharan African Countries Affected by Drought and Desertification. In response to the disastrous problems of Africa, the WFC called for a "New Green Revolution," and the intensified transfer of technology to accomplish such a revolution. It recommended that substantial increases in investments in research, extension, and training were needed, particularly in Africa.

In 1992 the WFC also noted the problems of millions of people in Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States (formerly the USSR) in gaining access to adequate food as a result of the dislocation of their economies.

In the context of the efforts of the General Assembly to streamline the activities of the United Nations, the WFC considered its future role within the framework of the restructuring process. With disarming frankness, the council stated: "We agree that the council has fallen short of achieving the political leadership and coordination role expected from its founders at the 1974 World Food Conference." It concluded that, in a rapidly changing world, the continuation of the status quo for the World Food Council and the United Nations as a whole was not possible. It established an ad hoc committee to review the mandate and future role of the WFC, which met in New York on 1415 September 1992 and submitted its report to the 47th Session of the General Assembly (1992). However, the committee could not reach agreement on what the council's future role should be. Views ranged from abolishing it to strengthening it and integrating its mandate with another intergovernmental body. With this the committee referred the matter to the General Assembly, which requested the council members to continue attempts to agree on appropriate measures to be taken. After informal meetings from January to May 1993, the council reported to the General Assembly that "Council members are agreed on a set of principles to guide the United Nations response to global food and hunger problems, but disagreements continue to exist concerning the most effective institutional response to these principles."

In 1993 no formal WFC session was held, nor were any substantive documents prepared by the WFC secretariat. In fact, in December 1993, the secretariat in Rome was abolished as a result of the restructuring of the United Nations. Responsibility for servicing any future meetings of the WFC was given to the newly formed Department for Policy Coordination and Sustainable Development (DPCSD) in New York.

In November 1993 the president of the World Food Council held informal consultations with other WFC ministers of agriculture during the biennial FAO Conference in Rome about the possibility of scheduling the next (19th) session of the council. The consultations were inconclusive and the future of the WFC was not taken up at the General Assembly's 48th regular session in light of these ongoing discussions.

At a General Assembly plenary meeting on 26 May 1996 it was recommended that the World Food Council be discontinued and its functions absorbed by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Food Program (WFP). To eliminate duplicative and overlapping efforts, this recommendation was heeded and the WFC was dissolved. The move was generally hailed as a sign that the Assembly was rededicating itself to better use of its resources. As the FAO and WFP became heirs to the World Food Council's initiatives, the restructuring was also viewed as a reinforcement of ECOSOC's development-related activities. (For more information on the UN's ongoing work to combat hunger around the globe, please see the chapter on the Food and Agriculture Organization.)


A major event of the first UN Development Decade was the UN Conference on the Application of Science and Technology for the Benefit of the Less Developed Countries, held in Geneva in 1963. The conference focused world attention on the practical possibilities of accelerating development through the application of advances in science and technology and on the need for reorienting research toward the requirements of the developing countries.

A second conference, the UN Conference on Science and Technology for Development, held in Vienna in 1979, adopted a program of action (the Vienna Programme) designed to put science and technology to work for the economic development of all countries, particularly the developing countries. It recommended the creation by the General Assembly of a high-level intergovernmental committee on science and technology for development, open to all member states, and the establishment of a voluntary fund to be administered by UNDP.

The Geneva Conference was a predominantly technical or pragmatic conference at which developed countries provided developing countries with state-of-the-art reports on developed-country technologies. By contrast, the Vienna Conference reflected the 1970s discussions between developed and developing countries over a more equal access of the latter to the world's science and technology. Thus science and technology were placed within the context of international diplomacy. The result, the Vienna Programme of Action was a compromise that did not fully meet the expectations of the developing countries.

The Vienna Programme of Action was divided into three target areas: strengthening the science and technology capacities of developing countries; restructuring the existing pattern of international scientific and technological relations; and strengthening the role of the UN system in the field of science and technology and the provision of increased financial resources.

Endorsing the recommendations of the Vienna conference, the General Assembly decided to establish an Intergovernmental Committee on Science and Technology for Development (ISTD), to be open to all states, and to create within the UN Secretariat a Center for Science and Technology for Development (CSTD) to provide substantive support to the committee and to coordinate activities within the UN system. In 1982, the General Assembly established the UN Financing System for Science and Technology for Development to finance a broad range of activities intended to strengthen the endogenous scientific and technological capacities of developing countries. In 1986, it transferred the responsibilities and resources of the financing system to a newly created UN Fund for Science and Technology for Development, administered by UNDP. In 1992, this new voluntary fund amounted to us$ 1.56 million and had funded six policy meetings in Cape Verde, Jamaica, Pakistan, Togo, Uganda, and Vietnam.

In 1989, on the tenth anniversary of the Vienna Conference, the General Assembly expressed its disappointment with the implementation of the Vienna Programme. As part of the effort to rationalize and reform the entire United Nations system, in April 1992, the General Assembly decided to transform the ISTD into a functional commission of ECOSOC, the Commission on Science and Technology for Development. The activities of the Centre for Science and Technology for Development were incorporated into the new Department of Economic and Social Development, within its Division of Science, Technology, Energy, Environment and Natural Resources.

Major objectives of the commission, which held its first session in April 1993, included:

  • Assisting ECOSOC in providing science and technology policy guidelines and recommendations to member states, in particular developing countries;
  • Providing innovative approaches to improving the quality of coordination and cooperation in the area of science and technology within the United Nations system, with a view to ensuring optimum mobilization of resources;
  • Providing expert advice to other parts of the UN system.

The commission also requested that the Secretary-General prepare proposals to improve the coordination of the different bodies in the UN system, including the World Bank, which are involved in science and technology activities.

Developments, such as the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in 1992which had substantial science and technology componentsand changing attitudes within intergovernmental bodies regarding the role of government and the private sector in view of the end of the cold war, led to the need for a major restructuring of the United Nations in the economic and social sector (including science and technology). While the General Assembly confirmed the continued validity of the Vienna Programme of Action in its resolution on science and technology for development in December 1993, its objectives were merged with the Technology Programme of the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). UNCTAD thus became responsible for science and technology within the United Nations system. Major program elements of the revised work program include:

  • Endogenous capacity-building and resource mobilization in the area of science and technology for development;
  • Technology assessment and information services;
  • Issues related to investment and technology transfer.

The Commission on Science and Technology also decided to adopt themes for study by working groups during the two-year periods between its sessions. For 199395, these included technology for small-scale economic activities to address the basic needs of low-income populations, the gender implications of science and technology for developing countries, and the science and technology aspects of work being considered by the Commission on Sustainable Development. The commission also considered studying a variety of other issues, including the role of technology in military conversion, the effect of new and emerging technologies on industrialization, and the role of information technologies in developing countries.

In October 1998, it was recommended that the membership of the Commission on Science and Technology for Development, along with three other subsidiaries of the Economic and Social Council, be reconstituted. The commission's membership was subsequently reduced from 53 to 33, with the following geographic distribution: eight members from African states; seven from Asian states; six from Latin America and the Caribbean; four from Eastern Europe; and eight from Western European and other states. The body remains a functional commission of the Council, with members holding office for four years.

At its Fourth Session, held in May 1999 in Geneva, the focus was on science and technology partnerships and networking for national capacity-building; particular attention was paid to biotechnology and energy. During the meeting, the commission discussed the concept of global entitlement to knowledge, the changing role of the state in the development of science and technology, and the role of networking and partnership in a multi-disciplinary approach to science and technology. In summarizing the proceedings, the moderator concluded that since sustainable development can be thought of as composed of economic growth, social equity, and an adequate use of the environment, and since government is viewed as a "key articulator" of these, the role of science and technology in the near future should be to establish reliable frameworks for consistent communication, effective fore-casting, and the dissemination of knowledge.

Transnational Corporations

Since the end of World War II, the role of multinational or transnational corporations in international commerce has been growing, but information on their activities has been fragmentary and often closely held. Many of these corporations are household names. They conduct a large portion of their business outside their host country, often recruiting management from their overseas subsidiaries and recruiting shareholders around the world. Some of these corporations command resources greater than those of most governments represented at the UN. In 1989, estimated sales by foreign affiliates of transnationals worldwide were us$4.5 trillion. In comparison, world exports were only us$3 trillion. In 2000, the top 200 transnational corporations' combined sales were larger than the combined economies of all 191 countries in the world minus the largest nine (the United States, Japan, Germany, France, Italy, the United Kingdom, Brazil, Canada, and China). The combined GDPs of the other 182 countries was $6.9 trillion, and the combined sales of the top 200 transnational corporations was $7.1 trillion. The relationship of transnational corporations with developing countries frequently has been troubled, but they can provide capital, managerial expertise, and technology that are all urgently required for development and often would be hard to come by in any other way.

In 1972, the Economic and Social Council requested the Secretary-General to appoint a group of eminent persons to study the impact of transnational corporations on development and international relations. The group of 20 economists, government officials, and corporation executives from all parts of the world met in 1973 and heard testimony from 50 witnesses in public hearingsa procedure new to the UN. Its report, issued in 1974, recommended the creation of a permanent commission on transnational corporations under the Economic and Social Council and an information and research center in the UN Secretariat.

In December 1974, the council established an intergovernmental Commission on Transnational Corporations as a standing committee (not a functional commission) to furnish a forum within the UN system regarding such corporations; promote an exchange of views about them among governments, intergovernmental organizations, business, labor, and consumers; assist the council in developing the basis for a code of conduct on the activities of transnational corporations; and develop a comprehensive information system on their activities.

The 48-member commission meets annually. At its second session, held in Lima in March 1976, it gave priority to the elaboration of a code of conduct and recommended that the Economic and Social Council establish an Intergovernmental Working Group on a Code of Conduct. The code was to be the first multilaterally agreed framework governing all aspects of the relations between states and transnational corporations, with standards to protect the interests of both the host countries and investors in those countries. The working group held a number of negotiating sessions between 1977 and 1982. Negotiations continued in meetings of a special session of the commission, open to all states.

In April 1991, the commission approved a text authorizing the preparation of recommendations on encouraging TNCs to cooperate in efforts to protect and enhance the environment in all countries for submission to the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in 1992. The commission agreed that the following issues should be addressed: internationally agreed standards; improving management and regulation of industrial processes; transferring environmentally sound technologies to developing countries on favorable terms; using environment and development accounting and reporting methods; international environmental management; preventive measures to minimize risks to human life, property, and the environment; and the question of reparations for damage. It directed its secretariat, the Center on Transnational Corporations, to prepare its submission to UNCED. However, in early 1992, the center's functions were absorbed into a new department of the Secretariat and eventually transferred altogether to UNCTAD (see below).

At its 1994 Substantive Session, the commission recommended to ECOSOC that it be integrated into the institutional machinery of the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). ECOSOC decided to transmit this recommendation to the General Assembly for action.

An Intergovernmental Group of Experts on International Standards of Accounting and Reporting, established by the Economic and Social Council in 1982, reviews issues that give rise to divergent accounting and reporting practices of transnational corporations and identifies areas where efforts at harmonization appear necessary.

The four other priorities for the commission's program of work were: establishment of an information system to advance understanding of the nature of transnational corporations and their effects on home and host countries; research into the effects of their operations; technical assistance; and work leading to a more precise definition of the term transnational corporations.

The UN Center on Transnational Corporations was established by the Economic and Social Council in 1974 as part of the UN Secretariat. The functions of the center were to develop a comprehensive information system on the activities of transnational corporations, using data from governmental, corporate, and other sources; to analyze and disseminate the information to all governments; to provide technical assistance and strengthen the capacity of host countries (especially developing countries) in their dealings with transnational corporations; and to carry out political, legal, economic, and social research, particularly research to help in devising a code of conduct. By 1985, the center had established that the 350 largest transnational corporations (half of which were based in the United States) had combined sales of us$ 2.7 trillion, a sum which was larger than the combined GNP of all the developing countries, including China.

In 1990 ECOSOC requested the Center on Transnational Corporations to undertake a survey of corporate environmental management to document the most advanced practices as models for companies that had not yet created environmental programs and to submit the results to UNCED. The "Benchmark Corporate Environmental Survey," was submitted to the UNCED preparatory meeting in August 1991. Twenty percent of the 163 firms surveyed responded. The center recommended UNCED consider the following recommendations in preparing its Agenda 21: increased international cooperation to better inform TNCs of the impact of their operations on the greenhouse phenomenon; include TNCs in the consultative process surrounding climate change studies; treat dioxins and PCBs as international, not just local, pollution problems; transnational affiliates in developing countries should handle toxic wastes according to the same rules as in developed countries; TNCs should create safety zones around their facilities to lessen the potential impact of accidents; the oceans should be protected from land-based pollution; TNCs should sponsor programs to save wetlands and rainforests and protect biodiversity; TNCs should help develop a code of conduct on biotechnology. The center also pointed out that environmental rules and regulations differed from country to country. The companies that responded to the survey were interested in the UN setting international guidelines, although many of them were unaware of the existence of current international guidelines.

In 1992, as part of the comprehensive restructuring of the UN secretariat, the functions of the center were incorporated into a new unit: the Transnational Corporations and Management Division of the Department of Economic and Social Development. In May 1993, the General Assembly transferred responsibility for the transnational program again to the secretariat of UNCTAD.

In 2000, the UNCTAD Advisory Service on Investment and Technology, based on the joint work of the secretariat Divisions on Transnational Corporations and Investment and on Science and Technology, was working to help developing countries expand "their enterprise sector in conjunction with wider national trade, technology, and investment strategies." UNCTAD provided analysis of the role of the largest transnational corporations (TNCs) in foreign direct investment (viewed as critical to development) and emphasized that TNCs must exercise social responsibility in order to support sustainable development.


The importance of natural resources for economic development was emphasized in 1970 when the Economic and Social Council established the Committee on Natural Resources. The committee develops guidelines for advisory services to governments, reviews arrangements to coordinate UN activities in natural resources development, and evaluates trends and issues concerning natural resources exploration and development, as well as prospects for selected energy, water, and mineral resources.

During the 1970s, the Committee on Natural Resources played an important role in focusing world attention on the status of the global stock of water resources to meet human, commercial, and agricultural needs. As a result of an initiative of the committee, the UN Water Conference was convened in 1977 in Mar del Plata, Argentina. The conference adopted an action plan to guide international efforts to effectively manage, develop, and use water resources. To give impetus to the Mar del Plata Action Plan, the General Assembly, in 1980, launched the International Drinking Water Supply and Sanitation Decade (198190).

In 1973, the General Assembly established the UN Revolving Fund for Natural Resources Exploration, which began operation in 1975. The fund, financed from voluntary contributions, is intended to provide additional risk capital for mineral exploration in developing countries. In 1981, the fund was authorized to extend its exploration activities to geothermal energy.

During the 1970s, with the rise in and volatility of costs for petroleum, affecting the economies of all countries, particularly those of the poorer countries, and the growing awareness that known supplies of petroleum would, in the long run, be unable to meet global requirements, more attention was focused on new and renewable sources of energy. This led to the General Assembly's decision to convene, in Nairobi in August 1981, the UN Conference on New and Renewable Sources of Energy. The conference examined alternative forms of energy, including solar, bio-mass, geothermal, and ocean energy; wind power; hydropower; fuel-wood and charcoal; peat; and the use of draft animals for energy purposes. It adopted the Nairobi Program of Action for the Development and Utilization of New and Renewable Sources of Energy as a blueprint for national and international action. The Nairobi Program identified five broad areas for concentrated action: energy assessment and planning; research, development, and demonstration; transfer, adaptation, and application of mature technologies; information flows; and education and training.

Endorsing the Nairobi Program later that year, the General Assembly set up an interim committee to launch immediate implementation and, in 1992, established the Committee on the Development and Utilization of New and Renewable Sources of Energy, open to the participation of all states as full members. Later in 1992, in response to the requirements of implementing UNCED's Agenda 21, this committee was combined with the energy portion of the Committee on Natural Resources and Energy, and became a new standing committee of ECOSOC: the Committee on New and Renewable Sources of Energy and on Energy for Development. The Committee on Natural Resources now concentrates mainly on water and mineral resources. Each committee had a membership of 24 government-nominated experts who are elected by ECOSOC.

The first session of the new Committee on New and Renewable Resources and Energy met in New York from 718 February 1994. The Secretary-General reported to the committee that in 1990 new and renewable energy sources accounted for 17.7% of the total energy consumption. The drop in oil prices during the 1980s had led to a decline in investment in renewable energy resources, but growing concern for the fragile state of the world's environment lent urgency to efforts to find alternatives to burning fossil fuels and wood, which were contributing to the threat of global warning.

At its first session, the committee noted that the Nairobi Program had led to progress in the application of large-scale technologies, such as hydropower and geothermal energy, and had helped bring to maturity solar energy and wind technologies. However, the overall impact of these new technologies remained insignificant. The committee identified four domains for action by member states: more efficient use of energy and energy-intensive material; increased use of renewable sources of energy; more efficient production and use of fossil fuels; and fuel substitution from high carbon to low carbon-based fuels. It also called for integrated national action programs for developing energy systems; for removing subsidies on conventional sources of energy; establishing support for new, environmentally sound technologies; and finding ways to use wasted energy, such as waste heat from industrial processes. Its report to ECOSOC also recommended the establishment of regional "centers of excellence" to provide training, technology support, and resource data.

Another positive development in this field in the 1990s was the increasing recognition by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that energy conservation makes good economic and environmental sense. Public outcry over displacement of local populations by big dams and destruction of rain forests for grazing projects funded by the World Bank had led it to institute an environmental assessment on every project it undertook. In 1992 the IMF also began to study the impact of its policies on its member nations' environment. The bank also branched out into supporting new sources of energy, for example by lending Mauritius us$ 15 million to support a program to generate 1020% of that nation's future energy needs by burning sugar-cane waste product readily available in that country.

Addressing another important area in the energy fieldthe use of nuclear energy for the economic and social development of developing countriesthe General Assembly, in 1977, set in motion arrangements for an international conference on the subject. The first global effort in this field, the UN Conference for the Promotion of International Cooperation in the Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy, was held in Geneva in 1987. Although unable to reach agreement on principles acceptable to all, the participants at the conference exchanged views and experience on topics ranging from the production of electricity to the various applications of nuclear techniques in food and agriculture, medicine, hydrology, research, and industry.

The first session of the newly reconstituted Committee on Natural Resources was held in early 1993. Its second session met in New York in early 1994. In the 1990s the focus of the Committee on Natural Resources became the implementation of the recommendations of Agenda 21, particularly measures to promote the more rational and sustainable use of natural resources. In the chairman's summary of the meeting, he noted that mineral and water resources had to be seen as finite and valuable resources, and that their production and consumption affected other constituents of the environment. Therefore, a holistic approach was required to the planning and management of natural resources within the geographical boundaries of each country and also in the consideration of the global impact of national policies or measures. A continued call was made for integrated approaches to water and land management. The committee emphasized the need to consider natural resources as a whole, rather than by individual sectors, such as agriculture and industry.

The committee also noted that the fundamental importance of mineral resources to economic development and quality of life had not been adequately reflected in Agenda 21. It recommended that the need to ensure the sustainable supply of minerals should be a key issue for deliberations on Agenda 21.

The committee's discussion on mineral resources was influenced by the impact of privatization of state mineral enterprises on people in the developing countries and economies in transition. While there seemed to be a new trend toward closer understanding between these countries and transnational corporations, the committee stated that governments should promote measures to reduce destruction of the environment from private mining operations. It also recommended that governments promote measures to encourage better use of existing resources through recycling and substitution.

In 1998 the Committee on New and Renewable Sources of Energy and on Energy for Development and the Committee on Natural Resources were merged into one expert bodythe Committee on Energy and Natural Resources for Development, which served as a subsidiary body of ECOSOC. The committee, which met biennially for two weeks, was made up of two subgroups of 12 experts each; one sub-group dealt with energy and the other with water resources. The geographical distribution of the 24 members was: six members from African States; five from Asia; four from Latin American and the Caribbean; three from Eastern Europe; and six from Western European and other states. The term of office was four years.

The reconstituted committee met for the first time in April 1999, during which it worked to prepare a draft paper for the next, eighth, session of the Commission on Sustainable Development. The committee had before it various reports from the Secretary-General, including: a report on environmentally sound and efficient fossil energy technologies, which highlighted the need to increase efficiency of fossil energy use, improve environmental compatibility of fossil technologies, and shift to fossil fuels with lower environmental impacts, such as natural gas; the report on renewable sources of energy, which emphasized wind energy and stressed the importance of continued research and development in this area; the report on rural energy policies, which stated that service to rural areas remains inadequate (of the estimated 3.1 billion people in rural areas, approximately 2 billion had no access to electricity); the report on energy and transportation, which reviewed global transportation trends in both developed and developing nations; and the report on spatial planning of land (including minerals) and water resources, which identified emerging issues and highlighted the finite nature of the earth's resources.

In 2002, the work of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources for Development was transferred to the Commission on Sustainable Development by the Plan of Implementation of the World Summit on Sustainable Development. The UN Commission on Sustainable Development held its fourteenth session in May 2006.


The five regional commissionsserving Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States, Asia and the Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa, and Western Asiahave been established by the Economic and Social Council in recognition of the fact that many economic and social problems are best approached at the regional level. The commissions work to raise the level of economic and social development activity in their respective regions, as well as to maintain and strengthen relations among countries within and outside regions. All actions taken by the commissions are intended to fit within the framework of overall UN economic and social policies. The commissions also are empowered, with the agreement of the governments concerned, to make recommendations directly to member governments and to the specialized agencies.

The commissions are subsidiary organs of the Economic and Social Council, to which they report annually. The secretariats of the commissionseach headed by an executive secretary with the rank of undersecretary-generalare integral parts of the UN staff, and their budgets form part of the regular UN budget.

An important part of the work of all the regional commissions is the preparation of regional studies and surveys, particularly annual economic and social surveys that are published at the headquarters of each commission. Supplementing these are bulletins and periodicals covering a wide range of subjectssuch as agriculture, population, transportation and communications, energy, industry, and housing and constructionthat are widely used as sources of information by governments, business and industry, educational institutions, other UN organs, and the press.

In the early 1990s, under pressure from both developing and industrialized countries to reform and rationalize the scattered development activities of the United Nations system, Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali proposed that the activities of all United Nations organs be coordinated. In December 1992, the General Assembly adopted his proposal with its historic Resolution A/47/199 that stressed the need for development activities to "be streamlined and rationalized, especially in the interrelated areas of programming, execution, decentralization, monitoring and evaluation, thus making the UN system more relevant and responsive to the national plans, priorities and objectives of developing countries, and more efficient in its delivery systems." Under this plan, many of the functions carried out by various committees and boards of the specialized agencies and UN funds were transferred away from headquarters (in New York, or, in the case of the specialized agencies, Geneva or Vienna), to the regional commissions (headquartered in major cities of each region) and the office of the UNDP resident coordinator in the specific countries that were to be served by development programs. As this strategy developed, the role of the regional commissions became more and more central to the work of the United Nations system.

Economic Commission for Europe (ECE)

The Economic Commission for Europe (ECE), with headquarters in Geneva, was established in 1947 to help mobilize concerted action for the economic reconstruction of postwar Europe and to increase European economic activity among countries both within and outside the region. To these goals was added that of providing governments with economic, technological, and statistical information. Begun as an experiment at a time when severe postwar shortages of some commodities and surpluses of others made economic cooperation in Europe a necessity, ECE soon became the only multilateral forum to deal with cooperation between Eastern and Western Europe. The ECE provides a systematic means of intergovernmental cooperation among the countries of Europe, the United States, Canada, Israel, and the republics of the former Soviet Union.

ECE priority objectives include the development of trade, scientific and technical cooperation, improvement of the environment, and long-term planning and projections as a basis for formulation of economic policy. Through meetings of policy-makers and experts, publication of economic analyses and statistics, and study tours and exchanges of technical information, the commission provides a link between governments having different economic and social systems and belonging to different subregional organizations.

Plenary meetings of the commission are held annually; its subsidiary organs meet throughout the year.

ECE works closely with a number of specialized agencies, particularly the ILO and FAO; with other intergovernmental organizations; and with nongovernmental organizations, which ECE has consulted frequently for their expertise in particular subjects.

The analytical work of the ECE provides both a macro- and micro-economic picture of the state of the region. It publishes statistical bulletins and special reports on the state of markets in industry, timber, and human settlements. It has also published guides for the management of joint ventures, privatization and conditions for foreign direct investment.

The network of committees and working parties mentioned above carries on the ECE's technical cooperation work. The ECE has formulated regionwide strategies and legal instruments in the fields of environment and transportation. One of its most significant accomplishments is the establishment of a standard for electronic data interchange (the UN/EDIFACT or United Nations Electronic Data Interchange for Administration, Commerce and Transport). This international standard for communication between networks of computers paves the way for the development of paperless international trade in the twenty-first century.

The events of 198991, during which the entire face of Europe changed beyond recognition, provided enormous challenges for the ECE. War in the former Yugoslavia and the resulting economic sanctions and displacement of 3 million people made a somber picture. The ECE provided technical cooperation to the countries of Eastern Europe in transition to a market economy. By 1994, these countries made up fully one-half of its expanded membership. Hundreds of workshops on transition issues were conducted by the ECE in these countries (199495). The program of workshops was supplemented by the introduction of regional advisory services in each of the ECE's major fields of activity.


As of April 2006, the following 55 countries were members of ECE: Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Russian Federation, San Marino, Serbia and Montenegro, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Tajikistan, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia,Turkey, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States, and Uzbekistan.

Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP)

The Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), with headquarters in Bangkok, Thailand, and a Pacific Operations Center based in Port Vila, Vanuatu, serves a region that contains more than half the world's population. It was established in 1947 as the Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East to promote reconstruction and economic development of the region. Its name was changed in 1974 to reflect equal concern with economic growth and social progress and to clarify its geographic scope. The commission meets annually.

ESCAP's activities help identify common problems and facilitate cooperation for economic and social development at the regional level. It provides technical assistance and advisory services to governments on request, carries out research on regional issues, and acts as a clearinghouse of information.

One of ESCAP's most significant meetings in the 1990s was the Fourth Asian and Pacific Population Conference (Bali, August 1992). The conference was cosponsored by ESCAP and UNFPA, in recognition of the fact that population issues were inextricably linked to the cycles of poverty and the struggle for development. The conference adopted the Declaration on Population and Development (known as the "Bali Declaration"). By this declaration, ESCAP's member countries set goals for themselves to adopt strategies to attain replacement-level fertility (around 2.2 children per woman) by the year 2010 or sooner. They also agreed to reduce the level of infant mortality to 40 per thousand live births or lower by the same time.

In the late 1990s, with more than 50 years of experience, ESCAP described itself as a regional think tank and acknowledged that its ultimate challenge lay in bringing some 830 million of the region's poor into the economic mainstream, "enabling everybody to achieve a better standard of life as envisaged in the Charter of the United Nations."


As of April 2006, the 53 member states of ESCAP were: Afghanistan, Armenia, Australia, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, China, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Fiji, France, Georgia, India, Indonesia, Islamic Republic of Iran, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kiribati, Kyrgyzstan, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Malaysia, Maldives, Marshall Islands, Micronesia (Federated States of), Mongolia, Myanmar, Nauru, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Pakistan, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, Samoa, Singapore, Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, Thailand, Timor-Leste, Tonga, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Tuvalu, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, United States of America, Uzbekistan, Vanuatu, and Vietnam. It also had nine associate members: American Samoa, Guam, New Caledonia, Cook Islands, Hong Kong (China), Niue, French Polynesia, Macao (China), and Northern Mariana Islands.

Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC)

The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), with headquarters in Santiago, Chile, was established in 1948 as the Economic Commission for Latin America. In 1983, it formally incorporated the Caribbean region into its name. ECLAC's aim is to help the governments of the region promote the economic development of their countries and improve living standards. To this end, it collaborates with the governments of the region in the investigation and analysis of regional and national economic problems, and provides assistance in the formulation of development plans. It organizes and convenes regional intergovernmental meetings on topics in the field of economic and social development. ECLAC conducts research, executes studies, disseminates information, provides technical assistance, participates in seminars and conferences, and gives training courses.

ECLAC's initial stress on economic growth and trade was later complemented with emphasis on employment, income distribution, and other social aspects of development. In recent years, the commission has expanded its activities to include research in such areas as the environment, the development and transfer of technology, and the role of transnational corporations.

In 1999, ECLAC had divisions and units dealing with the following: planning and operations; economic development; social development; international trade and finance development; production, productivity, and management; statistics and economic projections; environment and human settlements; and natural resources and infrastructure. It also had a documents and publications division. ECLAC also has two sub-regional headquarters (in Mexico and Port of Spain), and offices in Bogota, Brasilia, Buenos Aires, Montevideo, and Washington, D.C.

ECLAC meets biennially; a committee of the whole carries on intersessional work.

Two other organizations are part of the ECLAC system: the Latin American and Caribbean Institute for Economic and Social Planning (ILPES) in Santiago, Chile; and the Latin American Demographic Center (CELADE), also in Santiago. ILPES was established in 1962 and undertakes research and provides training and advisory services, as well as furthering cooperation among the planning services of the region. CELADE was established in 1957, but became an integral part of the commission in 1975. It collaborates with governments in formulating population policies and provides demographic estimates and projections, documentation, data processing, and training facilities.

The commission carries out its work in close cooperation with UNDP, the International Trade Center (UNCTAD/GATT), UNESCO, the International Maritime Organization (IMO), UNICEF, and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).


As of April 2006, ECLAC had 42 members: Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, France, Germany Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Italy, Jamaica, Mexico, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Portugal, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Spain, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, United States of America, Uruguay, and Venezuela. It also had seven associate members: Anguilla, Aruba, British Virgin Islands, Montserrat, Netherlands Antilles, Puerto Rico, and United States Virgin Islands.

Economic Commission for Africa (ECA)

The Economic Commission for Africa, with headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, was established in 1958. It was the first intergovernmental organization in Africa whose geographical scope covered the whole of a continent in which economic and social conditions differed widely and where many countries and dependent territories were among the poorest in the world. ECA's chief objective is the modernization of Africa, with emphasis on both rural development and industrialization. Its work has been marked by a sense of urgency and a determination to match the rapid pace of African political progress with economic and social progress. In carrying out its functions, ECA works closely with the Organization of African Unity and various organizations of the UN system.

The commission's sessions are held annually at the ministerial level and are known as the Conference of Ministers.

The approach of ECA is primarily at the level of its five subregions: North Africa, East Africa, Central Africa, Southern Africa, and West Africa. ECA members have made it clear that the sub-regional approach is to be regarded as a necessary first step and that pan-African economic integration remains the goal. For that reason, five multinational programming and operational centers have been established: in Tangier, Morocco, for North Africa; in Niamey, Niger, for West Africa; in Lusaka, Zambia, for Southern Africa; in Yaounde, Cameroon, for Central Africa; and in Kigali, Rwanda, for Eastern Africa.

Work priorities for the 1990s and beyond included the broadened concept of food security and poverty alleviation through sustainable development with emphasis on capacity building; the promotion of economic cooperation among African countries and between African and other developing countries; the physical integration of the continent in line with the goals of the UN Transport and Communications Decade for Africa (19912000); and greater control and sovereignty over natural resources and environment. In the field of industrial development, ECA implemented the UN Second Industrial Development Decade in Africa (IDDA) by strengthening the technological and entrepreneurial capabilities of African countries. Special attention was paid to subregional and regional cooperation in small-scale cottage and rural industries and to highly advanced technology.

In 1992 ECA issued a technical publication evaluating the impact of the 1992 European economic integration measures on African agriculture. The publication discussed the various factors underlying the European single market. The publication underscored the need for galvanizing the cooperation of African nations in the face of moves to strengthen economic integration in other regions, notably Europe and North America. ECA also consulted with the OAU and the African Development Bank on the establishment and functioning of an African Economic Community (AEC).

ECA supervised the African Training and Research Centre for Women, which assisted ECA member states in improving the socioeconomic conditions of African women and enhancing their participation in development. ECA pursued its efforts to establish a regional Federation of African Women Entrepreneurs and a Bank for African Women to support women's entrepreneurial activities. ECA developed a Pan-African Development Information System that provides training, advisory services, data base development, and network-building, and produces studies and publications for ECA member states, institutions, and nongovernmental organizations.

Beginning in July 1995, ECA embarked on major institutional and managerial reforms, resulting in a new strategic focus, which it defined by five core programs and two cross-cutting themes. The core programs were facilitating economic and social policy analysis; ensuring food security and sustainable development; strengthening development management; harnessing information for development; and promoting regional cooperation and integration. The themes were: fostering leadership and empowerment for women in Africa and enhancement of ECA capacities (with regard to information and technology, staff training, communication, and public awareness of programs through the mass media).


As of April 2006, the following 53 countries were members of ECA: Algeria, Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Côte d'Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, São Tomé and Príncipe, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, Swaziland, Togo, Tunisia, Uganda, United Republic of Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA)

A regional economic commission for the Middle East was first proposed in 194748. A commission that would include the Arab nations and Israel proved to be out of the question, however, and in 1963, the UN Economic and Social Office in Beirut (UNESOB) was set up. For 11 years, UNESOB assisted governments in economic and social development and provided them with consultants in such fields as community development, demography, industrial development planning, and statistics.

In 1972, Lebanon revived the issue of a regional commission for the area, and in August 1973, the Economic and Social Council established the Economic Commission for Western Asia to supersede UNESOB. In 1984, it was renamed the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) to reflect the importance of the social aspect of its activities.

The commission began operations on 1 January 1974, with provisional headquarters in Beirut. As defined by the resolution establishing the commission, its task is to initiate and participate in measures for facilitating concerted action for the economic reconstruction and development of Western Asia, for raising the region's level of economic activity, and for maintaining and strengthening the economic relations of countries of the region both among themselves and with other countries of the world.

ESCWA undertakes or sponsors studies of economic and social issues in the region, collects and disseminates information, and provides advisory services at the request of countries of the region on ESCWA's fields of activities. Much of ESCWA's work is carried out in cooperation with other UN bodies. The commission conducts industrial studies for individual countries in conjunction with UNIDO. It cooperates with FAO in regional planning, food security, and management of agricultural resources. UNDP supports ESCWA's work on household surveys in Western Asia and the Arab Planning Institute in Kuwait. Work is also undertaken with UNFPA and UNIFEM in population and women's programs, with ILO in statistical surveys on labor, with AGFUND in rural development, with UNCTAD in development planning and maritime transport training, with UNEP in integrating environmental aspects (particularly control of desertification) into development programs, and with OIC in natural resources, industry, and trade issues.

The sessions of the commission (held every two years) are attended by representatives of member states and bodies, UN bodies and specialized agencies, regional and intergovernmental organizations, and other states attending as observers.

In 1992, the commission called for the establishment of an Arab and international interagency coordinating committee on environment and development to promote the goals of the UN Conference on Environment and Development's (UNCED) Agenda 21.

In May 1994, during the Commission's seventeenth ministerial session in Amman, ESCWA member states voted to move the permanent headquarters to Beirut. The 8-story UN house was built in the Beirut Central District for this purpose.

ESCWA maintains close liaison with other UN organs and specialized agencies and with intergovernmental organizations in the region, such as the League of Arab States and the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development.

In 1976, ESCWA decided to move its operations to Amman, Jordan, for one year because of the conflict in Lebanon. Later the same year, it decided to accept the offer of the government of Iraq for Baghdad to be the site of its permanent headquarters. It moved to Baghdad in 1982, only to relocate to Amman during the Gulf War between Iraq and Kuwait in 1991. The permanent headquarters were later moved back to Beirut in 1997. ESCWA had established six working committees by the early 2000s; they were: statistical, social development, energy, water resources, transport, and liberalization of foreign trade and economic globalization.


As of April 2006, there were 13 members of ESCWA: Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Palestine (Palestine Liberation Organization), Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.

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