High-level Committee on Programmes: Strategic Narrative

Please note: The below text is an excerpt from the comprehensive version of the HLCP strategic narrative

At its 42nd session in October 2021, the High-level Committee on Programmes discussed and agreed on an integrated strategic narrative to guide its work over the coming two to three years. The strategic narrative is grounded in the objectives of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and has strong connections to key themes in the Secretary-General’s Our Common Agenda report. The three-part thematic framework identifies fertile ground for new initiatives while allowing the Committee sufficient flexibility to absorb new and emerging issues.

Thematic Pillar 1: Duties to the Future

The concept of intergenerational equity is foundational to the United Nations. The pledge to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war is its earliest and clearest manifestation—generations living today have an obligation to succeeding generations. This moral and philosophical current has influenced some of the UN’s most notable global reflections and policy agendas—from the 1987 Brundtland Commission report to the 2012 Rio+20 conference, and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Although acceptance of this principle is broad and growing, there is fear and frustration that commitments to younger generations and future generations have been slow to materialize.

Inequalities experienced in the present have raised awareness of structures that perpetuate inequalities across generations. Calls for vaccine equity, a halt to the degradation of the environment and ecosystems, and debt justice are just a few recent examples suggesting that the time has come to recommit to intergenerational solidarity and address questions of equity more seriously across both geographic and generational divides. Societies across the world are demanding a reimagining of intergenerational responsibility anchored in a new social contract.

The focus on intergenerational equity casts policy-makers’ attention over a longer period and invites efforts to identify and implement effective solutions that will have long-term, sustainable, meaningful outcomes that will outlive present generations. HLCP’s workstreams on inequalities and strategic foresight position the Committee well to support the elaboration and operationalization of the concept of intergenerational equity within the UN system. With its whole-of-system perspective, HLCP can help develop both the tools and a culture that foster long-term thinking required to deliver these new commitments. 

Thematic Pillar 2: New Global Public Goods

Global public goods are provisions that benefit the global community or humanity as a whole, as opposed to only residents of a specific nation or State, for example healthy oceans, the reduction of risks of infectious disease, peace, international civil aviation regulation, and a stable financial architecture. Overall welfare is maximized when these goods are sustained and protected, but this requires collaboration across borders, differentiated investments, and well-functioning global institutions that can invest in and regulate global public goods. Investing in the multilateral system’s capacity to identify, deliver, and protect new global public goods will pay a trust dividend, shoring up confidence in the global system and its capacity to respond to the evolving needs and interests of individuals and communities across the world.

An important test of the multilateral system in the coming decade will be whether it can legitimize certain new global public goods, marshal support for them, and provide the collaborative platforms to sustain them. It remains an open question how the multilateral system will pivot to nurture and strengthen global cooperative arrangements and develop accountability mechanisms that support these goals.

Past HLCP initiatives have encouraged integrated approaches that strengthen the multilateral system’s ability to deliver global public goods. At its 41st session, HLCP concluded that its future work on multilateralism must continue to be strategic and support efforts to rebuild trust in global institutions. The theme of new global public goods concentrates this ambition. Against this backdrop, HLCP identified international data governance as a priority issue to be examined over the coming period.

Thematic Pillar 3: Networked and Inclusive Governance

Since its founding, the UN has been premised on a representation of “we the peoples,” but has frequently fallen short on that promise. The transformational potential that might have been harnessed through deeper partnerships with civil society, non-State actors, and the private sector remains largely eclipsed by traditional State-centric approaches to multilateralism and development. The result is sluggish progress on the global development objectives and enduring representational deficits. The challenge is finding new ways of working that leverage the comparative advantage of allied actors. Rather than building new institutions, existing ones could be transformed into more networked entities, building on established blueprints, such as the SDGs and the Paris Climate Agreement. This will mean multiplying bridges and redoubling efforts to actively access information, opinions, and insights from a wide range of communities and nurture cooperative arrangements with them.

HLCP is a good example of a system contributing to a ‘hub and spokes’ model of global governance, its greatest asset being its breadth of representation: it is a forum that boasts the participation of all UN system entities including the Bretton Woods institutions and, through them, a substantial network of partners. HLCP is thus well placed to help move the UN system in the direction of a more inclusive and networked multilateral system.

  • High-Level Committee on Programmes (HLCP)


  • HLCP Strategic Narrative.pdf

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