The 2030 Agenda is universal, integrated, transformative and people-centred. It is grounded in human rights, and focused on the promise to reduce inequalities and leave no one behind. Aligned with the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it is applicable and relevant to all countries. As interdependent goals, the SDGs require coherent efforts at all levels by governments, the United Nations and all other stakeholders.
To effectively support national efforts to achieve the transformative ambitions of the 2030 Agenda, the UN system needs to take an integrated approach to programming that combines actions across sectors and involves all relevant stakeholders. This recognizes links among the SDGs and their normative foundations. Towards that end, the United Nations Development Group (UNDG) has identified four integrated programming principles for UNDAFs.
Leave no one behind is at the core, unifying programming and advocacy efforts across all UN agendas. It is underpinned by three other programming principles: human rights, gender equality and women’s empowerment; sustainability and resilience; and accountability. These principles are grounded in the norms and standards that the United Nations is tasked to uphold and promote, and that inform all phases of UN programming at the country level.
They are the foundation for integrated programming in response to national priorities and plans. They hold true for all country contexts and are applied in an integrated manner. Knowing how to meet these norms and standards, consistently and effectively, in policy, advocacy, programming and engagement with national counterparts, is essential for the success of the United Nations on the ground. Companion guidance provides more detailed information and resources on integrated programming principles.
Leave no One Behind
Leaving no one behind and reaching the furthest behind first is the central promise of the 2030 Agenda. It represents the unequivocal commitment of Member States to address the multidimensional causes of poverty, inequalities and discrimination, and reduce the vulnerabilities of the most marginalized people, including women, refugees, internally displaced persons, migrants, minorities, indigenous peoples, stateless persons, and populations affected by conflict and natural disasters.
As the overarching programming principle for UNDAFs in all country contexts, leaving no one behind requires that the UN system prioritize its programmatic interventions to address the situation of those most marginalized, discriminated against and excluded, and to empower them as active agents of development. Individuals and groups may be at risk of being left behind not only because of their personal vulnerabilities, but also because their distinct and specific entitlements and needs may not be visible, recognized or prioritized by their societies, resulting in their exclusion.
Because of its overarching and unifying nature, the principle of leaving no one behind is a cornerstone for coherence across the development, humanitarian, human rights and peacebuilding agendas. In crisis and conflict settings, it calls for a focus on the protection of people most at risk, including displaced populations and those most likely to be affected by climate change and natural disasters. The principle can be a key driver of peace, underscoring the importance of addressing inequalities and situations that fuel conflict and hinder return. UNDAFs can also consider the disproportionate impacts of humanitarian and other crises, shocks and changes on the most vulnerable people. Leave no one behind is elaborated through the other three integrated programming principles:
- Eliminating inequalities and discrimination (human rights, gender equality and women’s empowerment principle) This principle recognizes that UN programming is guided by international norms and standards that provide the normative basis to address the situation of individuals and groups which are, or at risk of, being left behind not only because of their vulnerabilities but also as a result of entrenched inequalities and discrimination that prevents them from accessing services and resources. The United Nations’ contribution to protecting and promoting human rights is both a normative duty, and an operational imperative for ensuring more equitable and sustainable development outcomes.
- Addressing the root causes of multidimensional poverty and building capacities for resilience (sustainability and resilience principle): This principle recognizes the need for protecting ecosystems and biodiversity as the “GDPs of the poor,” as they provide the bases for livelihoods and employment for many of the poor and those left furthest behind. Sustainability and resilience are key to understanding and addressing the disproportionate impact of crises and disasters on the poor and other groups who are marginalized and discriminated against. Strengthening the capacities of national institutions and communities is the foundation of resilience, and of ensuring that gains are sustainable.
- Strengthening national systems and processes of accountability to monitor progress and provide remedies (accountability principle): This principle entails improving the effectiveness of institutions and mechanisms to monitor and track progress in empowering those who are left behind or at risk of falling behind.
Promoting the principle of leaving no one behind can include advocacy and other programmatic interventions, which may be undertaken jointly by the United Nations Country Team (UNCT) or by individual agencies based on their specific mandates. For example, the principle can be expressed by programmatic interventions related to social protection, legal empowerment, economic opportunities, decent work, environmental health, and access to essential services for population groups who are furthest behind. These groups can be identified and engaged through all stages of the UNDAF process.
Human Rights, Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment
A central objective of the 2030 Agenda is to “realize the human rights of all and to achieve gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls.” As applied in UNDAFs, this principle has five elements:
- Alignment with international standards: In supporting the alignment of national laws and policies with international standards, UNDAFs are guided by recommendations made to the country by international human rights mechanisms. Thus, UNDAF implementation is linked to reporting and review processes under the SDGs as well as human rights mechanisms.
- A focus on addressing inequalities and discrimination towards leaving no one behind: UNDAFs identify existing inequalities and forms of discrimination, and other human rights violations. This process can include data disaggregation that goes beyond gender, geography and age to encompass other forms of discrimination prohibited under international law. UNDAFs demonstrate how they will contribute to achieving both formal and substantive equality. They can aim to address structural barriers; reverse unequal distributions of power, resources and opportunities; and/or challenge discriminatory laws, social norms and stereotypes that perpetuate inequalities and disparities.
- Active and meaningful participation by all stakeholders: The UNDAF explains how the United Nations ensures the full participation of key stakeholders, especially national governments, civil society and the private sector, in its design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation. It can elaborate how it will contribute to establishing consistent space and resources for free, informed and empowered participation by civil society, particularly for the most marginalized groups, in national development processes that shape their lives, without fear of reprisal.
- Due diligence, including provision of effective remedies: The UNDAF supports the establishment of national mechanisms to provide effective judicial and non-judicial remedies to individuals and groups, and offer assistance in accessing them. It can also ensure due diligence and full implementation of normative standards such as the UN’s Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights in public private partnerships.
- Reduction of gender inequalities by empowering all women and girls: The CCA includes a rigorous gender analysis that goes beyond age- and sex-disaggregated data to explain immediate, underlying and root causes and differentiated impacts (including through an appreciation of social, legal, political, economic and cultural dynamics that underpin gender inequality). The UNDAF supports and links to the implementation of internationally agreed policy frameworks or conventions, including the Beijing Platform for Action and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). The UNDAF can explain the ways in which the United Nations responds to gender inequalities, and the empowerment and advancement of women and girls, men and boys, depending on the particular situation in each country. Gender equality concerns are fully and consistently reflected in the programme rationale/strategy, and inequalities adequately addressed through clearly defined, gender-specific outcomes and outputs that contribute to relevant gender SDG indicators and targets, where appropriate.
Sustainability and Resilience
The 2030 Agenda has the objective of ensuring the lasting protection of the planet and its natural and cultural resources, supporting inclusive and sustained economic growth, ending poverty in all its dimensions and enhancing human well-being. It aims to: increase the resilience of societies and ecosystems to man-made and natural hazards, shocks and stresses; promote multisectoral, integrated approaches that harness the potential, assets and capacities of institutions and communities to enhance human well-being, and reduce risks and vulnerabilities associated with natural hazards, climate change, violence, conflict, political and social instability, or economic volatility; and manage the change and uncertainty of long-term trends.
Increasing the resilience of societies, economies and the natural environment can help countries, communities and the poor to withstand shocks, embrace uncertainty and manage risks. There are strong links as well between sustainability and resilience, and peace and security. Strengthening the capacities of national institutions and communities is the foundation of resilience, and of ensuring that gains are sustainable. UN support for strengthening national capacities takes place within the national development framework, building on existing capacities, assets and systems, and based on national capacity assessments and strategies.
UNDAFs integrate six elements of sustainability and resilience, which involve:
- Reflecting interconnections and a balanced approach among the social, economic and environmental dimensions of sustainable development;
- Integrating economic, environmental and social sustainability and risk management into programming, and strengthening national capacities to address these issues;
- Applying social and environmental standards to prevent adverse impacts on people, including the poor, and the environment; managing risks when impacts cannot be avoided and building resilience;
- Supporting the full integration of environmental issues and social protection in national policies that deal with key development sectors, and ensuring links with emergency, crisis and humanitarian systems;
- Addressing the sustainability and resilience dimensions of development problems, and the interconnections among issues related to the environment, human rights, conflict and vulnerability;
- Ensuring consistency between UNDAF outcomes and objectives in national development policies, budgets and plans.
The sustainability and resilience principle is integrated through each stage of the UNDAF process. All UNDAF interventions seek to reduce risks and build resilience through strengthening national capacities and policy support, and to mainstream sustainability and resilience across programmes. A broad vision of sustainability ensures a balance among social, economic and environmental considerations and resilience.
UNDAFs take into account how the legal, policy and institutional environment as well as economic and social patterns affect the resilience of communities, especially for vulnerable and excluded groups. They specify and support links to the implementation of internationally agreed policy frameworks or conventions ratified by the country with the potential to facilitate integrated implementation of the SDGs. These include the Paris Agreement, the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, and the Quito Declaration on Sustainable Cities and Human Settlements for All. In practical implementation terms, UNDAFs, for example, encompass recognizing the value of ecosystem services, promoting the green/blue economy, fostering sustainable consumption and production patterns, investing in climate change adaptation, reducing disaster risks and extending sustainable energy.
The 2030 Agenda includes commitments to greater accountability at global, regional and national levels, and to corresponding mechanisms for implementation and follow-up. The United Nations has committed itself to support these actions, and to help build “effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels” (SDG 16). Based upon this, UNDAFs promote accountable societies, including through:
- Alignment with national priorities and national accountability mechanisms, as well as the provision of priority support to the expansion or further development of those mechanisms to ensure that they include all population groups;
- Strengthening national and local mechanisms, institutions and processes to monitor and report on the progress of SDG implementation for all parts of society, and linking these with international mechanisms, including UN human rights mechanisms;
- Measures to build upon and extend greater transparency, and improved measurement and reporting on results, including through joint assessments with target populations;
- Practising what the United Nations advocates by recognizing the UN system’s accountability to the general public of the countries in which it works;
- Enabling active local community engagement and participation in decision-making—particularly of those who are left behind or are at risk of being left behind—whether more broadly in national policy development, implementation, or monitoring and evaluation, or specifically in the UNDAF process;
- Supporting the development and use of transparent and robust data and information for policy formulation, programme design and implementation to manage risks and deliver results through more effective decision-making, both in national policy processes, and the work of the United Nations at the country level.
* For more guidance, see: UNDG Guidance Note on Human Rights for RCs and UNCTs(2015) and A Resource Book for Mainstreaming Gender in UN Common Country Programming at the Country Level (2014).
These include all international conventions and instruments.