Report explores UN financing architecture and hard choices ahead for multilateralism

6 Sep 2019
Report explores UN financing architecture and hard choices ahead for multilateralism

Today, at the UN headquarters in New York, the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation and the UN Multi-Partner Trust Fund Office have released a new report on the financing of the UN development system, using the latest available public funding and expenditure data from over 40 UN entities. It includes two data visualizations: flows from the top 10 contributors to the UN since 2010 and UN expenditure in the group of 50 countries defined as crisis-affected. The report also presents ideas and initiatives from 25 prominent experts from outside and inside the UN System on the financing choices that lie ahead.

The report authors claim that “time is short”. Not only is 2030 approaching, but there is little time to take the necessary actions to prevent irreversible setbacks and development losses. Climate change, health, migration, armed conflict and inequality- all need urgent action and multilateral approaches to be at the cent of global action. It is, as a result, time for hard choices. Choices that governments, leaders, investors and citizens need to make about when and how to fund a multilateral approach to tackle these development challenges.

With an ongoing comprehensive reform process of the financing of the United Nations, the report aims to provide evidence to back up the hard choices and additional insight on the recently approved UN Funding Compact, an agreement between Member States and the UN to deliver better results on the ground, increase transparency and efficiency, and generate more flexible funding.

Revenues: growing but regular resources decreasing

The UN total revenue in 2017 was US$ 53.2 billion, an increase of US$ 3.9 billion compared to the previous year, with most of the funding directly provided by governments, of which 65% came from just 12 countries.

However, more than half of all the UN revenue (57%) was earmarked to a specific project, theme, region or country, confirming the decline of flexible contributions to the UN. The UN funding structure differs from other multilateral institutions and development banks. The nature of the funding is changing the multilateral character of the UN.

A  data visualization has been developed to map flows from the top 10 contributors to the UN since 2010, showing the evolution of their contributions and how their contributions are channeled through different UN entities.

Expenditure: mostly for crisis affected countries

Regarding UN expenditures, the report data shows that the UN indeed invests were most is needed: particularly in crisis affected countries. 32% of the funding went to humanitarian assistance, a four percent growth, while the share of funding for development and peacekeeping has remained stable (39% and 19% respectively). Africa is the region with highest UN expenditures (35%), followed by Western Asia (23%), Asia and the Pacific (13%), Americas (10%) and Europe (3%).

Expenditure in the group of 50 countries defined as crisis-affected was 76% of the total UN country-level operational expenditures. To further facilitate interaction with UN expenditures data, the report authors have developed an online tool that allows users to explore this data from 2010 to 2017.

The report also shows that ten countries account for 30% of UN total expenditures, with a growing share of these expenditures being for humanitarian purposes. The highest expenditures are in countries in protracted crisis. UN expenditures have grown rapidly in countries with escalating humanitarian such as in Yemen or Nigeria, and have dropped in countries where peacekeeping missions ended, for example, in Côte d'Ivoire, Haiti and Liberia. This data is provided to support current debates on the need of financing models for the humanitarian-development-peace nexus, the trajectory of countries from a crisis context to a pathway of long-term sustainable development.

With multilateralism on trial, hard choices lie ahead

The report authors acknowledge that the UN system-wide financial data is far from perfect. The UN has awoken though to the importance of having good quality, system-wide financial data. For example, in the fourth quarter of 2019 the UN adopted a set of common data standards for UN system-wide financial reporting - increasing transparency and accountability in the UN further.

The financial analysis is complemented by essays from prominent experts who provide insights on how financing flows are impacting the Sustainable Development Goals. There is a recognition that facing the general discontent with multilateralism today provides an opportunity to rethink. Multilateralism is a way to exercise leadership, not to abject it. It is also argued that discussions on financing multilateralism should be not only about volume but also about purpose, distribution and structure, and how to make smart choices. Experts also discuss financing instruments such as pooled funding, which are providing new opportunities for the UN system to address interconnected sustainable development challenges. Experts also agrees that this is time to invest in multilateral solutions and hard choices to be made.

  • Report can be downloaded at: link.
  • Executive summary and visualizations (with embedding code): link.



Contact information


Annika Östman

Communications Manager

Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation

+46 (0)76-541 10 04


Raul de Mora

Communications Specialist

UN Multi-Partner Trust Fund Office

+1 631 464 8617

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