United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres sits down with Devex Editor-in-Chief Raj Kumar.

UNITED NATIONS — The scope of United Nations reform might not be as big as initially envisioned, due to financial restraints and a lack of specialized budget, according to U.N. chief António Guterres.

In an exclusive interview with Devex Editor-in-Chief Raj Kumar on Wednesday, Guterres said there are “severe problems of coordination” across the U.N., including work to achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

Watch the full interview here:

As UNGA kicks off, Guterres calls for urgency

A three-part reform strategy — focused on management, peacebuilding, and repositioning the development system — could offer a solution. But the system-wide reform will launch in January 2019 without a specific budget backed by U.N. member states.

“We have severe problems of focusing the whole of the U.N. to achieve sustainable development, or to support member states to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals,” Guterres said. “We need all to work together to support member states much more effectively, so there is a question of coordination. There is a question of transparency and accountability.”

“We tried to obtain a form of guaranteed funding for this process. Unfortunately, that was not possible to achieve,” Guterres continued, explaining that opposition from the United States and Russia, in particular, made this goal impossible.

“And, so, we are struggling to get the resources that are necessary to put the new system into place and we hope we will be able to do it, and we will, in any case, move forward but probably not with the full capacity we would like to have.”

Guterres sat down with Devex one day after the official launch of the General Assembly’s 73rd session. Here’s what he had to say on some key issues.

Green Climate Fund

Earlier this month, Guterres warned of the “direct existential threat” climate change is posing. He reiterated a call to fully fund the Green Climate Fund, which lost $2 billion from rescinded U.S. funding last year.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres on the Green Climate Fund. Via YouTube.

"We are worried with what has happened in the Green Climate Fund and we hope that the situation will be overcome [by] the end of the year, beginning of next year. But there is a problem there,” Guterres told Devex. “We have seen a lot of innovation in relation to funding for climate action. We have seen the private sector responding very well. I think the main problem now is political will from the government side.”

The recently announced high-level summit on climate change in 2019 is necessary to continue “raising the alarm,” Guterres explained.  

“We are slow in many aspects and that is why we are convening this summit for next year, raising the alarm and saying, ‘it's absolutely essential that the Paris Agreement [on climate change] is implemented and it's absolutely essential to increase the ambition,’” he said.


Ahead of the third high-level meeting on noncommunicable diseases, Guterres spoke of the need to focus more on those health challenges — including mental health — which are typically not considered as “sensational” as other global health crises.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres on NCDs. Via YouTube.

“Of course, noncommunicable diseases are an extremely important objective, because ... the system [needs to be] able to deal with them instead of just moving everything to the epidemic areas that, of course, are more sensational in the way they are able to attract attention,” he said.

“If we really are able to put the essential parts of our efforts in building national systems that respond to the health problems in general, and noncommunicable diseases, of course…. I think that we will be doing the right thing and I feel that this is the new trend, and the World Health Organization is clearly moving that action.”


Guterres addressed specific steps to rectify a lack of credibility in the U.N. system when it comes to reporting sexual harassment and abuse. These include six new U.N. investigators, recruited because of their expertise in sexual harassment, and a broader push for gender parity across all levels of the U.N.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres on the #MeToo movement. Via YouTube

“Our biggest problem was the lack of credibility in investigation systems and the slow pace of investigations, because investigations in the U.N. were essentially linked to fraud and to other things, not to sexual harassment,” Guterres said.

“We target to bring investigations to a much shorter period and to have the investigation centered on the victim, because victims sometimes had enormous difficulties in accessing and interacting with investigation systems. And we are asking all agencies to do the same or to rely on the secretariat system.”

Gender parity is key to this process, Guterres said. He has called for parity across the U.N. system before 2030, but has already achieved this at top levels of management.

“These questions are essentially a question of power. We live in a male-dominated world with a male-dominated culture. This is why it's a question of power. The most important instrument to change it is gender parity. And this is the center of our agenda policy and we are reaching results,” Guterres said.

“We have achieved it at the top level but have a long way to go.”

NCDs. Climate change. Financing. Read more of Devex's coverage from the 73rd U.N. General Assembly here.

About the author

  • Amy Lieberman

    Amy Lieberman is the U.N. Correspondent for Devex. She covers the United Nations and reports on global development and politics. Amy previously worked as a freelance reporter, covering the environment, human rights, immigration, and health across the U.S. and in more than 10 countries, including Colombia, Mexico, Nepal, and Cambodia. Her coverage has appeared in the Guardian, the Atlantic, Slate, and the Los Angeles Times. A native New Yorker, Amy received her master’s degree in politics and government from Columbia’s School of Journalism.