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Plenary vs. Committee Meetings

Assembly Decides to Establish Intergovernmental Committee on Sustainable Development Financing General Assembly decides to establish the Intergovernmental Committee on Sustainable Development Financing


General Assembly decides to establish the Intergovernmental Committee on Sustainable Development Financing

Every conference has a Plenary (i.e. the conference meeting as a whole), but many conferences have so much work that they could never complete their agendas in the time allotted unless they allocated part of the work to committees or other subsidiary bodies. It has also been found to be more efficient and to produce better results if certain parts of the work are allocated to such entities.

For these two reasons, conferences typically divide their work between Plenary and a number of committees. Plenary is where the conference opens and closes, where major statements are made and broad-ranging debate may be conducted and where all decisions by the conference are taken. The (main) Committees undertake a detailed discussion of issues, negotiation and drafting.

In addition, Plenary or any of its committees can form committees, subcommittees, working groups and/or other subsidiary bodies to undertake specified tasks. All subsidiary bodies report to the body that created them (known as their ‘parent’ body). They can make recommendations to that body, but they cannot make decisions on its behalf. Given the time constraints of a Model UN Conference, subsidiary bodies are not typically included in simulations.

It is important to decide in advance on the number of Main Committees, how the members of their Bureau will be selected, which delegations will compose them, which items they will debate and how many given the time constraints of the conference.

Some conferences form a single Committee of the Whole (CoW), with the same composition as Plenary but not meeting concurrently with it. At other, less formal conferences, the Chairman sometimes invites the conference to move into ‘committee phase/mode/stage’. The rationale for all this is the belief, based on experience, that it is best to have in effect two conferences address each issue on the agenda: not just Plenary but also a committee. This results in two distinct processes: formal decision-making (which is the preserve of Plenary) preceded by detailed discussion, negotiation and drafting (which is the committee phase). This in turn allows Plenary to take a somewhat loftier, broader view of the question, knowing that the details have been thoroughly worked over in committee phase. It also allows the sometimes heated debate and negotiation over details to have a clear ending (the end of committee phase) and Plenary (even if it is composed of the same delegates) to put all that behind it before entering the decision-making phase. The practice of having different individuals as chairmen of Plenary and the committee reinforces this separation and cooling effect. This differentiation is also preserved in simulations of the GA when the PGA or Vice-President preside over the Plenary meetings and a Chair or Vice-Chair preside over the Committee meetings.

It is of course central to this system that committees cannot take decisions on behalf of the conference. All they can do is report and/or make recommendations to Plenary. It is therefore, important to keep in mind that no matter what action has been taken during Committee meetings, a different action on the same draft resolution could be taken during the Plenary meeting.