Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater: Why Policy Coherence for Development still has a role to play

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      If you work in development, in environment or anywhere near the United Nation’s 2030 Agenda, you probably came across the acronyms PCD and/or PCSD at some point. For most practitioners, they stand as a vague reminder in favour of coherence between different policies, along with other injunctions such as “mainstreaming” gender, human rights or global health. Despite their very similar acronyms, Policy Coherence for Development (PCD) and Policy Coherence for Sustainable Development (PCSD) are not the same thing. Granted, PCSD emerged with the 2030 Agenda which substitutes Sustainable Development Goals to the Millennium Development Goals. Yet it is not just the “sustainable” version of PCD. Here is a brief overview of why you should still hear about both PCD and PCSD for a while.

      What is PCD?

      PCD was born in the 1990s, from a reflection on the need for coherence between policies with an impact on developing countries. It calls for attention to the negative externalities of those policies which are not directly concerned with development. For example, agricultural policy can undermine rural development by flooding emerging markets with cheap subsidised products; and trade can undermine access to medicine in places where they are most needed, because treaty clauses on intellectual property rights favour drug developers over users, keeping prices high. Against these trends, PCD is a principle for coherence whereby all policies should not only achieve their own purposes but also fulfil the criterion of not undermining the interests of developing countries. In practical terms, it takes three shapes:
      1. Policy Statements are issued by a country, embracing the PCD principle;
      2. Institutional and administrative mechanisms pursuing PCD are put in place;
      3. A knowledge and assessment capacity is developed, to understand the impacts of different policies and monitor the effect of the measures adopted.
      In terms of policy agenda, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has been at the forefront of PCD. In terms of implementation, the European Union championed it since its 2005 policy statement, the European Consensus on Development - which built on a commitment to coherence embedded in its treaties since 1992. Various OECD countries have progressively introduced innovations to promote PCD. Institutional mechanisms usually consist of:
      • Coordination between ministries or agencies, with joint committees, joint planning and action.
      • Safeguards for the interests of developing countries through the appointment of an institutional “watchdog”, usually the ministry for development, which receives a mandate to scrutinise other policies and ministries.
      Depending on the administrative culture of the country, “coordination” and/or “watchdog” mechanisms have found their place. Along with policy statements and evaluations, institutional mechanisms for PCD have been gathering strength for two decades. As such, PCD’s fair track record in promoting the interests of developing countries so far may yet be only a beginning. Provided PCD is not discarded with the adoption of PCSD.

      Enter PCSD, but what of PCD?

      With the United Nations’ adoption of the 2030 Agenda, all countries now have a responsibility to progress collectively towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). SDGs call for the progress of all countries on most aspects of societal, environmental and economic development both at home and abroad, now and for future generations. Because their scope is so broad, the SDGs require all policies to be coordinated in order to address trade-offs (a policy undermining another one) and to build on synergies. Responding to this necessity, SDG 17 (on means of implementation) calls directly for promoting PCSD. According to the OECD, PCSD is:
      “an approach and policy tool to integrate the economic, social, environmental, and governance dimensions of sustainable development at all stages of domestic and international policy making.”
      As a principle, PCSD suggests giving attention to the coherence of all policies in terms of their impact on climate change, resources sustainability, gender equality, security, favourable business environment, and many more aspects. The current interest of developing countries is an important part of PCSD but it is just a part of it. PCSD is an overarching principle of coherence for all policies, covering all aspects of sustainable development, under which one narrower principle called PCD responds to a specific range of concerns and offers a set of solutions. Within the SDG paradigm, there is no reason to choose between protecting the environment and the poor, as these concerns go hand in hand. Whether trade-offs remain in practice is a topic for a different discussion, but in an ideal scenario, PCD could be integrated into PCSD. In the longer term, they could be merged, as proposed by this paper or this one. But in the short-to-midterm, the discrepancy between PCD and PCSD is striking: while PCD generated mechanisms, routines and some significant realisations (despite its reported weakness in terms of measurement methodologies), PCSD is still in an embryonic state. At the moment, PCSD is hardly embraced politically by any country at all, and its means of implementation are still unclear. Pragmatism directs towards holding on to whatever advances were made in terms of coherence, rather than throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Until PCSD can offer guarantees similar to those of PCD, it is a bad idea to call off PCD. As such, it is great news that the New European Consensus on Development, released on 22 November, insists on “a commitment to policy coherence for development, as an important contribution to the collective effort towards achieving broader policy coherence for sustainable development."

      A lesson from PCD on how to implement the Sustainable Development Goals

      Every cause needs its champions. Despite the theoretically collective responsibility for all SDGs introduced by the 2030 Agenda, it takes committed coordination of the willing, as well as focused watchdogs, to ensure that a single cause will be respected in seemingly unrelated policies. This applies to the interests of developing countries, but concerns for biodiversity, human rights, climate change, gender equality and global health among others, also deserve strong advocates and watchdogs with a specific expertise and mandate. Mainstreaming these concerns, hence making their respect a standard in all policies, is a crucial part of implementing the 2030 Agenda. It is also an aspect that should fall under an overarching principle of PCSD. By pooling, deepening and spreading best practices developed in PCD and in other policy-mainstreaming initiatives, PCSD can play a great role in advancing the SDGs. But before that happens, PCD still has a role to play. The views expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily those of ECDPM.
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