Global Collective Action post-2015: Insights from the European Report on Development 2013

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    With the 2015 deadline of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) just around the corner, the international community has a unique opportunity to review the global development agenda and adapt it to changing circumstances

    While the MDGs have on balance been a very positive experiment in global action with some good progress on poverty to report and the Millennium Declaration’s vision of inclusive and sustainable development remains as valid today as it was a dozen years ago, the Goals have not been entirely successful and there remain major global challenges which impact negatively on poverty. So what precisely should we learn from this experience and how should the agenda going forward be improved? This is the question addressed by the European Development Report 2013 (ERD 2013) published this month.

    The ERD 2013 comes to four main conclusions. First, the new agenda should be transformative if the international community is indeed committed to eradicating poverty rather than just reducing its incidence. In other words the new agenda should seek to promote economic and social structural change and not just increase social support even though this remains valuable. Second, the new agenda needs to clearly put national ownership of development processes at the forefront and ensure the international framework comes in support of this national effort. Third, there is an urgent need to scale up global collective action and extend it to other fields than just development cooperation so as to create an international environment that is conducive to development. This means not just more and better official development assistance (ODA), but also international regimes in other areas such as trade, investment, migration that are also supportive to development. Finally, it is important not just to think about setting new goals, but also about the instruments used to achieve them. Thus the content of MDG8, on the ‘global partnership for development’, should not just be seen as a last minute add-on, but rather as central to the new framework and therefore requiring the same attention and monitoring as some of the more concrete poverty goals.

    The ERD 2013 draws on wide-ranging research and consultations as well as four country studies conducted by national research institutes in Nepal, Rwanda, Côte d’Ivoire and Peru, to explore how global collective action can best support the efforts of developing countries to achieve development.

    Experience with the MDGs varies considerably from country to country. While they have been one of the most successful ventures ever to encourage global collective action around a limited number of goals, they have also been criticized for omitting various issues important for development. Translation into the national context has often been difficult so uptake has been mixed. The MDGs were prominent mostly in countries dependent on ODA, but for middle-income countries (MICs) such as Peru they were not particularly relevant as a source of inspiration or reference. While richer international partner countries, such as the EU, have supported the MDGs and integrated them into their development cooperation, reaching the agreed ODA target and other global partnership goals has been more difficult. Failures to reach international agreement in trade or climate change or on a transparent international financial system have also contributed to this disappointing outcome. 

    The world has changed 

    Despite the progress made with the MDGs, there is thus still much to be done. The scale, urgency and international nature of many of the development challenges facing the international community mean there is a strong rationale to establish a new development framework to motivate continued concerted effort and collective action. Devising a post-2015 framework will need to build on the MDG experience, take into account the changing context and projected trends into the future. 

    Demographic trends point to a still expanding world population, with varying age distributions in different regions, growing urbanization and rising consumption putting increasing pressure on environmental, social and economic systems. Together with the long-term impact of the on-going global financial and economic crisis, these suggest a bleak prospect for global development in the absence of effective global collective action. At the same time, research has given us a better understanding of the multi-faceted and dynamic nature of poverty and exclusion that a new framework needs to address. 

    The international setting has also changed with the rise of Brazil, China and India and other countries as global actors and a rapidly evolving global political and economic context. New forms of cooperation between emerging economies and poorer countries have arisen, offering developing countries other opportunities for development support. More actors will mean more complex negotiations for a new framework, but also more potential contributors to solutions, and make a transparent and participative negotiation process all the more crucial. The success of the new framework will depend on the degree to which it is ‘owned’ by its many stakeholders. 

    To achieve a vision of inclusive and sustainable development, there is thus an urgent need to move ‘beyond the MDGs’ and encompass a more comprehensive set of objectives. Equally, while traditional aid is still important, the ERD argues that collective action should go ‘beyond aid’ and use a broader range of finance and policy tools. 

    The ‘What’ of the framework - Going beyond the MDGs

    Our improved understanding of the multi-dimensional and dynamic nature of poverty suggests both absolute and relative poverty should be addressed, from an income and a non-income perspective. Multiple and differentiated poverty measures, which also capture social inclusion and inequality, should be used. While the eradication of poverty is still the core concern, a broader goal of inclusive and sustainable development requires a new development agenda that is transformational. This entails a stronger emphasis on the promotion of structural economic transformation, in particular the creation of productive employment, the respect of environmental planetary boundaries as well as social transformation emphasising inclusiveness. Only then can poverty be eradicated sustainably and in turn feed into a sustainable path of development. Simultaneously a new agenda needs to put greater emphasis on processes and transition paths that are to a large extent determined by political economy factors. 

    How to achieve the goals? - Improving aid but going further

    To achieve a wider set of goals and a transformative agenda in line with the vision of the Millennium Declaration, a post-2015 framework needs to incorporate three important features.

    First, it needs to motivate greater international collective action through global public policies. This is essential to establish an international environment that is conducive for development. There are various global issues that affect the ability of individual countries to pursue development outcomes in areas such as international finance, trade and investment or migration and should be tackled in the new framework.

    Second, the resources and tools to achieve post-2015 goals will need to be expanded beyond aid (1). ODA is still important and should be increased, made more effective and allocated in a way that maximizes impact and leverages other inputs. Yet a range of other development finance sources will also be required. Domestic financial resources are particularly important as they provide the greatest policy space for countries to pursue their development goals. International action on illicit financial flows can help countries improve their fiscal revenue raising. Private domestic investment, foreign direct investment (FDI) as well as new forms of South-South cooperation should be encouraged and their transparency increased to improve coordination. However, other policy areas also have significant effects on development outcomes and need to be designed in a manner to support inclusive and sustainable development. The ERD has thus also looked at the roles of trade and investment and labour migration (2).

    Third, and most crucially, developing countries need space to develop their own policies and choose their own development trajectories. Global collective action should be geared towards establishing a new framework, which is sufficiently flexible to cater for diverse national circumstances and accommodate a diversity of development trajectories. 

    What role for the EU? 

    The EU has promoted the MDGs through its policy development, by increasing and improving the effectiveness of its development assistance and through its willingness to cooperate with international partners. It is important the EU member states and institutions continue to build on this record and support a new global development framework. 

    More concretely, there are four key roles for the EU to play in a post-2015 context. First, increased financial resources are needed to tackle the various challenges. Despite current difficulties to achieve their commitment to the 0.7% ODA/GNI target, EU donors should continue to increase ODA levels. The EU also needs to further improve the effectiveness of its aid so to maximize impact. 

    Second, for a transformational post-2015 agenda to materialize, promoting Policy Coherence for Development (PCD) is crucial. Other policies such as security, trade and migration should not thwart development prospects but rather reinforce positive inclusive and sustainable development outcomes. Progress on PCD may not be easy, but these efforts are increasingly important in the post-2015 context and it is here where the EU’s potentially most valuable contribution to a new global framework lies. 

    Third, the EU has considerable weight in international negotiations on global public policies. Notwithstanding the increasing complexity of global relations and the absence of easy solutions, the EU is still in a relatively strong position to set an example and persuade others to undertake development-friendly reviews of current and potential international regimes. 

    Much of the success of a new global framework will depend on whether a post-2015 framework will be able to strike several difficult balances. Learning from the experience of the MDGs, it is important to avoid producing a long list of good intentions, but rather restrict the number of goals and indicators to focus efforts. At the same time, to achieve the overall objective of inclusive and sustainable development, a number of complementary agendas, such as climate change or international trade, often discussed in isolation need to come together and reinforce each other. The danger of overload is real. A post-2015 agreement may thus be best conceived of as a framework that brings together a series of interlocking and mutually dependent and supportive agendas. 

    James Mackie is Team Leader for the ERD 2013. He works at ECDPM as Senior Adviser EU Development Policy.

    1. See the article in this issue by Florence Dafe, Renate Hartwig and Heiner Janus. 
    2. See the articles in this issue by Jodie Keane and Yurendra Basnett and by Anna Knoll, respectively.

    This article was published in Great Insights Volume 2, Issue 3 (April 2013)

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