Without adequate means, development goals will be empty rhetoric

In a week, Governments at the United Nations begin their preparatory meetings for the International Conference on Financing for Development(FfD) in Addis Ababa in July 2015. That conference is widely viewed as the last opportunity to agree to a package of proposals on financial, trade and global governance measures before the summit meeting in New York in September 2015 to ring down the curtain on the Millennium Development Goals and raise the curtain on new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). If there is nothing underlying pretty words in the outcome document of Addis, there will be no time to come to meaningful "means of implementation" for the SDGs two months later. That will condemn the global effort to devise SDGs over the past few years to empty rhetoric. Governments at the UN thus recognize that the Addis meeting must be a "success", but does anyone see the Governments of North and South coalescing around any interesting proposals? Well, they have about 3-5 months to find those proposals. Perhaps we can help move the discussion in a fruitful direction.

First, some background. The UN General Assembly created an Open Working Group which has produced a set of "sustainable development goals". They are being cheered by people in various corners of civil society, business, government and international institutions, if with restraint. Although the goals were agreed in a committee of the whole of the Assembly, there is some talk around the UN of reopening the 17 goals, 169 targets for attaining the goals (and probably some 600 indicators to measure progress toward the targets). Everyone would have preferred stronger language on one goal or another, and some would have preferred a shorter list that would be easier to communicate to the public at large. My guess is the goals will not be changed. However imperfect, there is apparently a set of goals that policymakers can get behind. However, the question is how far behind?

There is one exception. I do not believe anyone takes goal 17 ("means of implementation") seriously. Some of it's targets are simply not achievable, in particular, target 17.11 for doubling the share that least developed countries have in world trade by 2020 (it requires that their exports grow about 15 percentage points faster per year than world trade, which is way beyond the experience of such countries). Goal 17 is a mixed bag of longstanding unfulfilled international cooperation commitments which will remain unfulfilled (17.2: "implement fully their ODA commitments, including to provide 0.7% of GNI in ODA") and there are some generic promises (17.3: "mobilize additional financial resources for developing countries from multiple sources"). It is a wish list rather than a coherent package of action commitments.

However, the General Assembly also created the Intergovernmental Committee of Experts on Sustainable Development Financing (ICESDF) to work in parallel with the Open Working Group. The ICESDF has also finished its work and made its findings public (see here). A lot of sound advice is given to governments on how to mobilize and direct domestic public and private resources into sustainable investment. The difficulty lies in the ensuing consideration of international public and private financing. Many problems are identified and some vague solutions offered but there is not a single specific proposal for how to go about solving the problems. It does not seem there was consensus on any concrete proposal among the governmental experts that held the 30 seats in the committee.

This is where the General Assembly's preparations for the Addis FfD conference comes into play. It provides the opportunity to the international community to agree to a concrete set of collective actions. As the Addis meeting is less than a year away, most of the actions will need to be in the form of commitments to develop concrete policies in specified forums. Thus, for example, whereas the ICESDF concluded its discussion of international cooperation on taxes by saying "a participatory and broad based dialogue on international cooperation in tax matters should be strengthened", one wants to know where, when should it start, who should come? The international community needs to crack that nut by the time of the FfD conference and officially endorse it there.

Eva Hanfstaengl and I have drafted a set of 10 policy areas that cry out for some joint global action that we have posted on the website of Social Justice in Global Development (see here). We want to propose, first of all, that our friends consider contributing their thoughts on how some more concrete initiatives might be formulated and proposed for an FfD action agenda with actions. I have drafted a first paper on ODA. We welcome comments on that and contributions on the other items as well, not to mention proposals for additional items or reasons to remove items from the list.

The next few months will be crucial if the UN is to play any substantive role in the broad set of policies on development whose scope and content was originally agreed in the Monterrey Consensus in 2002. Perhaps we can provide some useful inputs.

By Barry Herman.