It will not be news to you that this year is a vital year for global development. At a high-level summit in New York in September, all governments are due to agree a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). These global goals should set out the plan to drive human and economic development and our approach to environmental sustainability for years to come.
But it may be news to some that one of the most important summits for development this year has already happened: The United Nation’s Third Financing for Development Summit in Addis Ababa a few weeks ago, was an attempt to get to grips with the make-or-break question in any such plan: how will we pay for the development we need?
But Addis was about more than just financing the SDGs. It was a chance for governments of the world to re-balance the global development financing system so it can end extreme poverty and tackle inequality.
On these terms, Addis was not a success: there was no re-commitment on developed countries’ decades-old promises on aid (with the exception of the European Union’s commitment to deliver this by 2030, 15 years after its agreed delivery date), and no recognition that building resilience against climate change will demand extra resources over and above aid budgets. There was a welcome focus on the need for developing countries to raise their own resources to tackle poverty, but not enough was done to re-balance global financing rules – particularly taxation rules – to help this happen. And without the will to raise significantly more public finance, governments increasingly looked to the private sector to fill the gap.
Redrawing the map
We can wring our hands at this, or we can chart a way forward and make sure that 2015 truly is the turning point on development we all want it to be. Here are some thoughts:
The tax issue will not go away. The negotiations at Addis went down to the wire, centring on the call from G77 governments for an intergovernmental body on tax under the UN. But it would be a mistake to see this as a fight about UN architecture. This is about the multinational companies that are exploiting loopholes in the global tax system to cheat developing counties out of billions of dollars every year, severely undermining their ability to meet aims to finance their own development. It is about the way developing countries are not given enough of a say in current G20/OECD reform processes, and because current reforms are too narrow in focus to tackle the fundamental flaws in the system.
These demands must be heard – and while specific details of design can be debated, we must continue to push for a global initiative to reform the governance of international tax cooperation. UN sponsorship and leadership is necessary to help ensure representational legitimacy, but such an initiative should involve all international organizations whose mandates cover tax matters, including the IMF, the World Bank, UNCTAD, the OECD and regional tax bodies such the Africa Tax Administration Forum (ATAF) and the Inter-American Center for Tax Administrations (CIAT).
Putting poverty centre stage
All actors in development must also work together to ensure private finance benefits the poor. Private finance is needed to meet the sustainable development challenge – especially for large-scale infrastructure projects such as roads, railways, power and telecommunications, and the jobs such sectors create. The willingness of companies to engage in the SDG process and priorities is welcome, as is the determination of governments to make such finance work for the less advantaged. But so far, there are inadequate checks and balances in place to ensure public-private partnerships work in the public interest, safeguard people’s rights, or best serve local communities.
This is not just a problem for poor people or their governments. Investors and businesses need help in understanding how to measure social return, when that is their goal. We need to urgently address this. Governments, investors, businesses, civil-society organizations and public representatives need to work together to ensure that privately financed programmes guarantee sustainable and equitable development as well as poverty reduction.
At the next two summits, we need to see real action on climate change and inequality. Addis demonstrated a disappointing approach to multilateral decision-making from rich country governments, unwilling to harm their short-term commercial or national interests. But multilateralism can work, and this year it must work.
Making the goals global
In New York in September, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development will be adopted, including the historic goal of eliminating hunger and extreme poverty for good. And while September will give us an important framework, real effort and attention must go into designing the indicators for these goals and ensuring that they are adopted and delivered at home by governments from the South and North.
Finally, if we want these goals to have any chance of delivering the “zero hunger” world that they promise to, we need a strong climate deal to be agreed at COP21 in Paris in December. That won’t be the end of the fight against climate change, but a strong deal could be the end of the beginning. It must help drive emissions down fairly but rapidly, and ultimately end them altogether. And if it is to be a deal that works for those on the frontlines of climate change, it must also drive substantial new sums of money.
Of course, outside of the hotel lobbies and conference centres the reality is that there is a growing movement of active citizens, organizations and companies that want a brighter future, fundamentally different from the past. For Oxfam, a worldwide development organization that mobilizes the power of people against the injustice of poverty, the future will not only depend on pledges at the leadership level but on the concrete actions of all those people outside the UN meetings.
Author: Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director, Oxfam International
Image: Children eat food at an “anganwadi” (creche) centre under the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) scheme in Gandhi village, about 45 km (28 miles) west of the northeastern Indian city of Agartala, April 9, 2009. REUTERS/Jayanta Dey