An Early Harvest on the Wider Sustainable Development Agenda

Early progress on finance for development (see separate post on finance here) is by no means the only area where an ‘early harvest’ on the post-2015 agenda will need to make progress. Five more areas of particular importance where progress could be made over the next 2-3 years are as follows.

1. The role of the private sector in sustainable development. The debate about the role of the private sector in post-2015 needs to move from generalities to concrete actions – many of which will be specific to particular sectors or geographies. A good starting point would be for the UN’s new Partnerships Facility to undertake a gap analysis of where new partnerships would be useful, once it is up and running, with a presumption of a partnership on each area in which a post-2015 goal is agreed.

Governments, meanwhile, should introduce mandatory corporate reporting on non-financial performance for companies above a certain size. The private sector itself, finally, needs to set out its own ‘offer’ on post-2015, including giving one organization the lead voice on the agenda.

2. Finding development wins in the trade agenda. Notwithstanding endless disappointments on the Doha round, the MDG era has actually seen big reductions in tariff barriers to most developing country exports. For the post-2015 agenda, the most important work will instead center on non-tariff barriers (such as sanitary and phytosanitary standards, or rules of origin), and updating special and differential treatment for least developed countries. Full duty-free and quota- free access for least developed country exports should be another early priority.

While the WTO’s 2013 Bali Ministerial managed to achieve a modest agreement, its outcome offered relatively little on development, with no major breakthrough on duty-free, quota-free access for LDCs, or on fairer treatment of West African cotton exports.

3. Sustainability – and above all climate change. The green growth agenda has developed rapidly and is making strong inroads in a range of countries from high to low income (even if progress still remains frustratingly slow on areas like subsidy reform). An early win that would build on recent progress would be for the UN to launch a new Clean Technology Facility – a key idea to emerge from Rio+20.

In the climate context, a crucial early win would be the launch of a high ambition ‘coalition of the willing’ of both developed and developing countries, based on equitable shares to a safe global carbon budget – while leaving the door open for more countries to join, as they too recognised the seriousness of the issue. This would at once start to embed the right principles for a global deal to solve climate change, create a major new source of finance for development for most developing countries, and reduce compliance costs significantly for high emitters (without sacrificing environmental integrity).

4. Technology and data. The World Bank has started to develop Inclusive Innovation Funds in key countries as ways of supporting innovators in developing ideas to the point at which they can raise private finance; one early harvest option would be to roll this idea out more systematically to other countries. On a similar note, governments and companies could work together to create new centers or networks for technology diffusion to ensure that innovations such as more resource-efficient agriculture practices are disseminated more widely and faster.

On data, the most pressing need is for higher quality data at global level, given the extent to which current policymaking is ‘flying blind’. Key questions include: the world’s business as usual trajectory on poverty and how to ‘bend the curve’; what resources, partnerships, and strategies are needed to drive the change; where the key risks to poverty reduction lie; what national emissions reduction pledges add up to globally; and where key environmental risk thresholds lie, as well as how close the world is to them.

The new Global Sustainable Development Outlook mandated at Rio+20 should set out to answer all of these questions. In the process, it can accelerate integration of development and sustainability by measuring them alongside each other; drive improved inter-agency coherence, by forcing agencies to work together on the report; and create new accountability on governments and companies by comparing promises with performance.

5. Global governance reform. Finally, there is reform of international institutions – an area of crucial importance to many middle-income countries as they seek stronger representation at the ‘top table’ of global governance. The most immediate priority for an early harvest is to move forward with stalled reforms of IMF quota shares and directorships to give a bigger share to developing countries, which are currently being held up by the US Congress despite having been agreed internationally in 2010.

At the same time, the global governance reform agenda also needs to look at national governments too. High- and middle-income countries need to look at their development impact in the round, across government, rather than just focusing on one or two variables, like aid spending or trade policy. The Center for Global Development’s Commitment to Development Index (CDI) is one influential example of how this can be measured. This approach could be built on and systematized as part of the post-2015 agenda – for example through peer review, or incorporating a version of the CDI into the new Global Sustainable Development Outlook.

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Jan 27, 2014
Alex Evans