We’re currently in the middle of an exciting fortnight at the UN. It admittedly might not look very exciting from the outside. But in the depths of the UN buildings in New York, governments are negotiating the contours of not one, but two critical global agreements that could yield significant benefits for the world’s poorest children.
The first of these is the post-2015 global development agenda – the new set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that offer the best chance we’ve had in a long time to spur the action that’s needed to end extreme poverty and inequality. This landmark development agenda is due to be adopted by world leaders in September. The second is the set of commitments that will be made at the Third International Conference on Financing for Development (FFD3) in Addis Ababa in July.
This latter conference has received less global attention than the post-2015 process, but in practice is just as important. It is here that financing commitments will be made on a diverse range of issues, from tax and social sector spending to aid, debt and trade – commitments that will be fundamental for achieving the ambitious development goals that are being proposed for the post-2015 agenda.
To date, the FFD and post-2015 negotiation processes have been proceeding in parallel to each other, loosely connected through agreement from their respective co-facilitators to foster coordination. But this month is different. This week a joint meeting is being held between the delegates participating in the two tracks, following last week’s FFD negotiation session.
This is important; there’s an urgent need for close alignment between the two processes. This is not only because of the need for strong financing commitments to achieve ambitious development goals, and because of the interconnectedness of the politics at play. But also because of the overlap in content between the post-2015 and FFD agreements that are being negotiated. This overlap offers significant potential to ensure that global financing commitments meet the ‘Triple A’ challenge that Save the Children has set: a challenge to maximise ambition, action and accountability.
The proposed post-2015 framework contains a series of targets that cover financing for development issues, some, but not all, of which are referred to as ‘Means of Implementation’ (MoI) targets. These cover many of the same, critical issues as the FFD agenda. But it’s difficult to see how the targets as currently framed in the post-2015 proposals will drive forward the action that is needed for transformative change.
While many of the post-2015 MoI targets are ambitious, they fall short on their capacity to drive action and accountability. Most are not quantified, and lack specific details about the changes that need to happen and who needs to take action. As such, they replicate the weaknesses of Millennium Development Goal 8 – the goal to forge a global partnership for development that is notorious for having seen the least progress due to its lack of specific and measurable targets.
In contrast, the Zero Draft of the FFD outcome document currently under negotiation contains a number of promising targets that are specific, measurable and time bound. For example, while proposed post-2105 target 16.4 aims to ‘significantly reduce illicit financial flows’, the Zero Draft FFD document specifies steps that will be needed to achieve this, including the important recommendation to upgrade the UN Committee of Experts on Tax Matters into an intergovernmental committee in which developing countries have an equal voice. Other examples include:
- Domestic taxation: the post-2015 agenda calls for countries to ‘strengthen domestic resource mobilisation’. The FFD Zero Draft proposes a specific target for countries to meet a 20% revenue:GDP ratio through improving taxation.
- Aid: the post-2015 agenda calls for countries to implement aid commitments. The FFD Zero Draft goes further in calling for timescales to be set for meeting these commitments.
- Private sector: the post-2015 agenda encourages companies to adopt and report on sustainable practices. The FFD Zero Draft is more ambitious and specific, proposing a time bound targets for countries to establish mandatory environmental, social and governance reporting.
In short, the FFD process offers significant scope for ensuring that global financing commitments that are so urgently needed to drive forward progress are robust and implementable. This, coupled with aligned or integrated accountability processes, will also help to prevent the fragmentation of the international agenda, and associated dangers of forum shopping in pursuit of lowest common denominator targets.
This is not to say that the post-2015 and FFD agendas can or should be boiled down into one and the same process; the post-2015 agenda contains non-financial MoI that aren’t covered by FFD, and the FFD agenda is broader in scope and more nuanced in detail that the proposed post-2015 framework on financing issues. But explicit, formal links are urgently needed between the two processes.
This alignment must not be limited to a one-off joint meeting next week – or as co-facilitator Ambassador Kamau put it last month, to two trains coming into the same station, and then proceeding along separate tracks. The post-2015 and FFD trains need to be hitched together, run to a shared timetable and oriented towards a common destination: a world in which ambitious sustainable development goals have been matched by the financial resources and shifts in global governance that are needed to meet them. And, as a result, a world in which the world’s most disadvantaged children have been freed from extreme poverty, and have equal opportunities to thrive and reach their full potential in life.