Who Wants What from the Post-2015 Agenda?

Despite a widely shared appetite for an ambitious set of goals, the political context for the post-2015 agenda remains challenging and sometimes paradoxical.

Within New York, discussions have become increasingly characterized by mistrust between OECD countries on one hand and the G77 group of developing countries on the other. The issue of common but differentiated responsibilities – long a key concept in multilateral environmental agreements, but relatively new in the context of international development – has emerged as a particularly important area of division. As a result, many participants in post-2015 discussions express concern privately that the agenda could become bogged down in stalemate or acrimony.

However, the picture is more complex than a straightforward North-South divide. There are also substantial differences of view within the G77 – notably between emerging economies on one hand and the Africa group on the other. Views expressed by member state missions in New York often differ from those in national capitals, meanwhile.

Overall, the post-2015 agenda remains highly fluid. While the risks of failure are real, the opportunities that a successful post-2015 agenda could unlock are enormous – if the soaring rhetoric of aspirational goals is matched by a determined push on delivery.

So what do different groups of countries want from the post-2015 agenda?

• Most high-income countries are in an introspective mood as they confront weak growth, high unemployment, and tough fiscal pressures. Aid spending has already started to decline in the wake of the global financial crisis and Great Recession – from 0.32% of rich countries’ gross national income in 2010, to 0.29% in 2012.

That said, many influential OECD governments do want a meaningful outcome on post-2015, and are looking for ways of securing one. The US, UK, and Germany are looking hard at how to increase the private sector’s contribution, for example; France and the Nordic countries at how to improve integration of development and sustainability; and the G8 has recently made significant moves forward on tax transparency and illicit flows.

• Many least-developed countries (LDCs) are frustrated about declines in aid, especially as they have been disproportionately steep for the poorest countries. Many also fear that a move towards universal sustainable development goals risks diluting the MDGs’ poverty focus.

But it would be a mistake to oversimplify LDCs’ interests. Many of them are more interested in areas like trade, investment, or remittances than they are in aid. There is strong appetite for new ways of achieving inclusive economic transformation. And despite wariness about ‘planetary boundaries’, LDCs have emerged as some of the strongest voices calling for higher ambition on climate change.

Middle-income countries (MICs), finally – a group that includes not just the BRICS emerging economies, but also regional players like Colombia, Indonesia, Turkey, Mexico, Nigeria, and Pakistan – are the constituency whose position remains least clear for now, as described by my colleague Alejandra Kubitschek Bujones.

While various principles and interests feature regularly in their positions – common but differentiated responsibilities, emphasis on national sovereignty, technology transfer, calls for rich countries to adopt more sustainable consumption and production patterns – these do not always translate into concrete ‘asks.’

This in turn often leads observers to wonder whether MICs feel that they have much at stake in the post- 2015 agenda, and whether their capitals are seriously engaged. Yet the fact that three quarters of the world’s people now live in middle income countries underscores why an agenda that aspires to be ‘universal’ will be anything but that unless middle income countries engage on it meaningfully.

For more details on what LDCs, MICs, and high-income countries want and what they are willing to commit in the post-2015 negotiations, see section 1 of my report, Delivering the Post-2015 Development Agenda: Options for a New Global Partnership.

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Jan 21, 2014
Alex Evans
Global Development