Navigating the Rapids of Post-2015 Politics

This is the final in a series of adapted from What Happens Now? Time to deliver the post-2015 development agenda by Alex Evans and David Steven. The report serves as a guide for all those interested in the post-2015 debate. Previous posts recapped the history of the post-2015 process, discussed key events coming up in 2015, and proposed guiding principles and a tactical playbook for delivering the post-2015 agenda. For more detailed information and complete citations, please see the full report here.

As attempts to agree an ambitious, coherent, and compelling post-2015 agenda enter their final stages, what kind of political strategy should governments, multilateral leaders, civil society groups, and other stakeholders be employing?

At present, there is a leadership deficit. It is hard to identify a single national leader showing serious personal commitment to securing a breakthrough on the post-2015 agenda – a dynamic that needs to be challenged and reversed, and quickly, as the world enters the critical decision-making period.

OECD countries are not yet feeling real political pressure to deliver – either in terms of a financing deal at Addis, or on implementation more generally. With most only paying lip service to the 0.7% aid target, they badly need to bring something new to the table if they are to convince others that they take the new development agenda seriously.

That means creating political incentives for leaders and finance ministers to get involved – the only ones with authority to cut through the instinctive caution of negotiators. IMF managing director Christine Lagarde’s announcement that she will attend the Addis summit is a good start. The World Bank/IMF spring meetings, the G7 finance ministers meeting (Dresden, 27-29 May 2015), and the 2015 Global Forum on Development (Paris, 1 April 2015) all provide opportunities for richer countries to put their money (or a renewed commitment to systemic reform) where their mouth is.

Stronger pressure from civil society is vital to pushing OECD countries to go further, given that global NGOs primarily influence developed countries. In July and September, action/2015 may be able to push one or two contentious issues over the line, but most (and possibly all) major decisions will already have been made by then. A distinctive set of ‘asks’ for OECD countries is badly needed now – with the right balance struck between ambition and political feasibility.

What emerging economies want from, and can contribute to, the post-2015 agenda remains unclear. The world’s major middle-income powers will play a pivotal role in determining the success of a new global development agenda. Brazil feels a strong sense of ownership of the Rio 2012 summit, and has been a strong advocate for its outcome document to be used as the basis for the new goals and targets. China is one of the world’s most important sources of development finance and has enormous influence over the G77. India, Indonesia, South Africa, and Turkey – all G20 members – are becoming increasingly important development actors.

Collectively, the emerging powers also exert growing influence over the UN development system, as they position a growing number of their nationals in leadership roles, increase funding support, and initiate and lead new types of partnership. However, they remain frustrated by their inability to achieve their reform objectives. Modest changes to IMF governance have foundered in the US Congress. Proposals for a sovereign debt restructuring mechanism are also being resisted by the United States and other developed countries.

Then there are the related questions of what the principle of universality means for non-Western major powers and what role they will play in the global partnership that is supposed to deliver the post-2015 agenda. Many of the proposed targets will prove extremely stretching for countries that have become accustomed to attention being paid primarily to their development successes, rather than their shortcomings. It is far from clear what commitment they have to domestic implementation.

Internationally, there are also important unanswered questions. To what extent will the emerging powers contribute to multilateral, rather than bilateral, development assistance? Will they invest in existing global institutions, or continue to create alternatives such as the BRICS bank or the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank? And will they emerge as ‘laboratories of sustainable development’, exporting models, technologies and new approaches that can underpin the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals?

There is a possibility – probably a slim one – that 2015 could see emerging economies play a greater leadership role in return for substantial progress in their quest for seats at the top table of global governance, for instance by committing to spend some nominal level of aid and report on it transparently. But there is also a risk that 2015 could be seen as the year in which some or all of these countries begin to head for the exit of the multilateral development system.

Third, least developed countries and fragile states remain a crucial constituency in the post-2015 agenda.

The priorities of LDCs have become significantly clearer in recent months, focusing on a higher share of global ODA flows, progress beyond the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries initiative on debt sustainability, greater investment in technology facilitation, and more focus on the obstacles to the poorest countries benefiting from the global trade system.

However, the LDCs may lack the political traction to secure significant wins in these areas, despite the moral imperative to do more to support the needs of the poorest countries (and the resonance that this will have in campaigning narratives over the coming months). In particular, it remains to be seen whether the LDCs can make the G77 work for them, or whether their interests will continue to be subsumed by the same old fights between the West and the rest, and by opposition from richer G77 members who resist any diversion of aid despite their increasing access to alternative sources of development finance.

The challenges facing fragile and conflict-affected states – some of which are also LDCs, others of which are more prosperous – are even greater. These countries face the most severe challenges in delivering the SDGs, with many stalled on MDG indicators (or seeing reverses). As the President of Liberia has argued, “The capacity of fragile states is weak, resources are scarce, and the imperatives of urgency are more intense because whatever you do is to ensure that you begin to consolidate those gains and begin to deliver to people in a much more timely fashion to manage expectations to prevent any chance of slipping back into conflict.” The Ebola epidemic has exposed how vulnerable these countries are (and, also, the risk that this creates for the rest of the international system).

But fragile states are far from being a coherent lobby within the UN (with even the term itself a perennially controversial one). The g7+ – an association of 20 conflict-affected countries – has set out a vision for the development architecture that it feels will help build peaceful states and societies, but has faced considerable resistance from the rest of the G77, partly because of suspicion at the role played by the OECD in convening this group. Conflict- affected countries achieved a notable success in ensuring that peace and stability was a pillar in the African common position on post-2015, but it remains to be seen whether the world’s most vulnerable countries will be able to mobilize to place themselves at the forefront of the closing stages of the post-2015 debate.

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May 11, 2015
Ashley Skiles