Emerging economies’ dangerous game on the post-2015 development agenda

The internal dynamics of the G77 group of developing countries are shifting rapidly on both climate change and the post-2015 international development agenda, as the interests of least developed countries increasingly diverge from those of emerging economies – with pretty far-reaching implications.

Least developed countries (LDCs) are continuing to prioritise adaptation financing in the climate context, but they’re increasingly also focused on the need for higher levels of ambition on the mitigation side of the equation – not just from developed countries, but also from emerging economies, given the proportion of global emissions that they now account for. This has already contributed to a sharp decline in G77 cohesion in the UNFCCC process.

In the development context, meanwhile, different LDCs have different priorities. Most of them continue to regard ODA levels as their key priority – ideally increasing them towards 0.7, and at a minimum stemming the real terms decline seen over the last couple of years. But this is not true of all countries: for governments such as Bangladesh, Zambia, and Malawi, ODA is arguably less important than a successful conclusion to the Doha trade round, together with opportunities in investment, migration, and remittances.  Still, across both development and climate, it is clear that equity remains a key lens through which LDCs view the world.

The key emerging economies, meanwhile – China, Brazil, India, and South Africa – are among the principal demandeurs for a pledge-and-review based approach in the climate context, hence the tensions with LDCs, as well as small island states, over levels of ambition. (Admittedly, some emerging economies – and especially China – are pursuing much more ambitious strategies at national level than their scepticism of global monitoring, reporting, and verification might suggest; but the fact remains that their and others’ voluntary pledges under the Copenhagen Accord imply long term warming of 3.6 – 5.3 degrees Celsius, rather than the globally agreed target of 2 degrees.)

But while it is clear that emerging economies regard global climate policy as a matter of fundamental national interest, it is by no means obvious that the same applies with the post-2015 development agenda. Emerging economies are less reliant than ever on ODA levels, and while many of them are now becoming aid donors in their own right, they show little interest in multilateral coordination of their efforts with those of OECD donors.

This potential lack of emerging economy interest in the post-2015 agenda creates a significant political risk. With emerging economies’ interests increasingly diverging from those of LDCs in the climate context (as well as on several trade issues), they have every reason to try to direct LDCs’ political and moral suasion towards developed countries, and away from themselves.

This in turn gives them a powerful incentive to play up a ‘North versus South’ narrative in the post-2015 context, and to aim for the idea of common but differentiated responsibilities to be as central a concept in development as it already is in climate – something that is now happening rapidly in post-2015 debates in New York, where the tone of discussions is becoming increasingly polarised.

The risk of such an approach, of course, is that it could lead to the post-2015 agenda becoming seriously bogged down amid a mood of mutual recrimination. But it is not clear that this would come at a significant opportunity cost to emerging economies, given that there appears to be little that they want from the agenda. On the other hand, as noted, it might help to ease LDC pressure on them to shift positions on climate or trade. Cynical? Sure – though no more so than the US’s earnest talk about food security while continuing to keep ethanol mandates in place, or EU farm support policy. And smart, too – at least in terms of narrow self-interest.

Seven Scenarios for the Future of Syria

Syria conflict war scenariosAs the war in Syria drags on, it is becoming ever more vicious. Militias kill hundreds of civilians, ethnic cleansing large swaths of the country in the process. Rebel groups fight among themselves for territory and even assassinate each other’s leaders. Prisoners are regularly tortured. Millions have fled their homes in fear. 100,000 are dead. Extremists now hold the upper hand on both sides. In the latest outrage, the Assad regime has apparently used chemical weapons, gassing hundreds to death.

Where will all this misery lead? What does the future of Syria hold?

As I warned in 2011, Syria is a complex mosaic of different ethnic, religious, and ideological groups, a tinderbox that was destined to explode if the fragile peace that the Assad regime enforced was disturbed. Now that the country has imploded, there is no easy way out. Continue reading

What Antoinette Tuff has to teach politics

Amid all the commentary about Antoinette Tuff’s successful talking down of a potential school gunman in Georgia, Gary Younge in the Guardian makes two of the best observations I’ve seen about it. First, this:

Politicians cannot legislate to ensure the existence of people such as Tuff. And even if they could it would be unreasonable to expect such heroism from anyone. They can, nonetheless, learn a great deal from her. For her generosity of spirit, capacity to humanise the potential shooter and ability to identify with him through her own vulnerabilities do tell us a great deal about what is lacking in our politics.

Our politics, particularly in an age of terror, austerity and growing inequality, is predicated on the basis that people are basically venal, selfish, dishonest and untrustworthy. The poor are assumed not to be looking for work but cheating on welfare; foreigners are assumed to be taking something from a culture rather than contributing something to it; public sector workers, like Tuff, are assumed not to be devoted to public service but a drain on our taxes. The disabled are assumed to be well. When we look at others, the default position in much of western political culture is not to see ourselves in them but to see a threat.

So Tuff’s courage stands as the most dramatic illustration of the degree to which we are, and can be, so much more impressive than our politics suggests.

And second…

…religion. For it was in and through her faith that Tuff drew the strength to deal with the situation. That is what religion does for many people. It grounds them. It’s the means by which they make sense of the world around them, their place in it and their relationship to others. For many it is the bedrock of their community and identity.

I’m not religious: I’m a lapsed agnostic. I used to not know and then just stopped caring. But I’m a liberal secularist. I believe religion has no role in the state and nobody, including the state, has the right to dictate to women what they should wear.

However, it has become fashionable, particularly among those who think themselves progressive in Europe, to disparage not just faith but the faithful (with particular disdain reserved for Islam) … Leaving aside for a moment where ridiculing the religious leaves the contributions of Desmond Tutu, Martin Luther King, Trevor Huddleston, Bruce Kent, Harriet Tubman, Muhammad Ali, Gandhi and Malcolm X: where does it leave Tuff? A sucker or a saviour?

Odd, incidentally, that none of the articles I’ve seen on this have drawn the parallel between Antoinette Tuff and Ingrid Loyau-Kennett, the woman who engaged Woolwich attacker Michael Adebowale.

Labour and Uncle Sam

Should Britain expect more from the Special Relationship with the United States than managed decline? What price should progressives be willing to pay for influence? Latest in our #progressivedilemmas series on conundrums facing the next Labour government. 

What progress looks like

We started out with four feet of skin care; today it’s twenty feet. Today we don’t have deodorants, but someday down the road we will have deodorants in China. Five years ago perfumes were not a big business here. But if you look today it’s the emerging market … there’s a lot fewer bicycles, so that takes away from the exercise side of it, so people are getting larger, so what’s that tell you? Sales of exercise equipment’s getting good, exercise wear, jogging outfits, and at some point, we’ll have Slimfast and all those type of products.

Joe Hatfield, CEO of Walmart Asia, on PBS Newshour, 2005.

The women of rural India are not meek – and we do not help them when we pretend that they are

women farmers in UP

The meeting started off with a comfortable simplicity. In a village in Uttar Pradesh, India, a  group of semi-literate women greeted the visiting development professionals with garlands and tikas and food. A song was sung, the visitors were thanked. Then the subject changed to a complicated scientific assessment of fertilisers and pesticides, and the conversation became one-sided. The development professionals were completely unable to keep up.

Asked to picture in their mind a group of expert agriculturalists, few see women like these, the backbone of farming across India. India’s rural women are imagined as meek souls who accept their allotted role. It is a myth, but a powerful and harmful one.

In our discussions in Uttar Pradesh I was reminded of the determined struggle which women are conducting for equality. “We are not farmers’ wives, we are farmers.” They spoke of how their group had helped them to raise their incomes. “And guess what I got with the extra money?”, one woman asked me. I thought she would say something pious. “These anklets!” she announced proudly. Brilliant. In the development myth of the Indian and global establishment, women’s groups exist primarily to “help families through women”. And it is true that helping women helps everyone. But that narrative boxes in women’s own stories, pride and strength. Women’s empowerment is needed primarily because women should have more power. It is not a tool.

“So what does the group do?” I asked. There were, of course, stories of how improved farming techniques and working together helped them boost earnings. And there the myth of the meek rural Indian woman would have concluded the story, in a depoliticised market where women’s hard work combined with innovation enables women to escape poverty without ever confronting what holds women back. But the story the women told was rooted in power, and rights. Only 6% of women in Uttar Pradesh have their own land. Almost all of those who do are widows or have no brothers. Only 3% of women have joint title to land with their husbands. “We want the land in our name as well as our husbands. The  government charges a huge duty on anyone who transfers land to joint ownership. We’ve got thousands of signatures from husbands agreeing to transfer if it is without government charge. But the government has not yet unblocked it. So we march. We will march until we get our land. We marched to demand access to rural extension services. The government used to offer agricultural training only to men. Women only got offered classes in making pickles! Now we have been guaranteed one third of places on all training schemes. We are demanding half.”

They were clear that their empowerment requires government action, and clear that government should work for them. It is the 66th anniversary of India’s freedom this week, and they want their freedom too. They are demanding that government provides loans, irrigation and changes in the rules on land title. They want universal access to public services too: “When services are targetted, in the end the muscle men get them all. To reach the poor, services must be universal, that’s the only way that we won’t be prevented from using them. The rich must share with the poor. If only one person keeps all the food then only one stomach is filled. How can that be right?”

“Do women in the UK have equality at work?” they ask me. “They earn less,” I admit. “Aren’t they allowed out?” “They are.” “They go out and they still earn less?”

“Mahila bhi kisan hai! – Women are farmers too!” they shout, not seeking mere improvement but demanding equality. The group was initially inspired by the example of a Gandhian activist called Vinobha Bhave, who led a land campaign in a the 1950s. He was a determined but gentle man. He rejected confrontation. He would ask landlords to give, appealing to “the little goodness in their hearts”. Sometimes it worked. Often it didn’t. He kept on. The women I met in Uttar Pradesh have all of the determination of Vinobha Bhave. I am happy to report, however, that they are a little less gentle.

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