The Post-2015 Agenda: 3 thoughts on Latin America, and 1 on the Caribbean

Late last week, New York University’s Center on International Cooperation published A Laboratory for Sustainable Development? Latin America, the Caribbean and the Post-2015 Development Agenda, a report that I co-authored with my CIC colleague, Alejandra Kubitschek-Bujones.

It was commissioned as an input to a retreat for Ambassadors from the Group of Latin American and Caribbean Countries in the United Nations, their negotiators from capitals, and representatives from the UN in the region, along with its companion piece What Happens Now? Taking the Post-2015 Agenda to the Next Stage

While Alejandra is an expert on the region, I am not. So here’s an outsider’s perspective, based on a series of interviews with people from the region who are immersed in the post-2015 agenda, and others who see it within a broader geopolitical context.

1. Latin America has exerted disproportionate influence in the early stages of the post-2015 debate and could play a decisive role over the next two years.

In the run up to Rio+20, Colombia and Guatemala published a joint proposal that put sustainable development goals on the international agenda.  This is a classic example of how countries can drive global policy by articulating ‘big picture’ concepts in a format that creates broad debate. As host of Rio+20, meanwhile, Brazil played an important role in shaping the SDGs, while the current President of the General Assembly is from the region.

Over the next two years, Latin American countries will be the swing vote on many key issues. Whether they drive progress, or hold it back, will have a significant impact on whether or not the UN agrees a worthy replacement to the MDGs.

2. Latin American countries will be most influential if they build on their experiences as ‘laboratories for sustainable development.’

We pretend it’s not – but, at its worst, the post-2015 debate, and sustainable development more generally, is mind-numbingly formulaic and abstract, a tedious litany of phrases intoned by negotiators and various hangers on.

What was striking, talking to Latin American governments, is that many of them have strongly held beliefs about how development should be done differently – in the real world, and at a scale that makes a difference to the lives of large numbers of people. Coming from Europe, where governments are fiddling around the edges and hoping things will get better in a decade’s time, it’s very refreshing to hear Latin America countries argue about which of the many models that coexist in the region has most to offer its people.

By drawing on this diverse and innovative track record, the region’s governments and leaders from civil society and business have a real chance to push the new agenda away from empty language and towards a debate about the concrete policies that are needed at a time when prevailing assumptions about how the global economy works are widely discredited.

3. But the region cannot continue trying to push critical issues to the side of the negotiations.

Most Latin American countries are engaged in a struggle to build the institutions and social structures they need if they are to meet the long-term needs of predominantly urban and increasingly prosperous populations.

But many of its citizens live in conditions of chronic insecurity. Mexico has fewer people than Japan, but while the latter has around 500 murders a year, over 27,000 Mexicans were killed in 2011. You’re ten times more likely to be murdered in Nigeria than the UK, but seventy-six times more likely to be murdered in Honduras! Human security and a broader set of questions of how to build institutions that offer citizens justice and fairness are fundamental to Latin America’s future. There is also an inescapable transboundary dimension, given the role played by organized crime in driving violence and, once again, a ‘laboratory’ of innovative responses, especially in some of the more forward thinking cities.

These issues make some of the region’s governments feel uncomfortable (though others are calling loudly for a post-2015 focus on security and governance challenges), but it’s surely better for the region as a whole to get ahead of this agenda, rather than get stuck in a defensive posture.

4. Caribbean countries could keep the world’s eyes focused on the environment.

The UN is so determined to show that sustainable development is about more than the environment that there’s a good chance the new goals will be heavily skewed away from core environmental challenges.

This is especially problematic for the island states of the Caribbean, which face existential threats from climate change. These countries, along with other small island states, have long been highly influential in the climate process, but are now gearing up to try and make sure the post-2015 framework makes a contribution to environmental sustainability that goes beyond the usual pieties. This is no easy task and will require visionary thinking about what kinds of global goal have the potential to drive change in a way that adds to what is already going on in the international system.

Many of the issues discussed in the paper, as well as the points made above, apply across the Latin American and Caribbean region. However, I believe that Caribbean countries have a unique opportunity to push for a strong – and tangible – regional position on the environment, and then to advocate for it globally. They can also help answer the question of how the post-2015 and current climate negotiations should interact, given that both these processes are intended to finally be agreed at summits for leaders at the end of the same year.

Read the whole paper here.

Ten billion dollars for global public goods? Where do we sign?

“Innovative financing” is one of those phrases you’re always hearing in development, but that never quite seem to live up to the hype. It refers, in case you’re not familiar with it, to the idea of raising international public finance not from traditional sources like aid, but from zappy new sources like the Robin Hood Tax, or flogging off IMF gold, or capitalising Special Drawing Rights, or introducing new global taxes on things like marine bunker fuels.

In particular, you often hear the idea mooted as a way of financing global public goods (GPGs) – stuff like agricultural research and development, vaccine production and distribution, technology cooperation, UN peacekeeping, biodiversity and rainforest preservation, and so on – as for instance in this excellent CGD paper by Nancy Birdsall and Benjamin Leo.

Which would be a Good Thing, because GPGs are woefully underfunded. In their paper, Birdsall and Leo totted up the total amount spent on them in 2011 and it came to about 12 billion dollars – about a tenth of global ODA spending, in other words. And three quarters of that goes to pay for the UN peacekeeping budget, leaving not a whole lot for everything else.

And yet… for all the talk, not much ever really seems to happen. True, the EU has agreed a financial transactions tax that will apparently generate €57 billion, but that’s more likely to fund European farmers than global public goods. And while France did persuade a handful of countries to sign up to an airline ticket levy, that’s raised less than a billion dollars since it launched.

But wait! At the Assembly of the International Civil Aviation Organisation earlier this month, member states agreed to go ahead with developing a ‘market based mechanism’ to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the aviation sector by 2016.

While most of the media coverage was about what this would mean for aviation emissions (and for the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, which controversially covers them), there’s also another question: how much money might such a mechanism raise, and where would it go?

Obviously, it’s impossible to answer that without knowing the details of the new scheme – which will depend on negotiations over the next three years. But the IMF has previously estimated that an aviation fuel excise tax of $0.20 per gallon could yield up to $9.5 billion per year if implemented globally, while a separate analysis undertaken by the 2010 UN High-level Advisory Group on Climate Change Financing estimated that an aviation fuel emissions tax could generate $2 billion a year by 2020 – so we could potentially be talking about doubling the amount of GPG financing, if that’s where the money goes.

Here’s hoping that campaigning groups are getting saddled up for some serious lobbying to make sure that the money’s used to maximum effect. Just think how many acres of rainforest conservation that could finance, or new vaccines it could develop, or sustainable agriculture techniques it could develop, or…

Goals after 2015

As the High Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda meets in Liberia, New York University’s Center on International Cooperation has published a new paper of mine on the role that global goals can play after the Millennium Development Goals expire in 2015. You can download it here.

The paper:

  • Explores what different types of goals can (and cannot) achieve.
  • Sets out options for integrating poverty and sustainable development goals.
  • Clarifies the choices that must be made if the post-2015 development agenda is to end poverty within a generation.

I don’t advocate any of the options in the paper. Instead, the aim is to try and clarify what can be quite a muddy and confusing debate. Why do we need goals? Who should they be for? How can they best be constructed?

This work forms part of CIC’s broader engagement on the post-2015 process. Alex and I have published a series of papers for CIC and the Brookings Institution (1, 2, 3). For me, this goes back to a post on Global Dashboard from 2011, which offered a first sketch of a post-2015 agenda that aimed to end absolute poverty.

Many thanks to the UN Foundation for funding this work.

Beyond the Millennium Development Goals

Debate on what should follow the Millennium Development Goals after 2015 is now underway in earnest. This briefing paper by Alex Evans and David Steven, prepared for a closed session Brookings Institution meeting organised at the request of the US government, sets out an overview of the MDGs and their expected status in 2015; describes the background to, and options for, a post-2015 framework; and discusses the political challenges of agreeing a new framework and sets out considerations for governments and other stakeholders. (April 2012)

Download Report

Should we have Sustainable Development Goals as well as (or indeed instead of) MDGs?

Later today in New York, a 2 day meeting on the idea of ‘Sustainable Development Goals’ will begin, bringing together numerous countries’ Permanent Representatives to the United Nations plus a whole host of environment and development experts from capitals. It’s going to be an interesting meeting.

The idea of ‘SDGs’, after all, has acquired a lot of political momentum in recent months. Partly that’s because they’re seen as a potential outcome from this summer’s Rio+20 sustainable development conference – at a point when very few concrete outcomes from Rio appear to be in prospect (see the ‘zero draft outcome document’ pdf that was published earlier this month). The SDGs agenda is also topical given that the Millennium Development Goals are due to hit their 2015 deadline pretty soon, raising the question of what should come after them. (See Claire’s excellent recent publications, like this and this, on that for a full briefing on where things stand on that front.)

But the funny thing is that there’s remarkably little clarity on what SDGs would cover, or how they’d work. Would they just run from now to 2015, alongside the existing MDGs, and cover a few ‘gaps’ that were missed out in the MDGs – like access to energy? Or would they in fact take over from the MDGs after 2015, thus becoming the new organising framework for global development policy? These are big questions – and at a time, of course, when multilateralism has really been struggling to make much running not just on Rio preparations, but also on climate, trade, and any number of other key issue areas.

Against this backdrop, David and I have just published a short CIC briefing paper (pdf) that discusses where we are on the SDGs agenda – and how it might usefully pan out from here. In a nutshell, our argument is that policymakers should think twice before regarding SDGs as an “easy win” from Rio. We argue that this is a very complex and potentially very contentious area of policy – and that policymakers should play a long game at this stage rather than going for quick wins that could all too easily backfire. Accordingly, we think that discussion of SDGs at Rio should go no further than discussion of broad principles and raising the level of ambition. A lot more shared awareness – not just between policymakers, but also with publics, private sector, media, civil society and so on – is needed before the discussion about specifics gets underway in earnest.