Informal breakfasts become an important venue for dialogue on post-2015 development agenda
- A series of informal breakfast meetings at the Bahá’í International Community have provided an important venue for diplomats, UN officials and NGOs to discuss the post-2015 development agenda.
- Topics have ranged from financing to peace and security.
- Chatham House Rules help create an atmosphere for frank consultation and exchange.
- As of December 2014, there have been 22 such meetings since July 2012.
NEW YORK — Can the world effectively move forward with a post 2015 development agenda if most countries are mired in policies of economic austerity?
To what extent do conflict and violence prevent the world from meeting development goals?
What kinds of new partnerships are needed in the face of increasing south-south development exchanges?
What new financial arrangements are needed to pay for global development?
These were among the questions explored over the last year at a series of breakfast dialogues at the offices of the Bahá’í International Community in New York, which were co-sponsored by the BIC and International Movement ATD Fourth World.
Designed to bring together diplomats, UN officials and representatives of civil society in an informal setting, the meetings have created an important venue for the free exchange of ideas as governments consider how to replace the much-acclaimed Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which expire in 2015.
In each session, public remarks were offered by specialists on a given topic, followed by a general, off-the-record discussion, using Chatham House Rules, which allow remarks to be recorded but not attributed. As of December 2014, there have been 22 such meetings since July 2012.
“The main purpose of these meetings has been to create a space for dialogue that also allows diplomats and civil society to talk freely and also to listen,” said Cristina Diez, the main representative to the United Nations of ATD Fourth World.
“Another thing is we do it regularly. I haven’t seen any other space at the UN like this. There are many meetings with panels or roundtables. But most of the time is for speakers to give their point of view. There is very little time for dialogue.
“We have had very supportive feedback. One diplomat said: ‘This is a space where I can listen to ideas without anyone trying to sell me anything or convince me that I have to do this or that.’” said Ms. Diez.
October 2013:Financial requirements
In October 2013, the meeting explored how the world can meet the financial requirements for a new post-2015 development agenda.
Eduardo Gálvez, deputy permanent representative of Chile to the UN, and Shari Spiegel of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs were featured speakers on 22 October.
They issued a broad plea for new mechanisms to finance the next set of goals, adding that such mechanisms should ultimately focus on creating enabling environments at the domestic and international levels to facilitate long term sustainable economic growth.
“We live in a globalized world and you need an international enabling environment,” said Mr. Gálvez. “And that means some changes with regard to trade and investment.”
“We need good governance, we need good institutions, we need the rule of law, and we need a strong policy framework,” said Ms. Siegel. She said institutional investors, with some $85 trillion in assets at their disposal, won’t invest in sustainable development unless there is a solid framework domestically and internationally to mitigate risk.
Participants said there is a need to change fundamentally patterns of consumption and production, because the world is now understood as finite in its resources, and it is clear humanity is “over-consuming.”
November 2013: Partnerships in a changing world
In November 2013, the dialogue explored the kinds of new partnerships that will be needed after 2015, especially in view of the changing relationships between donors and recipients in a more globalized world.
Ambassador Jean-Francis Régis Zinsou, permanent representative of the Republic of Benin to the UN, said on 19 November that any attempt to frame a new goal along the lines of MDG 8, which calls simply for the world to “develop a global partnership for development,” must take into account the fact that today “we are not talking about ‘a partnership’ — we are talking about ‘partnerships,’” which will encompass the whole range of new actors and trends in development.
Navid Hanif, director of the Office for ECOSOC Support and Coordination at the UN, said the targets set for MDG 8 — which included improvements to the international trading system, dealing with debt, improving information and communications technologies — were imprecise and vague. “Many labeled it as the weakest link,” he said, adding that its “weak accountability” meant that its achievement “was based largely on goodwill.”
He said the international community should consider a “partnership” goal with a “robust accountability and measuring mechanism.”
“It should also be inclusive, people-centered, and transparent,” said Mr. Hanif, “and it should promote mutual learning and have feedback loops from the local to the global level.”
Such an agenda, he said, would address all the global challenges such as “climate change, inequality, migration, unemployment, and de-carbonization of our economies.”
December 2013: Impact of conflict and violence
The meeting in December 2013 considered the impact of violence and conflict on meeting the goals of any new development agenda.
“We can’t eradicate poverty without eradicating violence,” said Andrew Tomlinson, the director of the Quaker UN Office, which co-sponsored the meeting with the BIC and ATD Fourth World on 17 December. “In many societies [where conflict is prevalent], the development aid process is like pouring water into a bucket with holes.”
Sarah Cliffe, assistant secretary-general of Civilian Capacities to the UN, said the threat of conflict and violence affects everything from whether children are able to go to school safely to the inability to access jobs, health care or education, whether because of conflict or high levels of crime.
“The impact of violence and conflict on social and economic development is deep,” said Dr. Cliffe. “Many countries have seen their development held back by these factors.”
Dr. Cliffe and other participants said new development goals could include measurable targets for good governance, institution building, and political processes that increase basic safety and security, justice, and confidence building.
When security and stability are re-established and sustained in post-conflict societies, said Dr. Cliffe, great development gains can be made. She cited Ethiopia, Mozambique and Rwanda as examples, noting for example that between 1990 and 2009, Ethiopia quadrupled access to improved water, while Mozambique tripled its primary school completion rate from 1999 to 2007.
“Building the justice system was not part of the MDGs,” she said. “For many countries, this will require international assistance,” said Dr. Cliffe. “And we know that institution building takes time. It can take a generation.”
Kavita Desai, advisor to the Permanent Mission of Timor-Leste to the UN, discussed efforts to end and then heal the decades-long conflict there in the early 2000s, noting that her country had achieved stability and security — which allowed recently for double-digit economic growth.
She called violence “development in reverse,” noting that while MDGs were good, their focus was mainly limited to “water, health, and education” since the world community was unable or unwilling to address larger, more politically sensitive questions related to conflict.
February 2014: Austerity verses development
In February 2014, the focus was on the impact that national austerity measures might have on financing for development, exploring also the relation between domestic cut-backs in social programs and the rising tide of protests around the world.
Matthew Cummins, a policy specialist in UNICEF’s Public Finance and Local Governance Unit, said domestic austerity measures taken in the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis had severely reduced budgets — and especially social programs — in most of the world.
“About 50 percent of countries worldwide cut their budgets in 2010-2012 — and the overall size of that contraction was about 2.2 percent,” said Mr. Cummins. “And if we look at spending through this year, which I call the ‘intensification of contraction’ phase, we can see that 100 countries are going to be cutting their budgets by an amount of 3.3 percent of GDP.”
These kinds of cuts will leave little room to fund the post-2015 development agenda, said Mr. Cummins, since overseas development aid is declining and “what we are really talking about in funding development is domestic resource mobilization.”
Mr. Cummins identified seven areas where governments could find enough “financial space” to provide more funds for development. These included: efforts to make taxes more progressive, the elimination of tax havens, and the restructuring of debt.
Sara Burke, a senior policy analyst with Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, a German NGO, said the austerity policies of governments around the world have been a major factor in the increasing number of anti-government protests in recent years.
Citing a study she co-authored that analyzed world protests between 2006 and 2013, she said the main grievance expressed during the 843 anti-government protests they analyzed was a call for economic justice and against austerity.
“People need decent jobs, living wages and acceptable living conditions,” she said. “They want food they can afford.”
Another key demand was “the cry for real democracy,” she said, noting that nearly half of the protests indicated some level of “discontent with the workings of government.”
“The problem is much more than austerity… A real transformation is needed in terms of policy shifts” if the world is to meet any kind of development agenda, she said.
April 2014: “Break down the silos”
In April 2014, the topic was climate change but the discussion focused largely on how to counteract the tendency among policy makers to consider the main issues facing humanity — poverty, climate change, women’s advancement, and so on — as separate problems.
Francois Gave, counselor of the Permanent Mission of France to the UN, said global problems must be seen as interrelated — and so must the overall approach in any development agenda.
“Problems tend to be more and more complex,” said Mr. Gave. “We must try to break down the silos” that confine each issue. For example, he said, “climate change cannot be addressed in isolation” of other issues such as poverty, access to water, desertification and, even, violence.
Held 25 April, the specific topic of the meeting was “Post-2015 and climate: Highlighting appropriate environmental targets for the SDGs.” Mr. Gave was joined in the discussion by Abigail Jones, a managing director at Climate Advisors, a Washington, DC-based consultancy.
Ms. Jones noted that the latest scientific report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says global warming and other coming climate impacts are likely to affect the world’s poor disproportionately.
At the same time, she said, while climate change has global relevance, “countries have different priorities and different capacities to address it.”
She agreed there is a growing consensus that any future goals in relation to climate change or sustainable development should be interlinked with cross-cutting effects related to food, water, poverty and disaster risk, among other issues.
June 2014: The end of “North” and “South”
In June 2014, the breakfast session examined the degree to which globalization has meant the end of “differentiation” in concerns and responsibilities for development.
Traditionally, development has been seen as something done by the rich for the poor. The “developed” nations “helped” the “less developed.”
That view is increasingly called into question in the face of rising middle income countries, growing inequalities in the North, and the realization that some problems — like climate change — affect everyone.
The topic, “Universality, differentiation, and our shared responsibilities,” generated a wide range of insights about the evolution of thinking about development, development assistance, and international cooperation.
“As we know, the whole UN development cooperation system functions more or less on the basis of a north-south set up,” said Guilherme de Aguiar Patriota, Deputy Permanent Representative of Brazil to the UN, who offered opening remarks at 11 June event.
“But it is not well equipped for south-south cooperation. And most of the resources that we are funneling toward development are of the voluntary kind.”
At the Rio+20 conference two years ago, he said, governments decided that proposed sustainable development goals (SDGs) should be “universal in nature.”
“This is very different from North-South — it is something that would apply to the developed countries, too,” he said, adding, as well, that even in the United States now, “inequality” has become an issue.
“The world is now more like a continuum across the scale of development,” he added, “rather than a binary division of the world.”
Following Mr. Patriota’s opening remarks, there was a general discussion about “common but differentiated responsibilities” (CBDR) and universality. Among other things, participants said that new development goals cannot be met without some level of overseas development assistance (ODA) from “developed” countries; that private sources of funds will also be needed; and that “rich” countries cannot be expected to pay for everything.
October 2014: The role of civil society
In October 2014, the focus was on civil society and its role in helping to create and implement the post-2015 development agenda.
“We are talking about a profound transformation of society,” said Csaba Kőrösi, permanent representative of Hungary to the UN, speaking on 29 October, about the potential of the proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Implementing such sweeping changes will require a profound transformation in our global mindset, he said, adding that civil society organizations are among the best positioned to inspire that kind of change.
Ambassador Kőrösi said that while technology has facilitated such transformations in human society in the past, setting SDGs is different because of its deliberative process.
“We have never tried to design the process in the course of the development of human history,” said Ambassador Kőrösi.
To implement the proposed SDGs, which range from “ending poverty everywhere” to “ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns,” new coalitions and institutional mechanisms will be required, said Ambassador Kőrösi.
“You were the first among all stakeholders, to recognize that we need a transformation,” he said. “A transformation that will start in minds.”
Joe Colombano, a senior officer and economic advisor in the Executive Office of the UN Secretary General, said civil society plays a key role in providing an outside perspective — and a level of passion — to the SDG deliberations and subsequent implementation.
“It is the main responsibility of the international community to listen to these voices to ensure we leave no one behind,” said Mr. Colombano.
November 2014: Social protection can stimulate growth
In November 2014, at the 21st such breakfast meeting, the focus was on “social protection floors” and their relation to the post-2015 agenda.
One idea that emerged was that efforts to provide minimum education, income and pensions for people across all ages can be a source of economic growth for countries, rather than a drag on national budgets.
“I believe we have to look at social protection floors not as an expenditure but as an investment,” said Mateo Estreme, deputy permanent representative of Argentina to the UN, speaking on 20 November 2014.
“And it is not only an investment in the human resources of the country but also, I believe, an important way of promoting growth.”
Mr. Estreme said economic growth was among the many reasons that strong language promoting social protection floors should be included in the SDGs.
“Our motto for post-2015 is ‘no one left behind,’ and with these social protection floors, the main purpose is to not leave anyone behind,” said Ambassador Estreme.
“From early childhood until old age, social protection floors are a way of introducing the idea that all sectors of society, at all ages, should be included, should be protected, and should have income, security, access to health services, education services and so forth,” said Mr. Estreme.
Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, agreed that the economic benefits of good social protection floors make their inclusion in the SDGs a very rational decision.
He added, however, that social protection should also be cast in terms of human rights — so that states will feel more obligated to provide minimum levels of social security once new SDGs are agreed on.
“The current draft avoids the use of human rights,” said Mr. Alston. “The consensus we can take from this is that human rights are not relevant, let alone even central, to the development process.
“I think we have to push back on that,” he said, speaking to a mixed group of diplomats, UN agency officials and representatives of civil society.
Prof. Alston said the language used in the SDGs will matter very much.
He said, for example, that the World Bank seems to prefer the default phrase “safety net” to “social protection floor.”
The word “net” implies “a number of bureaucrats making fine line decisions” about what social protections to provide, he said.
However, he said, if social protections are cast as human rights, along the lines of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, then the SDGs “will be much more robust.”
Prof. Alston and Mr. Estreme also spoke about the importance of establishing well considered indicators and targets in the SDGs.
“If there isn’t accountability under implementation, then the work will have little impact,” said Prof. Alston.