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Global development in uncertain times 

The year 2013 continued a fascinating episode in global development. The world was alive with new players looking for ways to scale up their influence and roles as well as traditional actors trying to redefine theirs. Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma inspired confidence in the African Union (AU) Commission, capitalising on the growing recognition of Africa’s increasing economic weight. But there was also rising awareness of the political, economic and social costs of inequality and exclusion. The price this entails in terms of lost income and opportunity for large majorities of the world’s population1 extends beyond developing and emerging economies; it strongly affects the future prospects of industrialised countries as well2

As the situation in Ukraine again tragically underlines, a new balance in international relations has yet to be found. Opinions about what it means to take global responsibility also continue to vary from country to country and region to region. This exacerbates the global governance deficit at a time when the world urgently needs to act together to address worldwide climate, economic and development challenges.

Against this backdrop, the High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda presented an ambitious, forward-looking report to the UN Secretary General in May 2013. Building on its international membership, it formulated global goals that are truly universal, applicable – in different ways – to all countries. The panel set out five transformations that countries must achieve to attain a more sustainable future that offers opportunity to all:
  • Leave no one behind
  • Put sustainable development at the core
  • Transform economies for jobs and inclusive growth
  • Build peace and effective, open and accountable public institutions
  • Forge a new global partnership
It also provided a set of illustrative goals through which these transformations could be accomplished. Thus, in 2013 the global community seemed to be moving towards a set of post-2015 sustainable development goals with a strong emphasis on inclusive development.

What might such a global development agenda mean for development policy as we know it? Will it push international cooperation further into uncharted territory? Even recognising that the High-Level Panel’s suggestions will be modified in the further negotiations, several forceful trends seem to be gaining hold.

Firstly, a broad agenda of global development challenges is being put on the table. A range of global public goods has been identified that are considered fundamental to environmentally, economically and socially sustainable development. This is a logical step, since at the end of the second millennium, besides poverty eradication; human rights, peace and security, and international trade were included on the global development agenda. Now, some fifteen years (and a global crisis) later, environmental sustainability, climate change, financial stability, private sector development and the right to food, health and clean drinking water have been added.

Secondly, the division between developing and developed countries has all but lost its meaning. The global discourse now recognises a diverse range of nations, distinguishing themselves in the way they organise their polity, economy, and society and in the degree to which they are affected by or take responsibility for tackling global challenges.

Thirdly, the development agenda proposed is universal and has implications, albeit different ones, for all. This means that national and regional interests, such as national access to finance, markets, energy, land, water and minerals – and not just ‘development interests’ – will be taken into account at each step of the way.

Addressing these universal challenges will require an appropriate, but differentiated response from all countries, not just the ones most negatively affected by any one challenge in particular.

In our view, the above means that indeed development policy must raise its profile and amplify its coverage. Achieving sustainable and inclusive development everywhere requires a concerted and coherent approach involving all those concerned, whether they be national or international, public, private or non-governmental. Development policy can inspire by sharing its range of financial and partnership instruments. It can offer practical ways to increase impact by forging coherence between policy actors and areas, and it can offer ways of improving cooperation and results-based management towards particular global targets. Development policy can, furthermore, evolve towards an instrument for global public finance.

But this will be possible only if the critical examination now under way of development finance, its instruments and its effectiveness is vigorously pursued. New narratives and inclusive standards of performance are needed. Moreover, development must continue to work closely with other external and internal policy areas, reconciling values and interests such that sustainable and inclusive global development is served.

ECDPM will continue to play its part in facilitating the transformation of development policy thinking that lies at the heart of the rapidly changing external relations between the EU and its member states and the countries of Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific. Besides our current programmes, we will extend further into critical areas such as private sector development, climate change and adaptation, and development finance. Yet, while we are glad to be part of these very promising forward-looking dynamics, we are also concerned that current imbalances in international relations might eventually turn back the clock on the ambitious global agenda that began to emerge in 2013.


Signature Paul Engel
Paul Engel

1) Kaplan, S.D. 2013. Betrayed: Politics, power, and prosperity. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
2) Stiglitz, J.E. 2012. The price of inequality: How today’s divided society endangers our future. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.