From content to coalitions

Development Policy31 Jul 2013Heiner Janus

While the post-2015 debate focuses to a large extent on the potential content of a new agenda, it places little emphasis on the political challenges ahead. Although civil society, the private sector and the academic world will have some influence, it is governments that will eventually determine the agenda. Political groups are still divided along traditional fault lines, as the split between Northern and Southern countries within the UN demonstrates. Any broadly supported agenda will therefore have to rely on new political coalitions. This blog post offers a snapshot of the main groupings, highlighting the political challenges for the post-2015 agenda.

LDCs: The Preservers

The MDGs devoted special attention to the 49 Least Developed Countries (LDCs), not least through targets on trade, aid and debt under MDG8. LDCs want to preserve these historic rights post-2015 because they fear regression of existing obligations. The HLP report already gives less attention to LDCs and does not refer to the Istanbul Programme of Action. And, as LDCs are most behind in achieving the MDGs and face significant development challenges, going into the negotiations in the defensive position of preserving these obligations will limit their chances of success. LDCs could better adopt a balanced approach that underlines their common priorities and contributions in addressing global development challenges.

OECD Countries: The Dominators

The 34 members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) are in a period of transition, with a greater focus on domestic economic challenges replacing post-Cold War optimism about international development cooperation. However, although the post-2015 debate has so far been dominated by ambitious proposals from institutions based in OECD countries, it is questionable whether OECD governments can uphold existing commitments on development assistance and climate change, let alone targets addressing inequality, poverty and environmental sustainability. Building credibility is therefore a major challenge for OECD countries.

G77: The Dinosaur

The Group of 77 (G77) traditionally represents developing countries at the UN and comprises 132 countries across all income categories (including LDCs). Despite the group’s minimal relevance in G77 countries themselves, it does have strong influence within the UN. The G77 emphasizes solidarity and a rigid North-South divide, but this has become increasingly blurred. Current deliberations at the UN in the Open Working Group (OWG) on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have again seen the G77 experiencing difficulties in reaching a consensus on specific issues. One year ahead of the G77’s 50th anniversary, one of the main challenges for the group is whether it can still foster a common position leading to coherent outcomes.

Emerging economies: The Unknown Variable

The rise of emerging economies is the key factor that has fundamentally changed the context in which the post-2015 debate is taking place. Brazil, India, China and South Africa already play an important role on the global stage, while countries like Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria and Turkey are rapidly gaining importance in their own regions. So far, most emerging economies have no clear position on the post-2015 agenda, and have shown little interest in the process. As the MDGs have been of little relevance to emerging economies, they are doubtful about the importance of a successor framework. Nevertheless, whether these countries engage in the post-2015 process or not, they will fundamentally shape the scope of any global framework.

United Nations: The Mediator

Though the UN is responsible for coordinating the process for a coherent post-2015 agenda – ideally integrating both SDG and post-MDG tracks – its post-2015 architecture already lacks clarity. The default response to integrating different discussions – forming new coordination groups – has led to a fragmented landscape within the UN. Even though the UN is a Member State-driven organization, it has a clear role in setting the parameters for the post-2015 debate. On 25 September, a Special Event on the MDGs will be held at the UN General Assembly. This event will be the main reference point in moving the debate forward. It will be the task of the UN to bring the full variety of internal and external actors together in one universally legitimate process.

Several political challenges therefore have to be resolved. Of course, the groups presented above have been chosen rather selectively, are highly heterogeneous, and overlap in many areas. However, they still represent certain political fault lines that will no doubt appear during the negotiations. Although there are examples of traditional fault lines blurring in other international fora, such as the Cairns Group in the World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations, new coalitions have yet to emerge within the UN. They will not necessarily be formed among traditional groups, but perhaps within them and across subgroups. The positioning of emerging economies will be a key factor in this process. In the end, all countries will have to take responsibility to make a post-2015 framework relevant. The challenges that the world is facing can only be tackled if every country contributes.