Hans Opschoor: Multifaceted development cooperation as part of international cooperation on issues of global concern

Development Policy18 Feb 2010Hans Opschoor

Let me first of all join many others here in welcoming the WRR report, especially because of its generally profound and broad analytical and descriptive parts. Of course, one could comment on shortcomings there too (like the attention given to multilateral aspects and to NGOs), but they don’t erode my appreciation much. But I do have problems with some of the recommendations. The rather poorly-argued move away from the 0.7% is one element I have difficulties with, particularly from an international perspective. I would subject the proposal towards an NLAID to a lot of second and third thought, too (see below).

I feel much more sympathy towards some of the other proposals, such as the intensification and extension of the (Dutch) knowledge base for development and global issues, the call for a more explicit developmental focus (or an overtly development-oriented track), and more mass (and impact, which is, after all, mass times velocity) by concentrating on fewer sectors and countries along that track. I would qualify the latter point by adding: if this is done in an internationally coordinated way, and if it does not engender further incoherence. And obviously the world has changed since development cooperation was designed.

As far as that ‘development track’ is concerned: sure enough, development is only in part determined by development cooperation funding (ODA hereafter), and ODA at best is a catalyst towards development. ODA could be seen as support for more self-help – if I may translate the WRR’s zelfredzaamheid in this way. But it is more than that. There is a well-established (though not undisputed – also beyond the WRR report) need to cater for access to basic social services. Even the Research Department of the IMF is now reconsidering the importance of social insurance programmes. Reconsidering does not mean that present ratios of ‘humanitarian’ and ‘developmental’ disbursement are beyond reprioritization, nor does it mean that the latter can crowd out the former.

On this issue of balance, I doubt whether Dutch ODA can be characterized as largely humanitarianly-inspired social care: large chunks of expenditure on health and education boost human capital and are thus essential preconditions for motion along the developmental track, apart from also serving humanitarian- and welfare-related objectives. The WRR reports does acknowledge that it is in the collective interest of the inhabitants of rich countries to invest in reasonable livelihoods for those who, without assistance, would not be able to attain decent levels of social security. But it seems to propagate the ‘developmental’ side at the expense of the social side. The latter component alone, by the way, may imply a need for finance at the level of about 1% of global product (if not much more, if some ILO-related calculus seem to imply); part of that should come from international sources.

One can see development-targeted finance and basic social support as two components of three in international cooperation (IC) funding; and, as far as I am concerned, funding for the two components mentioned may make up ODA. Thirdly, programmes are needed in the area of global public goods – with an associated flow of funding that we can label as ‘official global public goods finance’ (OGPGF). I agree that we need to invest in capacity (here and potentially elsewhere) to deal with issues of common international concern. But I do not see that development policy institutions (ministries or agencies) should reorient themselves to exclusively incorporate in their agenda these global issues – which is one way in which one could read the WRR report – nor that OGPGF should come from ODA. Below, I will elaborate the point on policies and architectures to deal with global public goods, and I suggest that this is best done by looking at global change and global challenge through the lens of sustainable development.

The sustainable development perspective (as understood internationally – whether we or the WRR like that or not) entails the incorporation of, and integrated approach towards, social and ecological issues as well as economic ones. Priorities for action along these dimensions will differ in accordance with social and ecological circumstance, and with levels of economic development. But as soon as societal issues become international ones, they should appear on IC agendas. As the WRR report suggests, we should think here of climate policy, but also of others to do with water, land, food, trade and even financial stability. These issues all understandably pop up (rather than as unanticipated ‘black swans’) when we consider global sustainable development. That perspective also calls almost inherently for more coherence – as we believe in the UN Committee for Development Policy.

I note that some parts of the report seem to suggest that development policy ought to encapsulate it all. Elsewhere, an understanding of the complexities involved comes to the fore, like where it is said (on page 159) that the inclusive agenda that is needed in the decades ahead could ‘impossibly’ (sic) be structured and implemented by any Minister of Development Cooperation. Or, may I add, such ministers’ ministries or directorate-generals, or even a development-oriented agency.

To begin with, the issues are generally very different from those that come within scope when we consider poverty alleviation or human development as typically defined (e.g. in the HD index), and thus necessitate appropriate analytical as well as policy developmental capacities. But, more pragmatically, the countries that one would wish to interact with are likely to be very different than the 10 that DGIS should focus on according to the WRR (or, even, than the current list of countries). If, for instance, in the field of international environmental cooperation, one wants to address global environmental challenges, one needs to relate to countries that have an impact on those challenges or that can help with addressing them. To quote a principle of sustainable development, the capabilities to deal with these issues, as well as the responsibilities for having given rise to them, do differ – hence, so should the ensuing commitments and engagements to mitigate these problems. Despite all this difference, global problems (‘global public bads’) must also be considered in a development perspective, as:

  1. they may lead to undesirable volatility and unpredictability in actual development paths;
  2. they erode the capital basis for economic and social development in many ways;
  3. they may also directly affect the sustainability of development achievements, for example in relation to the MDGs.

This is the reason why there should be an understanding of these synergies and systemic feedbacks, as well as a capability to address the issues in a (development-) coherent way. The departments, think tanks, strategic agencies and what-have-you, both on the development side and on the side of the natural systems and economic/financial ones, should all have an appropriately profound analytical and policy-developmental empathy and capability way beyond their traditional domains.

We should not consider subsuming all of that in one single mission body; to the extent that we need a national agency in this widened field, it should be something like a multifaceted NLIC, with NLAID being a department within NLIC for development cooperation, and with NLIC as a whole being an expressly inter-departmental body. As far as the analytical agenda is concerned, the suggestion to enhance development knowledge in the Netherlands is well-taken, and so is the plea for concerted research on global issues. Having said that, I believe that it is neither sufficient nor necessary to think of one national institute for that (as suggested on page 236). Rather, we should take a network approach to realize the necessary capacity.

Lastly, and also on the financial side, there are grounds for not mixing all three ingredients into one cocktail. We should not assume that the associated financial flows should all come from ODA budgets. In fact, much of the 0.7% is needed for meeting the MDGs; a global effort at that level might serve a development-oriented track and meet the most urgent needs in international social security, but there is no room in such allocations to also address the global concerns. For international cooperation with developing countries in the field of climate change alone, US $200-300 billion per annum is needed (with Copenhagen suggesting the promise that US$100 billion will be sought in the next few years), and ODA currently is just above the $100 billion p.a. mark. Not all of these flows need to move bilaterally. In fact, much can be said in favour of a well designed and refocused multilateral and/or regional architecture (the EU, in our case), and part of the national need to develop agency in such fields might then also dwindle.

It is time that the discussion on the agenda of IC for global public goods (analysis as well as policy development) starts in all seriousness: nationally, regionally and globally. Likewise, it is time that we extend that discussion to also deal with issues of architecture and agency. We should thank the WRR for some suggestions in these directions.