Marieke Hounjet: Live from Brussels III: MDG plus, don’t rush but be urgent

Development Policy23 Jun 2009Marieke Hounjet

Marieke Hounjet is reporting live from the Brussels Forum for The Broker

The last plenary of today was on: ‘Towards and MDG plus agenda?’ presenting a diverse range of talks. The first speaker, Louis Kasekende (Chief Economist, African Development Bank) mainly spoke about ‘rethinking pro poor policies after MDGs in Africa’, thereby making some following suggestions. Firstly, a number of targets need to be refocused, promoting growth and reducing inequality are in his opinion central to the future of the MDGs. Furthermore, there needs to be more attention for fragile states, as it is well-known that aid works better in a good policy environment. Lastly, goal number 7 (on sustainability) needs to be broadened so that it really incorporates the threat that climate change brings to sustainable development.

The second speaker, Claire Melamed (Head of Policy, ActionAid) brought the debate back to the core question of ‘what is it we want to do?’ She established two clear objectives of the MDGs: 1) Mobilise resources for development; 2) Create incentives to make development happen the way we want it to happen. Objective number one has been quite successful, but the new agenda should look beyond aid. A move towards finance instead of aid, or some form of taxation might be a better future, as it will be harder to extract aid from donors while needs will be growing at a faster rate. The second objective as identified above had to face more trouble, as it is critical that key issues are ignored by the MDG agenda. The focus needs to move away from aggregates but to the individual level. Melamed concludes with a wish for international development to become more like for example the UK government, where the government has an obligation to find the money if there is a dire need for it.

The third speaker, Yehualashet Mekonnen (African Child Policy Forum) brought our attention back again to children. He cited a number of indicators which show that there is still a far way ahead when it comes to bettering the lives of children in Africa, especially since absolute numbers are actually rising even though relative numbers of poverty are decreasing. This has the implication that the MDGs might not be telling us so much in some cases and that there is still a lot of work to be done. On a very different topic again, the last speaker, professor Andreas Rechkemmer (UN University) spoke on the eco-system service paradigm. This is an important aspect that needs to complement the current paradigm, as we desperately need ‘fore-runners’ on issues such as sustainability, climate change etc. Reckemmer showed the audience the extreme consequences of climate change and their impact on the MDGs. In other words, if the MDGs do not address the environment more deeply they will never be accomplished. He also emphasised the power relations that play a large role. As most of us know, most carbon emissions have been produced by the so-called North while the consequences are to bear for the global South. Man has become highly disruptive, changing earth into an Anthropocene, the term introduced by Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen. On this world level innovation and learning can make a large difference, as these concepts are able to address the MDG plus, climate change, and global governance agenda with one effort. Hence, we need to rethink beyond 2015 now, as the implications of climate change do not end in 2015 either.

The purpose of the debate following the last plenary was slightly different than the foregoing ones. The audience was namely encouraged to express ‘take away messages’ and pieces of advice and answers to the ‘what next?’ question. Although summarising all the ideas and opinions expressed here is quite a challenge I will lift out discussion items and reiterate some of the conclusions that the chair of this plenary, Andrew Steer (Director General Policy and Research, DFID) made. One of the main discussion points was inspired by Jan Van de Moortele’s comment that we should be careful not to rush ahead with new goals. Different stakeholders are trying to secure their own agenda’s representation in the future of the MDGs, which is not the right way forward; an expert panel is needed with stakeholders from the South, preferably without donors who could then have some thought through proposals ready in 2012 instead of a 2010 agenda. Some people strongly disagreed with this comment, stating that the discussion has started already and that this is how it should be for justified reasons. The most prominent reason expressed today by many was that it is problematic that the current MDGs are still rooted in the Washington Consensus. However, Andrew Steer did not see the arguments as opposing each other too much but rather co-author the message: ‘don’t rush but be urgent’.

Another interesting comment was that someone mentioned that we will need something in 2015 to motivate people, as nothing will be as depressing as a declaration of failure and a continuation of practice as usual after 2015. On the other hand our future expectations should not give governments an argument to dilute their current MDG efforts, as emphasised by Mekonen.Sakiko Fukuda-Parr reiterated that we need to take the narrative of aid out of the MDGs, but keep the MDGs themselves as they are widely accepted, which is one of the views that seemed to be widely shared at this conference. Finally, Andrew Steer concluded that clearly the need for a new and different narrative and motivational framework have been expressed. We need to draw from current strengths and weaknesses, but with a more integrated approach, including political, security and sustainability issues. His last remark was that the financial crisis provides us with a political space that we need to harness and use. So an ongoing discussion does seem appropriate.