Shaping the architecture of global development cooperation

Development Policy28 Mar 2014Heiner Janus, Stephan Klingebiel, Timo Mahn

2014 will be an important milestone year for adapting the policy field of development cooperation to a post-2015 context.

2014 will be an important milestone year for adapting the policy field of development cooperation to a post-2015 context. Two central events are taking place. The Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation (GPEDC) will convene for its first high-level meeting in April 2014 in Mexico City and the UN’s Development Cooperation Forum (DCF) will hold its biennial meeting in July 2014 in New York. How will these two platforms shape the architecture of future development cooperation? This question can be answered with the help of four key messages.

The former aid effectiveness agenda is now virtually non-existent. The implementation of the 2005 Paris Declaration that defines common quality standards for the provision of aid by donors belonging to the OECD is characterized by fatigue. One of the main reasons for this is the failure of donors to deliver on their promises for making aid more effective, despite announcements and commitments to the contrary. This observation is nothing new, having been confirmed by a relevant evaluation at the last High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan, South Korea in 2011. Nonetheless, the trend has since stabilized and the issue has faded further into the background. Countries such as the UK that were once leading proponents of aid effectiveness, are now promoting different priorities ( ‘value for money’) in the international debate on development policy.

The new global development cooperation architecture must first prove its worth in practice. Existing structures were drastically reformed following the meeting in Busan. The GPEDC was set up in mid-2012. Members will convene for a first high-level meeting in Mexico in mid-April 2014, much later than originally planned – a sign of the ongoing differences of opinion between members. It is still hard to predict what sort of momentum the meeting will be able to generate. The DCF has been working to promote dialogue between donor countries, partner countries and dynamic emerging economies since 2008. Against this backdrop, there is still a serious lack of clarity as to the GPEDC’s contribution. Pursuing South-South cooperation approaches, India, China, Brazil and South Africa particularly do not feel at home within the GPEDC, given its association with the OECD.

The existence of several parallel discussion platforms is creating confusion as to how development cooperation will work in the future. Some fundamental questions have yet to be answered. Is the United Nations not a more suitable (more legitimate) platform for debating the future of aid? Is it possible to resolve the issue of the DCF’s limited influence to date and that of the intangible results of its meetings? It is time for these issues to be discussed in Mexico and at the DCF’s main meeting in July 2014 in New York. However, this is precisely what many governments have tried their best to avoid doing to date. The political incentives to continue with parallel discussions on both platforms in order to maximize individual influence are too great, and this is having a detrimental effect on the efficiency of global aid provision.

The existing platforms must first prove their relevance for implementing the future development goals. For many months now, a great deal of time and effort has been ploughed into drafting a new global development agenda (the ‘post-2015 debate’). The debate has made an important contribution to moving things forward in the arduous process of achieving universal consensus on development goals and integrating challenges such as global sustainability and inequality into the arena of political action for example. Quite apart from the question of what such an agenda will look like, there is a need to pay greater attention to the implementation of any future goals. The best case scenario would see the future agenda having a major impact on the behaviour of countries with regard to their development strategies. At the same time, the success of the agenda will also depend on whether the goals are supported by international cooperation efforts, including those of development cooperation actors.

It would be too much to expect satisfactory answers to all of the emerging challenges at the meetings in Mexico City and New York. However, the GPEDC, the DCF and the invited delegates can at least identify and bring the pressing issues and possible solutions to the table more so than they have done in the past. These issues of concern include the raison d’être of the GPEDC and its relationship with the DCF, the relevance of both platforms for the post-2015 process as well as the very real need to merge the two forums.

This blog is based on the briefing paper, ‘How to Shape Development Cooperation? The Global Partnership and the Development Cooperation Forum’, by Heiner Janus, Stephan Klingebiel and Timo Mahn.