Addis Ababa reviewed – is the Action Agenda ambitious enough to finance the future?
When governments from all over the world came together in Addis Ababa in July this year, they were facing a task no less challenging than agreeing on a financing framework ambitious enough to finance the future of sustainable development. The Third Financing for Development Conference (FFD3), 13-16 July, was to bring the framework and means to finance the new, and universal, Sustainable Development Goals; this was the first critical milestone in this make-or-break year for sustainable development. With the post 2015 summit and COP just around the corner, Addis was the first event to indicate whether the world was ready to muster the bold ambition needed to eradicate global poverty for good.
Now the international community has moved on to finalising the Sustainable Development Goals. But once the dust has settled, we need to work on the actual job of implementing the agreements to achieve sustainable development and the question will arise: has Addis delivered? Will the Action Agenda enable us to do our best towards achieving a world where no one has to live in poverty, inequalities are falling instead of rising, and climate change is avoided? At present the answer is, not quite yet. At first, when negotiations stalled around a few open issues (whether to reform international tax cooperation in a way that gives developing countries a voice at the table when decisions are made – to name just one), and delegations were debating whether to negotiate at all it even looked like we’d leave the conference without any results. Thankfully, there is an agreement, even if the focus is rather on voluntary action rather than concrete commitments and deliverables.
With Financing the Future, the UK membership body of international development NGO’s, Bond, outlined UK Civil Society’s key asks ahead of the conference, calling on governments to show leadership on tax and aid in particular. So what did FFD deliver and how does the Addis Ababa Action Agenda intend to mobilise high quality resources and tackle underlying systemic issues to ensure we finance a sustainable future?
In some parts, the narrative has moved in the right direction: Countries’ domestic resources, such as tax, have been moved higher up the agenda – accounting for the fact that for developing countries, tax is one of the most effective and predictable way to finance their own development. FFD3 also generated strong commitments on transparency and data, and contains strong language on effectiveness and transparency for all financial flows, which could be a starting point for discussions around accountability mechanisms for all financial flows for development, including private finance.
On the downside, crucial areas are reflected too weakly. The recommitment to global aid targets for instance – i.e. committing developed countries to provide 0.7% of GNI as development assistance – remained too weak, stating intentions rather than providing a concrete and time-bound deliverables. The UK, as the first G7 country to meet this UN target in 2013, has been leading on the agenda, in order to get others on track (as background: Portugal is currently providing 0.19% of GNI as ODA) – managing to at least push for an EU recommitment to aid which is reflected in the FFD3 outcome document. Equally, current international tax systems and the underlying systemic issues that restrict developing countries’ abilities to finance their own development have hardly been addressed. Furthermore, civil society organisations (CSOs) have noted with concern the over-emphasis placed on the role of the private sector.
Thankfully, FFD3 was just a first step – and did the job to initiate the debate, outlining the international community’s good intentions. We now know which issues to tackle and the areas that require strong commitments, and can build on the Action Agenda to turn promises into concrete deliverables, both at the national and international level. After the SDGs have been agreed, this is our next and most crucial task – that’s how we need to prove we’re bold enough to eradicate poverty and reduce inequalities. It’s ok to live up to the challenge in several steps, and we will be judging whether Addis has delivered one year later – by whether governments managed to turn their good intentions into actions, and continue the debate with providing concrete deliverables.