Is a new approach to sustainable development possible?

By Graham Gordon, Head of Policy, CAFOD

Thousands of delegates have descended on a rainy Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for the third International Conference on Financing for Development. This is the first in three UN Summits this year that will show how much governments are willing to rise to the current global challenges, including climate change, ongoing poverty, hunger and inequality. It is the chance to present an ambitious and transformative agenda to tackle structural injustices in the global economic system, to ensure that all development is people-centred for current and future generations and to protect the environment.

Addis presents the starter gun for the journey over the next six months that ends up in Paris in December for the climate change negotiations. AS Ban Ki Moon said to civil society groups today, a successful outcome in Addis is crucial for success in everything else.

However, the prospects are not encouraging.

Over the past few months we have seen ambition systematically reduced. For example, proposals to ensure that all public and private development finance goes to communities that need it most have been watered down. Commitments on increasing development aid and climate finance are insufficient to meet the needs that have been identified. Proposals for a new international body to work on tax hang in the balance. There is even doubt about the status of any ongoing process at UN level to continue to look at the structural injustices in the global economic system on issues such as debt, tax and illicit financial flows.

Children in the Carteres islands. The islands will soon be underwater as rising sea levels will leave them submerged within five years. Photo by Nicholson/Caritas.

If the agreement to be reached this Thursday fails to address these issues then it is hard to see it as transformative, ambitious or even a step in the right direction. Governments will have ducked their responsibilities, as the Pope has recently said: ‘what would induce anyone, at this stage, to hold on to power only to be remembered for their inability to take action when it was urgent and necessary to do so?’ (Laudato Si, 51)

There is still time to act. So what needs to happen?

A space for reflection

The Pope has called for a new dialogue including all voices; ‘to listen carefully to what is happening to our common home so as to take action… to dare to turn what is happening to the world into our own personal suffering’… ‘and thus to discover what each of us can do about it’ (Laudato Si, 14-19).  Over a thousand representatives from civil society organisations from over one hundred countries, many of whom are currently negatively impacted by current development practices, are here in Addis Ababa. More government delegations need to find to speak to them, understand their realities and priorities and make their causes their own.

A compelling vision of a new approach to sustainable development

At the heart, the financing for development conference is about the vision for development in the 21st century. It is about the way we do development and the conditions are needed for that development to be people-centred and sustainable, to eliminate poverty and enable every man, woman and child to meet their full potential. There needs to be an unequivocal commitment that all financing will go towards sustainable development that leaves no one behind. This also includes a commitment to shift from a development model based on the use of polluting fossil fuels, such as coal, oil and gas to one that is based on clean forms of energy, such as wind and solar power.

Clear commitments that will make a difference

Some of the more innovative proposals have been lost on the way and these should be introduced. For example, with the increased role of the private sector in delivering development, there is the need for clear criteria and accountability mechanisms to apply to all types of finance, to ensure it ends up where it is needed most, for example so that people can go to school, have high quality health services and roads to participate in local markets. Developing countries have asked for a new global body to reform the tax system to ensure that tax is paid where companies operate, e.g. through extracting copper in Zambia. Including this is a vital a test of the UN system.

We also need to see clear plans to meet existing financial commitments on development and climate finance. All donors need to agree a timeline to meet their commitment of 0.7% of national income on development aid and to meet their additional commitment to find $100bn to tackle climate change through the Green Climate Fund. Commitments from individual countries to contribute their fair share will go a long way to building trust and filling the financing gap.

Meaningful follow-up

There is no other forum like this that gathers together all developed and developing countries on an equal footing to tackle issues of the global economic system that undermine poverty alleviation and sustainable development. At the FFD Conference we need to see a separate strong follow up mechanism that will continue to address the difficult systemic issues in the global economy.

Let’s hope that Thursday sounds starter gun that we are all waiting for and doesn’t end up as a false start.


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