Global Climate Action Summit, Oxfam GB's new chief, and the EU's alliance with Africa: This week in development

A scene from the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco. Photo by: Global Climate Action Summit

The European Commission chief looks for a new alliance with Africa, Oxfam taps new leadership for a fresh start, and Southeast Asian leaders look to the future — while grappling with questions about their past and present. This week in development:

The Global Climate Action Summit has officially kicked off in San Francisco, with a focus on subnational and private sector action — largely in response to faltering national leadership by President Donald Trump’s administration. The summit, hosted by California Gov. Jerry Brown — and with support from other major players, including philanthropist Michael Bloomberg — will give rise to a range of new commitments, some of which have already begun to trickle in. On Wednesday, nine foundations announced a joint contribution of $459 million through 2022 to support forest protection and indigenous peoples’ land rights. On the eve of the summit, Ford Foundation CEO Darren Walker spoke to Devex Correspondent Catherine Cheney about the need to direct more support to local climate action and the biases against local funding that still persist. The summit in California comes on the heels of climate change negotiations in Bangkok, which were supposed to pave the way for a smoother path toward approving the Paris Agreement’s implementation guidelines — known as the “rulebook” — but which many experts said came up short. United Nations Secretary General António Guterres described progress in Bangkok as “far from enough” during a major speech on climate change in New York on Monday, in which he called for renewed commitment and announced a high-level U.N. summit in 2019.

Oxfam GB is looking for a fresh start with the announcement of a new CEO, Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah, currently chief executive officer of CIVICUS, a Johannesburg-based global alliance of civil society organizations. The charity has been engulfed by a sexual abuse scandal for the past six months, prompting donors to pull their funding and souring Oxfam’s relationship with the U.K. Department for International Development. The announcement of Sriskandarajah’s appointment was largely welcomed by U.K. aid experts, one of whom described him as “an authentic leader with strategic, ethical vision.” Sriskandarajah joined CIVICUS in 2013, and was previously director general of the Royal Commonwealth Society. Born in Sri Lanka, raised in Australia, and living in South Africa as a U.K. citizen, some insiders hope Sriskandarajah’s experience and perspective might benefit an international NGO sector in need of evolution.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker pledged a new alliance between the European Union and Africa, dangling the possibility of a continent-to-continent free-trade deal. That won’t happen anytime soon though, as the African Continental Free Trade Area would need to be rolled out first. Juncker’s pitch Wednesday was really about trying to reassert European influence. For Brussels, the worst-case scenario would be a loss of both political and economic clout in Africa to the likes of China and Brazil, a senior EU official told Devex. In that scenario, African leaders “couldn’t care less about migration to Europe, so they say ‘whoever wants to leave to Europe, leaves to Europe.’” Hence why EU leaders are meeting next week to consider offering more aid as an incentive for African states to help prevent illegal migration.

The U.S. Agency for International Development is once again accepting applications for its Development Innovation Ventures program after a budget-induced hiatus of more than a year. “We’ve worked with our budget office and Congress to come to an arrangement where we have confidence we have continued funding to run DIV into the foreseeable future,” David Ferguson, the director of the U.S. Global Development Lab’s Center for Development Innovation, told Devex.

Human rights and trade disputes loomed over a World Economic Forum on ASEAN, which saw leaders grapple with Southeast Asia’s shifting dynamics of technology, education, and economics. Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi admitted that her government could have better handled “the situation” in Rakhine state, which has led to the mass displacement of Rohingya. Suu Kyi otherwise sidestepped questions about persecution and tried to shift attention to Myanmar’s other “very small ethnic groups, which are fast disappearing.” The gathering in Hanoi, Vietnam, was also marked by visa entry problems, with a handful of invitees — including the secretary general of the International Federation for Human Rights — denied entry to the country. Human rights groups described “a clear case of the shrinking civil society space creeping into other platforms such as WEF.”

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  • Igoe michael 1

    Michael Igoe

    Michael Igoe is a Senior Reporter with Devex, based in Washington, D.C. He covers U.S. foreign aid, global health, climate change, and development finance. Prior to joining Devex, Michael researched water management and climate change adaptation in post-Soviet Central Asia, where he also wrote for EurasiaNet. Michael earned his bachelor's degree from Bowdoin College, where he majored in Russian, and his master’s degree from the University of Montana, where he studied international conservation and development.