Refugees, climate change, aid and superbugs: Can solutions be found in New York?

By Michael Igoe, Adva Saldinger, Catherine Cheney 16 September 2016

The United Nations General Assembly observes a minute of private prayer or silent meditation at the opening meeting of its 71st session. Pictured at the rostrum: Peter Thomson (center), incoming president of the General Assembly, flanked by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (left) and Undersecretary-General for General Assembly and Conference Management Catherine Pollard. Photo by: Rick Bajornas / U.N.

In what we’ve come to call “Global Dev Week,” presidents, activists, NGO leaders, policymakers, investors, journalists, researchers, development practitioners, celebrities and many more are now descending on New York City to tackle some of the biggest issues facing humanity — and, therefore, the development community.

Devex is on the scene again — braving the gridlock, security lines and bureaucratic jargon — to zero in on a slate of meetings, summits and side events that often set the tone for the global development calendar. If you can’t be here, or if you are here also battling the maze of events and sideline discussions, we hope you’ll follow along with our coverage.

With the Syrian crisis far from resolution, new global health threats emerging, national elections pending with huge implications, political movements challenging global cooperation, and month after month of record high global temperatures, there is plenty to watch.

Here are a few of the questions we’ll try to answer at New York Global Dev Week this year:

Will these migrant and refugee summits produce results?

Welcome to New York #globaldev Week 2016

It's that time of the year again as world leaders and other prominent personalities gather in New York to take part in conversations about global development. We made a list of events to watch out for.

The 71st United Nations General Assembly session will see two complementary events focused on migrants and refugees. The first of these, the United Nations Summit for Refugees and Migrants, will address multiple issues related to the current state of both migrants and refugees in the world. Topics include the drivers of migration, root causes of refugee movements, and the vulnerabilities facing both populations.

The summit will likely lead to a negotiated outcome document — one has already been published in draft form — that will outline states’ commonly held commitments to migrants and refugees.

Human Rights Watch expressed concern that the draft document watered down language addressing protection, particularly for those migrants who do not qualify for refugee status but who still require assistance. An earlier version promised to develop guidelines on the treatment of these groups, while the agreed draft states such guidance will only be considered, and removes the reference to “protection.”

“This change in wording ignores protection needs for migrants who may face existential threats. To suggest that they need assistance only is to leave them unprotected,” wrote Bill Frelick, director of HRW’s refugee program, in a blog.

Amnesty International also criticized the document after states stripped it of a commitment to resettle 10 percent of the world’s refugees each year. The draft currently includes no specific resettlement commitment.

Some observers hope the second meeting, a Leaders' Summit on Refugees hosted by U.S. President Barack Obama the next day, will be the venue in which states submit their concrete refugee resettlement commitments. The participation of heads of state — led by Obama, who did not, for example, attend the World Humanitarian Summit in May — is a promising signal.

Will the Paris climate agreement enter into force next week?

With the joint commitments from the U.S. and China earlier this month, the Paris climate agreement is moving closer toward reaching the number of ratifying countries needed before it can enter into force.

The Paris agreement will go into effect 30 days after 55 countries, representing 55 percent of global emissions submit their instruments of “ratification, acceptance or approval.” So far, 27 countries have joined the agreement, representing roughly 39 percent of global emissions.

There is some chance — although climate change pragmatists are tempering expectations — that the threshold could be reached as soon as next week, when UNGA hosts a special event in which states that haven’t yet joined will be invited to formally join the treaty (or express their commitment to do so).

The agreement’s entry into force this year would be a major victory for climate action. In the lead up to COP21, many observers expected it wouldn’t happen until 2020, or later.

Will U.S. election and Brexit tensions dampen the spirit of global cooperation?

A fitful start for Priti Patel's DfID

At a parliamentary hearing Wednesday, Priti Patel, the new head of the U.K. Department for International Development, offered a few clues about post-Brexit aid, the U.K.'s agenda at the U.N. General Assembly next week and the woefully late aid reviews.

Recent political developments in the U.S. and Europe have shaken multilateral institutions — and seen countries that are keystones of global development cooperation face backlash against their international portfolios at home.

The U.K. vote to leave the European Union raises questions about future development cooperation between Britain and the continent, which new U.K. aid chief Priti Patel, a strong Brexit supporter, partially addressed this week. Patel outlined the U.K.’s UNGA priorities, which did not seem to suggest any immediate or major break from recent years.

Meanwhile, the U.S. presidential election has given voice to a segment of the American populace — attracted to Republican nominee Donald Trump — that is deeply skeptical of the benefits of international cooperation and less inclined (to put it mildly) to support U.S. funding for multilaterally determined priorities such as the Paris climate agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals.

As heads of states convene in New York with the expectation of commitments for refugee resettlement, climate action, and SDG implementation plans, many of them will bring this and similar political baggage from home.

Can the member states stop the superbugs?

The growing threat of medicine-resistant superbugs, which have the potential to kill as many as 10 million people a year and cost the global economy as much as $100 trillion a year, is the kind of crisis that demands coordinated action.

On Sept. 21, a high-level meeting will bring member states together with NGOs, private sector actors, academics, and others to tackle the problem of antimicrobial resistance, or superbugs. This is significant given that UNGA has only convened around three other global health crises: HIV, noncommunicable diseases and Ebola.

UNGA sessions will also focus on responding to health crises more broadly, including discussing noncommunicable diseases, as well as how to improve the welfare of the health workforce, nutrition, and women and children’s health.

“What is it that we need to do?” Melinda Gates said in a recent interview discussing her hopes for action on the Sustainable Development Goals at UNGA. “What can we actually get done in health and in issues of gender and equity and in issues around the world so that we can further everything that was set in that agenda?”

Acknowledging the need for multisector partnerships, many side events related to health, such as an event Johnson & Johnson is hosting on Monday, will explore how actors can come together to improve health outcomes by 2030.

Is gender data moving from the sidelines to the mainstage?

Building on the growing cool factor of gender data, the U.N. General Assembly, and events and conversations on the sidelines, will emphasize the need to close gender data gaps.

In a discussion focused on the advancement of women, the U.N. General Assembly will take a data driven look at the progress that has been made and gaps that remain since the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women was adopted by the General Assembly in 1979. The discussion will include a data driven look at efforts to eliminate female genital mutilation, obstetric fistula, and trafficking of women and girls.

Ending child, early, and forced marriage will be a key focus in conversations around promoting and protecting the rights of children. And the nations gathered will promote special consideration of women in issues such as the protection of migrants and disaster risk reduction.

At the final Clinton Global Initiative, Katja Iversen, the president and CEO of Women Deliver, will ask CGI members how they can build on the progress they have made in ensuring girls and women are full participants in countries around the world.

Other events focused on women and girls include one on Tuesday called “Together for the 2030 Agenda: Partnering for Women, Children, and Adolescents to Thrive and Transform the World” and another on Wednesday called “Making Every Woman and Girl Count.”

Will the private sector step up?

Last year there was clear increase in private sector interest and attendance at the various events surrounding the U.N. General Assembly. One key question this year is if and how they’re stepping up to address the global goals they helped create.

The U.N. Global Compact’s private sector forum on Monday will focus on the role of business in advancing sustainable development and preventing global instability. The discussions there and at other private sector forums will focus on some of the broader key themes, in particular the refugee and migrant crisis as well as climate change. The Business Call to Action forum on Thursday will look at how to grow and improve inclusive business models.

Particularly because New York is a financial center, also expect conversations about the role of finance and perhaps announcement about new or evolving financial instruments to fund interventions aimed at social challenges.

Business leaders will attend the U.N. events, as well as a variety of other forums — from the Clinton Global Initiative annual meeting, to the Concordia Summit, an Every Woman Every Child private sector event, and a host of others. Expect a lot of conversations about partnerships — announcements of new ones, assessments of old ones and a discussion about how the field is evolving.

It’s worth watching what kinds of commitments will be made. Will they skew toward philanthropy, traditional corporate social responsibility projects or be tied into business models and have the potential to scale more rapidly and sustainability? Devex will be assessing whether the rhetoric of last year, and the demand for a seat at the table, is being met with real action.

Will the last Clinton Global Initiative annual meeting leave a mark?

This year will mark the last time the Clinton Global Initiative will bring together global government, business and NGO leaders at an annual meeting. The initiative, such as many of the Clinton Foundation’s programs, is undergoing major changes and will be phased out with Hillary Clinton’s run for president.

According to CGI, this year’s marquee event will highlight some of the initiative’s impacts — from bringing together unconventional partners to disaster response efforts and its emphasis on women and girls. While CGI doesn’t directly fund or carry out any programs, it has been a platform for 3,500 commitments to action over its 12-year history. By its count, those commitments have impacted 430 million people in 180 countries.

This year some of the featured speakers will include the presidents of Peru, Argentina and Colombia as well as NGO leaders such as Save the Children’s Carolyn Miles and corporate leaders such as Unilever’s Paul Polman, Chobani’s Hamdi Ulukaya and GlaxoSmithKline’s Andrew Witty. Actor Ben Affleck and recording artists Andrea Bocelli and Jon Bon Jovi will be lending their star power this year.

CGI is also releasing a report, building on its portfolio analysis published in 2013 and report earlier this year about failed commitments, that will look at sustainable agriculture, which has been a growing field of interest among commitment makers in recent years. The report looked at five commitments made by a variety of partners from different sectors as a way to share lessons and advance more successful collaboration in the field.

Devex will also be exploring CGI’s legacy and the role it has played in development, from elevating the idea of partnerships, catalyzing new financing mechanisms and shining a spotlight on the role of women and girls.

Check back on our coverage of New York Global Dev Week here, follow @Devex and join the conversation using #GlobalGoals.

About the authors

Igoe michael 1
Michael Igoe@AlterIgoe

Michael Igoe is a senior correspondent for Devex. Based in Washington, D.C., he covers U.S. foreign aid and emerging trends in international development and humanitarian policy. Michael draws on his experience as both a journalist and international development practitioner in Central Asia to develop stories from an insider's perspective.


Adva%2520saldinger%2520photo
Adva Saldinger@deveximpact

As a Devex Impact associate editor, Adva leads coverage of the intersection of business and international development. From partnerships to trade and social entrepreneurship to impact investing, she enjoys exploring the role the private sector and private capital play in development. Previously, she has worked as a reporter at newspapers in both the U.S. and South Africa. Most recently, she has been ghostwriting a memoir for a former child slave and NGO founder in Ghana.


Catherine cheney devex
Catherine Cheneycatherinecheney

Catherine Cheney covers the West Coast global development community for Devex. Since graduating from Yale University, where she earned bachelor's and master's degrees in political science, Catherine has worked as a reporter and editor for a range of publications including World Politics Review, POLITICO, and NationSwell, a media company and membership network she helped to build. She is also an ambassador for the Solutions Journalism Network and the Franklin Project at the Aspen Institute.


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