Saudi Arabia's PR push, GCF's restart button, and new OECD rules: This week in development

Saudi Arabia flag. Photo by: Abrar Mubark Alhumairi / CC BY

Saudi Arabia demands good publicity for United Nations contributions, the Green Climate Fund looks to get back on track, and U.S. aid leaders voice concerns about Trump’s foreign assistance review. This week in development:

Aid donors have agreed to a pair of rule changes about which countries are eligible to receive official development assistance and where funding can and cannot be “tied” to donor country firms. A delegate-level meeting of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Development Assistance Committee approved a rule change that will allow countries that have previously graduated out of ODA eligibility, but which then experience some kind of shock or disaster that forces them below high-income status, to become recipients of development assistance. That phenomenon has been dubbed “reverse graduation,” and discussions arose out of the United Kingdom’s push to spend assistance money in high-income overseas territories that were battered by hurricanes last year. In Paris, donor representatives agreed that a country will qualify for readmittance to the ODA list if its per capita income falls below the World Bank’s high-income threshold of $12,055 for one year, Vince Chadwick reports for Devex. At the same meeting, 10 countries were added to the list of places where donors must provide “untied aid,” which requires open competition for goods and services, in contrast to aid contracts that require procurement through firms linked to the donor country.

The Green Climate Fund’s board is fighting to get the climate finance institution back on track, with new commitments amounting to over $1 billion in project funding and a focus on replenishment. Meeting in Bahrain in late October, the board approved 19 projects, ranging from $10 million for an energy efficient consumption loan program in Mongolia to over $43 million for a project in India to enhance the climate resilience of its coastal communities with the U.N. Development Programme, Fatima Arkin reports for Devex. Despite the encouraging number of approvals, politics still found its way into the proceedings. The United States blocked a request for a $180 million loan to catalyze climate finance in China’s Shandong province, a move one observer described as “very political and nothing else.” This board meeting was under close scrutiny after the last meeting saw GCF teetering on the edge of a breakdown, with policy disputes going unresolved, and the institution’s executive director unexpectedly resigning. As it looks to replenish its dwindling finances, GCF will have to contend with losing two major donors, the U.S. and Australia, both of which have said they will not contribute to the institution.

The government of Saudi Arabia attached public relations strings to its $930 million U.N. humanitarian contributions for Yemen, according to leaked documents seen by the Guardian. The document, titled “Visibility Plan,” instructs that in return for Riyadh’s donation to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the intergovernmental body should hold events highlighting Saudi Arabia’s role in the humanitarian response and look to place articles in outlets including the New York Times and the Guardian. Saudi Arabia’s military involvement in Yemen is widely regarded as a driving force behind the country’s humanitarian crisis. In a statement, OCHA told the Guardian that “most of the donors in Yemen and elsewhere have visibility requirements,” and that since these are agreed bilaterally, they are not publicly disclosed.

U.S. development leaders voiced concerns about a confidential “foreign assistance review” currently underway within the Trump administration. In a Devex op-ed, Mark Dybul, Robert Mosbacher, and John Danilovich — all former U.S. development agency heads — write, “we are concerned that a process that in the end renders a development strategy and budget that simply divides countries into two categories — friends and everyone else — is unlikely to have a positive effect on our national interests and could actually harm them.” Few details have been shared about the review, and Devex has so far been unable to confirm whether it is being led by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo or by National Security Advisor John Bolton. The principles outlined in the review are expected to inform the administration’s next budget proposal.

About the author

  • 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.