Tough negotiations, smart investments

A banner hangs outside the venue of the Fourth High-Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan, South Korea. Photo by: ©HLF4

Talk is cheap, the saying goes. When world leaders gather to negotiate the future of international development, what is a lack of binding commitments?

This week, world leaders gathered in Busan to discuss aid effectiveness, and in Durban to discuss climate change. In South Korea’s second-largest city, agreement could only be reached after binding commitments were watered down or eliminated from the outcome document at the behest of China, Brazil, India and other emerging powers. In South Africa, European officials are struggling to convince many of their counterparts — from Japan to Canada, from the United States to Russia and beyond — to sign onto a follow-up to the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, which expires at the end of this year.

The sad irony: At the heart of the impasse is inequality, or the sense by some leaders that their countries have paid their fair share, that others should do more. But as a result, inequality is perpetuated — until further notice.

The United Nations Convention on Climate Change will continue for another week — perhaps time enough to find some common ground.

Meanwhile, aid ministers and other officials returning from South Korea will travel home to explain how the agreement struck at the Fourth High-Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness will help reduce global poverty and increase economic opportunity at home and abroad.

In an initial statement, BetterAid, a coalition of more than 1,000 aid organizations, cautioned that the deal struck at the world’s biggest ever development cooperation meeting would only live up to its historic potential if nations follow through on their promises.

“It’s great that new donors are starting to talk about aid, and we hope that they’ll perform better than traditional donors have in the past,” said Antonio Tujan Jr., co-chair of BetterAid, who represented civil society at the negotiating table with nations. “This could be historic, but only if they make good on their pledge. We’re disappointed that there is not yet a way to make countries stick to what they promise.”

Read Tujan Jr.‘s exclusive guest opinion published last week by Devex, on civil society’s expectations of Busan:

>> Development Through and for the People

Several contentious issues stood in the way of a broader agreement at Busan: There was criticism that OECD-DAC members have not untied aid policies as pledged. Western leaders insisted on more protections for civil society, following reports of restrictive laws and practices from Cambodia to Kenya. Although several countries — including the United States and Australia — signed onto aid transparency standards, China and others would not. Agreement on specific actions on women’s rights and the most fragile states — such as Haiti, Timor Leste and Somalia — appeared elusive.

Meanwhile, the U.N. Secretary-General reminded us that only four years remain to reach the Millennium Development Goals. Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan tweeted: “In the #Arab world, #youth don’t want aid money. They want jobs, a salary, new skills. They want chances and choices.” There will be more chatter about Busan from Midtown Manhattan to the business lounges at Heathrow and the echo chambers of social media.

When the dust settles, funding — and the threat of funding cuts — will again be on everyone’s mind. If you haven’t already, please catch up on Busannovate, a joint initiative of the United Nations Foundation and Devex to highlight innovative financing for development. With guest contributions by Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus and OECD-DAC chair Brian Atwood (who led the gathering in Busan), it points at ways into the future.

Read last week’s Development Buzz on Your Guide to Busan.

About the author

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    Rolf Rosenkranz

    Rolf Rosenkranz oversees a talented team of in-house journalists, correspondents and guest contributors located around the globe. Since joining Devex in early 2008, Rolf has been instrumental in growing its fledgling news operation into the leading online source for global development news and analysis. Previously, Rolf was managing editor at Inside Health Policy, a subscription-based news service in Washington. He has reported from Africa for the Johannesburg-based Star and its publisher, Independent News & Media, as well as the Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, a German daily.