FFD: Outsourcing multilateralism?

At the start of this 2015 blog, I highlighted three major global events happening in 2015 which offer an exceptional opportunity to change course. The first of these, the Financing for Development Summit in Addis Ababa has finally arrived.

As I sit here in my comfortable hotel bedroom in Addis Ababa, listening to the police sirens outside as dignitaries from 193 countries arrive, I wonder about the week ahead – and what difference, if any, my being here makes. These big global summits are a circus. In fact, as I write, the negotiations may be over already. The EU unilaterally agreed to the final draft text overnight. They have given the other major block of countries, the G77, until 3pm today to accept this agreement. The G77 will have to decide whether this is a battle worth fighting.

The point is that delegates coming to Addis would prefer not to have to do any serious, messy negotiating – this would take away from the media razzmatazz of the non-negotiated announcements. The last thing they want is for the media to get distracted by any disagreements. Patch it up, cover up the cracks – agree something, anything. Let us all get on with the real business of interesting side events, state dinners, receptions, and the all-important branded global initiatives! Let the people back home know we are making a difference.

The fact is that the official outcome document is excruciatingly weak, despite Ban Ki Moon’s valiant attempt to talk it up to 1000 NGOs yesterday. The “Addis Action Agenda” is very short on concrete action, especially on the part of states. There is no new aid money, for example, on the table. The FfD summit is meant to come up with the additional finance – both the actual money and the structural changes required to generate future resources – to deliver on the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. Finance for global goals can come from a range of sources but not all finance is equal. All of us know the difference between a grant and a high interest loan. To achieve the SDGs, especially for the poorest people on the planet, public finance is essential. Only public finance can provide the level of stability and the social contract needed to deliver essential services to the poorest. Without adequate public finance the whole enterprise of human development based on the idea of human rights – where duty bearers can be held to account – is put at serious risk.

What the run up to the negotiations in Addis confirms, yet again, is that a profound shift in global politics taking place right under the noses of our elected governments. This shift is really about a transferal of accountability in global politics away from democratic governance into the hands of powerful financiers and corporations. The only game in town this week is the unrelenting rise of private capital in the provision of the new development agenda, as I recently wrote about here. Public Private Partnerships and blended finance are the only show in town. Such PPPs come at a cost – a cost of democratic accountability, through transferring the responsibility for public services provision away from the state into large, international, unelected profit making entities. The risk burden, moreover, is transferred to the public purse creating the potential for new unsustainable debt crises. The decision on when the cost of an investment in essential, life saving services becomes too high essentially becomes a matter for the board room in New York rather than the cabinet table in Addis Ababa. Who, then, is accountable for ensuring the human rights of those at the receiving end of such essential services? 

Whilst the negotiations on agreeing the new goals (the what) have been relatively straight forward so far, the negotiations on the means to get there (the how) have been dogged with bad feeling from the start. It feels like the world was happy to come up with an ambitious wish list, but is hoping Santa Claus will come to deliver it. The atmosphere here could not be more different to the optimistic spirit experienced in the Vatican last week. That spirit, grounded in a realisation of the existential crisis facing humanity, unfortunately does not seem to have made it to Addis yet. The words of the Encyclical are still ringing in my ears “everything is connected”. The fight against climate change, in fact, is profoundly linked to the capacity for state action, which in turn relies on an ability to generate resources through taxation and limit illicit flows – which in turn, requires democratic governance and upholding of basic human rights of communities over corporations. In other words, people and planet before profits.  

At present, it would appear that the dominance of the private corporate sphere, with its unrelenting logic of profit seeking has the upper hand. That logic has come to set the rules of the game, even within the UN. The UN, as I wrote here, is not coca cola! Santa Claus, in his red Coca cola truck will not deliver the SDGs. Multilateralism itself it seems is now beholden to the markets. Such a form of multilateralism knows no forgiveness, as the unfolding Greek tragedy demonstrates.

The question is how can such influence be curtailed? How can we reclaim the democratic space, especially in a world where 90 states have introduced draconian measures to limit democratic freedoms? In many countries, including the one I am sitting in right now, public protest will now land you in prison or worse. Everything is connected.

As I said following the Vatican conference, and after the Trócaire conference, we need a new global movement – which is able to see the profound interconnections between the different struggles we are facing. At the heart of this, there is a profound need to reclaim the Greek philosophical basis of a good society – and adapt it to the world we live in today, constrained by climate change and other massive challenges. It seems to me that four burgeoning global movements need get out of their silos and come together: the movement for climate justice, the movement for tax justice, the global treaty alliance on business and human rights and the movement for transparency. Together, these peoples’ movements, grounded in a global “culture of care” based on the Encyclical, could make the difference. Without this kind of united struggle, the spectre of global plutocracy looms large.

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