November 22, 2012

The MDGs post-2015: why we should do less

Three years out from the 2015 deadline for the MDGs, and debate on “what next” is already reaching fever pitch. Proposals for a post-2015 version of the MDGs are coming from an increasingly crowded field that includes individual experts and academics, think tanks and research institutes, NGOs and civil society groups.
The Centre for International Governance Innovation, for instance, suggests eleven potential goals, targets and indicators, including in areas such as ensuring freedom from violence and sustainable management of the biosphere. The Center for Global Development (CGD) also identifies possible goals, targets and time frames, and even goes so far as to incorporate these into suggested draft language for an updated Millennium Declaration. Oxfam has also released a draft paper on how a post-2015 agreement can drive “real change”.

These and other proposals amount to a substantial body of thinking that means there is already no shortage of options for the post-MDG framework. But what does it mean for what we should do next in the lead up to 2015? The best that organisations like CIGI, CGD and Oxfam can do, as well as the rest of us who are based in developed countries, is to take a deep breath - and then do less.

Adopting a “do nothing for now” approach at the precise moment when debate is hotting up on the post-2015 framework might be anathema to those of us who are deeply invested in development thinking and action, and in ensuring the next version of the MDGs is better than the first. It might, however, be just what developing countries need right now: the rest of us out of the way, and the time and space to stake their own claim on the post-2015 agenda.

Here’s why. The large majority of proposals on the next MDGs are put forward by people and institutions based in developed countries. So far, thinking and proposals that emanate from developing countries, and that reflect the interests and priorities of people in these countries, are getting relatively limited traction in policy debates and discussions.

That’s not to say they don’t exist. Ernest Areetey (Vice Chancellor of the University of Ghana) and Charles Abugre (Africa Regional Director of the UN Millennium Campaign) both recently shared their thinking on the post 2015 framework (here and here). Abugre argues for a model aimed at the global community that addresses systemic threats to equitable and sustainable development, and that is based on the principle of “common but differentiated needs and responsibilities” that (amongst other things) would be applied to address the global financial, food and energy systems.

The UN Economic Commission for Africa is also taking a role in articulating that continent’s perspectives on the post-2015 agenda. Drawing on studies and consultations with member countries and other stakeholders, it proposes a model that would adapt the existing MDGs, while maintaining a balance between development outcomes and enablers, the latter including aspects such as good governance, human rights for all, and a credible participatory process.  

These are just a sample of what developing country thinkers and stakeholders are saying on the post-2015 framework. So far, however, it’s the “noisier” proposals coming out of North America and Europe, mostly from usual suspects like CGD and the Overseas Development Institute, which are dominating debates on what happens next. Many of the organisations making these proposals are falling over each other to mark out their territory on the post-2015 policy agenda. To do so, they are trading on notions of their superior intellectual heft, as well as leveraging their greater resources and their privileged access to the powerful: to rich country governments, official development institutions, and the UN system. 

And who can blame them? Everybody wants their proposal to be the one that makes a difference. Otherwise, what’s the point of putting it forward in the first place? What this means, though, is that in the rush to prepare for 2015 we are at risk of making exactly the same mistake that was made the first time around with the MDGs. On that occasion, people in developing countries had woefully inadequate engagement in the process of designing the MDGs. If proposals emanating from developed countries continue to dominate policy dialogue on the post-2015 model, many people will see the outcome in the same way that they now see the MDGs: as something that was “concocted by the elite”, that has little relevance for them, and that they have little ownership over.

Fortunately, the UN appears to have recognised that it’s essential that the post-2015 framework should take developing country priorities and perspectives into account. UNDG is set to conduct consultations in 50 countries, and there could be more if, as has been suggested, the number of countries is increased. UN specialized agencies will also canvas opinion on 9 thematic areas, including on topics not currently covered by the MDGs such as inequality, growth and employment, and population dynamics.

Then there is the question of how the consultations will be conducted, and with whom. As a ONE report recently suggests, “notwithstanding [the UN’s] impressive program of consultation, there is a real risk that the most critical voices will be largely missing – the world’s poorest citizens”. To its credit, UNDG seems to be aware of this possibility, and has developed comprehensive guidelines for undertaking the country dialogues, “to ensure the post-2015 debate is informed by inputs and ideas from a broad base of civil society, marginalized groups, and others previously left out of discussions on development priorities”.

But irrespective of how well the consultations are conducted, the UN remains an outside actor intervening within countries to extract information. As a result, the consultations run the risk of being seen as a yet one more externally-driven process, designed and undertaken not by local actors within each country, but under the auspices of the UN, and contrived within an unrealistic time frame: the country consultations will be completed by March 2013, and thematic consultations by June 2013, so that they can feed into the next major UN meeting on the MDGs in September 2013.

It’s not surprising, then, that there are alternative suggestions for generating developing country engagement with, and ownership over the process. In his paper, the Australian National University’s Scott Wisor suggests deliberative (rather than extractive) approaches that would complement the UN and other consultations. These could take the form of citizen assemblies, in which participants would have the opportunity not just to speak, but also to “be heard, listen, reflect, negotiate, analyze and decide” on issues.  The IDS project “Participate: knowledge from the margins” focuses on participatory methodologies, and aims to engage the most vulnerable and marginalised groups. ONE proposes a “What the World Wants Poll” to canvas opinion in both developed and developing countries.

These suggestions on process remind us that existing proposals for the format of the post-2015 framework are putting the cart before the horse: in identifying new goals and targets, they are pre-empting the information gathering and consultation processes that should inform what the final framework will look like. The problem, though, is that the suggestions on process are also coming from individuals or organisations located in developed countries.  And together, they add to the increasingly cluttered array of options on the post-2015 MDG agenda, one in which developed countries are over-represented.

That’s why now is the right time for practitioners and analysts in developed countries to take a step back, and to make room for people in developing countries to advance their own thinking on a post-2015 framework.  That doesn’t mean the existing thinking isn’t worthwhile. It’s just that there is enough of it for now. It’s fair enough that we loosen our grip on the post-2015 agenda a little, and give those who it will affect most the opportunity to shape it more strongly.

Bill Morton is an independent researcher and policy analyst based in Ottawa. He previously worked for Oxfam Australia and The North-South Institute. Previous versions of this blog appeared on the Development Policy Centre blog and NSI’s Canadian International Development Platform. The views expressed are his own, and do not necessarily represent the views of CCIC or its members.

November 12, 2012

False Hope: the harmful promotion of agrofuels in Asia and Canada

When the price of agrofuel production finally became economically competitive with the high price of oil around 2005, a debate soon opened up about whether transport fuel produced from crops (such as palm oil, corn, sugarcane, jatropha, etc.) could actually help our planet to cope with the fuel, food, climate, and financial crises we face. While production of agrofuel shows no sign of slowing down (see OECD tables for global agrofuel production), there is an overwhelming body of evidence that agrofuels are not the solution we need.

Oil palm plantation, Malaysia

Production of agrofuels (also widely referred to by the more hopeful term ‘biofuels’) is harming communities and ecosystems around the world. Agrofuel production, particularly in industrial monoculture plantations has led to land grabbing, food insecurity, poor labour conditions, decreased biodiversity, soil erosion, deforestation, and increased carbon emissions (through production, land use change, and transport).

The Asia-Pacific Working Group, one of CCIC’s regional working groups, recently finished drafting a report on this topic: Agrofuel in Asia: Production, Impacts, International Incentives & Canada’s Role. The report analyzes current production of agrofuel across Asia, examines the impacts of this production on communities and ecosystems, looks at international demand and incentives for agrofuel, and asks what role Canada plays in promoting agrofuel. I presented this report (view presentation online) at a Canadian Asian Studies Association conference earlier this month.

Our report finds that although many countries (including Canada, but also several in Asia - Korea, Japan, Vietnam) are investing in research into agrofuel production that does not require food crops (these are the so-called second and third generation agrofuels, to be produced from grasses, fast-growing trees, agricultural residues, algae, etc.), the vast majority of current agrofuel production still comes from taking food crops produced on good agricultural land, and converting them into ethanol or agro-diesel.

This means that the global demand for transport fuel is being partially satisfied by using agricultural land (often in developing countries, for export) to grow food crops that, instead of being used to feed humans, are used for fuel. That this practice is leading to land grabbing and food insecurity should come as no surprise. As land is acquired abroad to grow agrofuel to meet domestic demand (ActionAid puts the global total at 50 million hectares of land grabs for agrofuel), poorer groups lose access to their traditional lands, which compromises livelihoods and access to food.

Canada’s strategy in regards to agrofuels is based on the ideas of sustained growth, and problem solving through technological innovation, which aligns with the vision of a “green economy” (being promoted by the UN Environment Programme among others) in which technological solutions will provide the answers, while the current production processes of producing agrofuel from crops, continue unchanged. The Canadian government is investing in agrofuel subsidies, blending mandates and research into alternative agrofuel feedstock sources (notably its NextGen Biofuels Fund and BioFuelNet Canada). Encouraging demand for agrofuels in Canada makes it likely that more agrofuels will be produced in Asia since Canada may not be able to satisfy its own needs with domestic production. By promoting the consumption of both ethanol and agrodiesel, the Canadian government is also supporting agrofuel production in Asia, which leads to the many negative consequences outlined above.

For further reading: 

Besides the research undertaken by academics and international institutions, many CSOs have done extensive work to analyze the impacts of agrofuel production and agrofuel subsidies and blending targets. 

For more details, see: Fuel for Thought: Addressing the social impacts of EU biofuel policies (ActionAid 2012); The New Biomassters (ETC Group 2010); Driving to Destruction: the impacts of Europe’s biofuel plans on carbon emissions and land (Friends of the Earth 2010); The Hunger Grains: The fight is on. Time to scrap EU biofuel mandates (Oxfam International 2012); Food for Fuel? (USC Canada 2008); and Industrial Agrofuels Fuel Hunger and Poverty (La Via Campesina 2009).

This blog was written by Jack Litster, Assistant Coordinator of the Asia-Pacific Working Group, CCIC. The views expressed are his own, and do not necessarily represent the views of CCIC or its members.

November 5, 2012

Education for All: Looking Back, Looking Forward (Part 2 of 2)

A report back from the UNESCO Collective Consultation with NGOs on Education for All. 
Looking ahead: 2015 and beyond

There are common threads in the discussions about what will/should replace the EFA and MDG goals in 2015, not least of which is that this is an opportunity for us to reframe our assumptions. We need to ask ourselves some fundamental questions about the purpose of education and about education’s role in creating the world we want.

Recognizing the risks of keeping two separate agendas, the education community is forging ahead with articulating a vision for EFA beyond 2015, while hoping to continue to influence the broader development agenda. We know that we want to put human rights and social justice at the core of whatever frameworks are to come, and that we cannot succumb to a reductionist agenda.

That being said, our greatest collective impact may be felt if we can articulate a broad, comprehensive goal that the education community can stand behind and advocate for inclusion in the post-MDG framework. I was disappointed that we did not make much progress on this as a sector at CCNGO, but threads of this are starting to emerge.

The common demands across all aspects and levels of education include the need to address equity, quality and financing issues in education. As in other sectors, we cannot achieve our goals without targeted interventions to address and include the most marginalized among us, including those with disabilities, ethnic and linguistic minorities, those affected by conflict, etc.

We must address quality moving forward, ensuring learning for all with concrete and measurable indicators that do not distill achievement to learning outcomes in literacy only. We must also ensure that adequate numbers of qualified teachers who are regarded as professionals and partners are seen to be at the core of the quality agenda.

Finally, we need an actionable agenda on financing a holistic education framework. At the national level we need to ensure that past pledges to spend 20% of budgets, or 6% of GDP on basic education are met. This means integrating the education sector more fully into national planning, advocating for progressive taxation, and ensuring that profits from resource extraction are spent on the social sector. It also means donors stepping up to fill the financing gap and ensure that “no countries seriously committed to education for all will be thwarted in their achievement of this goal by a lack of resources” (Dakar Framework for Action).

Civil society has never been more organized or more influential, especially in the education sector. We’ve learned a lot about what works and what needs to be done to achieve these goals. After a thought-provoking and energizing week in Paris, I am hopeful that we can work with our national and multilateral partners to articulate a vision for education and for development that embraces the spirit of the EFA framework and ensures the realization of human rights around the world.

Natalie Poulson is the National Coordinator for the Canadian Global Campaign for Education. The views expressed are her own, and do not necessarily represent the views of CCIC or its members.
The first part of this blog was published on Friday, Nov. 2, 2012.

November 2, 2012

Education for All: Looking Back, Looking Forward (Part 1 of 2)

Capacity, coordination, frustration, evidence, openness, hope, communication, knowledge-base, reflectiveness, convergence, options, unfocused, dissemination

These were some of the words that participants used to sum up our discussion when I had the pleasure last week of moderating a working group on reaching the Education for All (EFA) goals by 2015.

The working group was part of a larger meeting of UNESCO’s Collective Consultation with NGOs on Education for All (CCNGO/EFA), which brought together over 150 representatives of national, regional and global NGOs and civil society networks from around the world. We came together to take stock of our achievements in education, discuss solutions to the challenges that remain, and begin to articulate a vision for education post-2015.

But before I jump into where we are going, let’s talk about where we’ve been.

Education for All
In short, a set of global goals was established in the World Declaration on Education for All in Jomtien, Thailand in 1990.  A decade on, the goals were reaffirmed by the international community through the Dakar Framework for Action (2000), and two of those goals were picked up by the Millennium Development Goals (universal primary education and gender parity).

Since that time we have seen increased national spending on education, the abolition of school fees and rights-based frameworks translated into national legislation in many countries. This has spurred unprecedented enrollment in primary school and a narrowing gender gap. Comprehensive education plans are being drafted to fit within national development strategies, and civil society participation in the governance of education (and not just low-cost service provision) has sky-rocketed.

Education has often been highlighted as the success story of the MDGs and, indeed, there is much for which we should be proud. But the most consistent message coming out of participants at the CCNGO is that the road ahead is still long and that we must remain vigilant.

As for many sectors, the next two years represent our “moment of truth,” so to speak, as we make a push to achieve the MDG and EFA goals by 2015. The newest data released by the Education for All (EFA) Global Monitoring Report earlier this month shows us that progress in education has been uneven across the goals, and is stagnating.

Against this backdrop, civil society gathered at the CCNGO identified a number of common challenges that will require targeted action if we are to achieve the EFA goals.

So what next?

Underlying Currents
There were two underlying currents that were pervasive throughout CCNGO. First, EFA is unfinished business – these are goals that must be attained rather than scrapped for an entirely new agenda. The most neglected goals, those pertaining to early childhood education, youth skills and adult literacy, need immediate redress.

Secondly – and this may surprise some readers - the EFA agenda was actually negatively impacted by the Millennium Development Goals. Certainly the MDGs were a useful mobilizing tool and did much to shed light on education issues;  it recognized them as central to the long-term sustainability of development. But by extracting two goals from a set of holistic, mutually-reinforcing education goals, both the MDGs and EFA goals were set to fail.

Those are strong words, so let’s break it down.

Although universal primary education (UPE) and gender parity are important goals, they will never be achieved without attention to the full education agenda. We know that children in low-income countries who are malnourished and underdeveloped, who have never benefited from comprehensive and holistic early childhood education programs, and whose parents are illiterate, have significantly decreased chances of staying in school and succeeding. We know that no country has ever achieved universal primary education without a certain percentage of secondary school spots as incentive to move forward. I could go on, but I think the point is clear that focusing on UPE is not a sufficient way forward.

On the MDG side, those of us in the education community can point to mounting evidence that education is an underlying factor in the level of achievement - or lack thereof - in all of these worthy 8 goals. And so, if we cannot achieve the MDGs without addressing education, and we cannot achieve MDG 2 (UPE) and MDG 3 (gender parity) without addressing all of the EFA goals, then we seem to be at an impasse.

(The second part of this blog will be published on Monday, November 5, 2012)

Natalie Poulson is the National Coordinator for the Canadian Global Campaign for EducationThe views expressed are her own, and do not necessarily represent the views of CCIC or its members.