Post-2015 as the Litmus Test for Global Governance
October 25, 2013
by SHANNON KINDORNAY
The Ottawa Citizen
Multilateralism is in trouble. Global governance is in trouble. And if you don’t think that’s the case, you haven’t been paying attention. We have a world plagued by multiple crises and challenges and an ever changing landscape of geopolitical realities – take any narrative to G20 or UN communiques in the last five years and you will see what I mean. It reads something like this: the world is facing ongoing financial and food crises, a scarcity of resources – particularly land and water – inequality is growing and economic growth and job creation is uneven, all in a context where climate change remains the elephant in the room. Global power is shifting. New and (re)emerging actors, such as the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) and the private sector, are altering the international landscape, giving rise to new challenges and opportunities for addressing these issues. And civil society and citizen’s movements (insert reference to the Arab Spring / Occupy Wall Street movement here) are demanding their rights and accountability from government (as well as corporations) who themselves are increasing ill-equipped for our highly networked and technologically interconnected world.
Enter global governance and the multilateral institutions through which it occurs. Traditionally, these institutions, like the UN, World Bank and International Monetary Fund – institutions that promote and facilitate cooperation among countries – oversaw and delivered concerted responses to global challenges. Yet, as the world faces new and old challenges and governments continue to be unable or unwilling to address global public goods issues, such as climate change, the continued relevance and impact of multilateral institutions has been raised.
A new edited volume by Hany Besada and Shannon Kindornay, Multilateral Development Cooperation in a Changing Global Order, lays out the issues clearly. The presence of old donors, emerging economies, civil society and the private sector is being felt by all development actors, leading to greater fragmentation of the multilateral system and more competition at the institutional, financial and ideational levels. These trends have exacerbated old challenges related to the need for reforms to improve the legitimacy of governance and decision making processes in multilateral institutions to better account for developing country priorities and reflect emerging geopolitical realities. The inability of multilateral agencies to address concerns around representation, particularly financial institutions, has lead emerging economies to establish other national and multilateral mechanisms to achieve their goals, such national development banks, bilateral South-South Cooperation and regional trade blocks and groupings such as the BRICS and IBSA. At the same time, though financial contributions for development in the form of aid and philanthropic giving have increased significantly in the past decades, multilateral institutions, which have proliferated at an alarming rate, are seeing a decline in their funding. At the ideational level, the financial crisis of 2008 and the ensuing aftermath, as well as the success of BRICS countries, has also led to mainstream questioning of dominant (western) understandings of how successful development ought to be achieved, including the agendas and ideas promoted by key multilateral institutions, such as the World Bank that have tended to privilege neoliberal and technocratic solutions to the inherently political problems of development.
And now, in this context, the global community has turned its attention to the post-2015 agenda, which will replace the Millennium Development Goals. Plans are also underway for the creation of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) whose establishment was agreed to at the Rio+20 Summit in June of 2012. These goals are likely to feature strongly in the post-2015 framework that emerges. Yet, despite the great deal of attention the post-2015 agenda has received to date, the future is still uncertain. The establishment of the post-2015 agenda serves as a manifestation of the key themes and challenges discussed in the edited volume. It is characterized by competing perspectives and ideas, and fragmented multilateral processes, some of which have faced questions regarding their legitimacy. In some respects, post-2015 serves as the next litmus test for the world’s ability to make multilateralism work.
On the ideational level, no less than seventeen comprehensive and 60 sectoral and thematic proposals have been made by think tanks, governments and UN organizations which include concrete goals, targets and indicators. At the institutional level, numerous fora have been established within the UN context to address post-2015 and the creation of the SDGs, each with varying degrees of representation. These include a High Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, a UN System Task Team on the Post-2015 Development Agenda which involves over 50 UN entities and international organizations, the intergovernmental Open Working Group on the SDGs which resulted from Rio+20, and the related Expert Group on Financing for Sustainable Development. For its part, the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation, which was established following the 2011 4th High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness and brings together government, civil society and private sector actors concerned with effective development cooperation, is also looking at how it can engage on these agendas. Where groupings such as the G20 fit into this context is unclear. While everyone agrees that the post-2015 and SDG processes should come together, there is no denying that a myriad of multilateral actors and processes are at play, all striving to influence the future global agenda, which will ultimately be negotiated by governments that have, in the past few years, demonstrated an inability to find strong agreement on key global challenges and issues relating to development such as climate change, trade and development, and aid effectiveness. At this point, it is unclear how this plethora of multilateral fora will work together.
It is not all doom and gloom however. As the edited volume makes clear, multilateral institutions and the policy frameworks that underpin them still matter and will continue to matter – they represent the system we have and in many instances, global challenges require global solutions. As the post-2015 process makes clear, the establishment of new development agendas and forums provides a context for future cooperation. Acknowledging the past and present challenges facing efforts towards coordination will necessarily mark a starting point for the way forward. The current development paradigm is in a state of flux. It is through this transition that there is opportunity to revamp and reform the multilateral system to ensure its relevance to future global agendas. The challenges and road ahead will be defined by the ability of the international community to learn from past challenges, adopt meaningful reforms, and advance coordinated efforts towards sustainable development.
Shannon Kindornay leads the research on development cooperation at The North-South Institute, a development policy think tank based in Ottawa, Canada.