UN follow-up: Financing for Development and the Sustainable Development Goals

After a year of commitments and agenda-setting, the time in 2016 is for implementation. It is with this outlook that two major events recently took place at the UN headquarters in New York: the Inaugural Financing for Development Follow up Forum and the High Level Thematic Debate on SDGs implementation. The TUDCN’s Matt Simonds was among the Trade Union delegation present at both events, he gives us his take on how they went.

The Inaugural Financing for Development Follow up Forum
18-20 April, 2016

Among the major commitments made in the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, which is the third intergovernmental agreement as part of the UN’s Financing for Development Process, was to hold an annual forum to review progress and take further commitments to meet the objectives set since the Monterrey Consensus was agreed in 2001. For over a decade, Civil Society Groups, as well as many member states, had argued that without an annual space where some decisions could be taken, the FfD process would not have the necessary leverage to affect change in governments’ behaviour at national level. It is however important to note that in order to achieve the agreement to hold an annual FfD forum several sacrifices were made in other areas of the document, in particular by G77 countries. Nevertheless, the agreement to have an annual forum was cause for some celebration.

The forum is meant to elevate the FfD process to a place where decisions can be made which effect policy on the ground. This takes the form of an annual resolution/outcome document. For the first annual forum expectations for a very comprehensive outcome/resolution were a bit tempered given the proximity in timing to the intergovernmental agreement which gave way to the forum. Nevertheless, there was still some significant anticipation, at least on the part of civil society, ahead of the forum given the history and the sacrifices it took to get there. Unfortunately, the inaugural forum was nothing short of a major disappointment, even with tempered expectations.

Even before the forum began there was already a dispute between G77 and OECD countries over the preferred length of the forum. The G77 called for a five day forum while OECD countries insisted that the three days allocated was sufficient and in line with the Addis agreement, which states “up to five days”. On this point, some latitude can be given insofar as this was the first forum and there are still many things to be learned, however there is concern that it will set a permanent precedent.

Unfortunately however, difficulties did not stop there and the forum itself only served to expose and accentuate the divides that were already very pronounced in Addis. It further illustrated that the FfD process is currently marked by a spirit of mistrust and division among member states and not one of cooperation and mutual benefit. Issues around ODA somewhat unexpectedly became the pivot point for the negotiations and effectively prevented any semblance of a valuable resolution. This is notable primarily because ODA in and of itself is not the most politically charged issue in the FfD portfolio, at least when compared to issues like FDI, debt and systemic issues, but it is the area where OECD countries are able to break the G77 negotiating block by isolating and pressuring the LDCs. So while there were not major expectations for a comprehensive outcome/resolution what was ultimately agreed is sadly laughable. For comparison, attached you find the zero draft which was the negotiating starting point, and the final outcome document (the agreed outcome is the four paragraph document).

Beyond the negotiations were a series of roundtables debating the themes of the FfD agenda as enshrined in Addis (the agenda has since evolved from Monterrey and Doha). There was some anticipation that these roundtables would provide a space to deliberate on how to carry forward the commitments made in Addis (especially those which required specific follow up commitments and work, like development of guidelines on blended finance). Regrettably, the forum was unable to establish the right setting for such discussions and the roundtables more resembled mini seminars with only marginally discernible connections to the Addis outcome. The lowest point was during the roundtable on debt and systemic issues where around ten member states were actually in the room (due in part to an apparent boycott on this topic by the EU block). This was a major missed opportunity for the forum to assert itself as valuable space to drive the FfD agenda, but instead became the typical talk shop. Future forums will need to drastically adjust the program to allow for more policy oriented exchanges with direct links to the Addis outcome and the FfD agenda writ large if it wants to maintain any momentum or interest among member states.

It is hard to find many silver linings for the forum, other than the union movement was able to engage directly in the forum through official interventions and participation in the parallel activities. Also of note was the presence of World Bank Executive Directors, something the FfD Process has held as an aspiration for some time (whether they show up next year is a question mark). If trying to be optimistic, this inaugural forum can serve as a learning experience and at the very least we know that the outcome and overall program do not prejudice future forums.

Matt Simonds’ intervention at UN ECOSOC

High Level Thematic Debate on SDGs implementation
21 April 2016

Immediately following the FfD Forum was a High Level Debate organized by the President of the General Assembly, which focused on SDGs implementation. Despite not being part of the FfD Forum the issues emerging were quite similar. The debate was fit the term “high level” with many heads of state in attendance, partly as a result of the COP21 Signing Ceremony which followed the day after.

The High Level Debate itself was more theatre than anything, with politicians pronouncing their commitments to the SDGs. However, there were some very welcome remarks to be heard at such a high level, notably from countries like Barbados, whose Head of State emphasized the importance of social partnership, referring specifically to the tripartite constituents and social dialogue, while encouraging all countries to pursue this model in effort to achieve decent work for all. Jeff Sachs, also had a moment of brilliance calling out OECD country governments which claim that there are not enough resources to meet the SDGs thus requiring the involvement of the private sector. He hammered OECD governments for their absurd military budgets and their blind eye approach to tax evasion and avoidance. He insisted that this mantra “billions to trillions” which has become the catch phrase around the SDGs was a distraction and that the money already exists in a global economy which generates hundreds of trillions of dollars annually.

Running in parallel to the plenary were a series of “policy rooms” aimed at diving deeper into the question of SDG implementation. No surprise that the private sector was a major focus of these policy rooms. No surprise also that hardly anything of substance emerged from the discussions among the private sector. What emerged were the typical pronouncements by the private sector that the private sector is there for the journey and the business is a willing partner to achieve the SDGs. It mainly served to reveal that there still seems to be a long way to go in getting anything meaningful from the private sector at the UN level other than PR speak and “SDG-Washing”.