How Can a Post-2015 Agreement Drive Real Change? Revised Edition: The political economy of global commitments | Millennium Development Goals

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What are the lessons of the Millennium Development Goals process to date? What has been their impact on aid and national government decision making? This paper seeks to inform the post-2015 debate by examining these questions. It argues that leverage over national governments and civil society involvement will increasingly eclipse leverage on aid as the determining factor of post-2015 success and discusses how alternative international instruments can achieve such traction. The paper has been revised after online discussion of a draft version. This is a discussion paper, intended to provoke reflection and debate, and does not represent Oxfam policy positions. The authors welcome further comments – email research@oxfam.org.uk
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  OXFAM DISCUSSION PAPERS NOVEMBER 2012 Oxfam Discussion Papers   Oxfam Discussion Papers are written to contribute to public debate and to invite feedback on development and humanitarian policy issues. They are ’work in progress’ documents, and do not necessarily constitute final publications or reflect Oxfam policy positions. The views and recommendations expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of Oxfam. For more information, or to comment on this paper, email research@oxfam.org.uk www.oxfam.org   HOW CAN A POST-2015 AGREEMENT DRIVE REAL CHANGE? REVISED EDITION The political economy of global commitments DUNCAN GREEN STEPHEN HALE MATTHEW LOCKWOOD What are the lessons of the Millennium Development Goals process to date? What has been their impact on aid and national government decision making? This paper seeks to inform the post-2015 debate by examining these questions. It argues that leverage over national governments and civil society involvement will increasingly eclipse leverage on aid as the determining factor of post-2015 success and discusses how alternative international instruments can achieve such traction. The paper has been revised after online discussion of a draft version. This is a discussion paper, intended to provoke reflection and debate, and does not represent Oxfam policy positions. The authors welcome further comments  –  email research@oxfam.org.uk    2 How can a post-2015 agreement drive real change? The political economy of global commitments   SUMMARY The post-2015 discussion on what should succeed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is picking up steam, with barely a day going by without some new paper, consultation or high level meeting. So I, along with Stephen Hale and Matthew Lockwood, have decided to add to the growing slush-pile with a new discussion paper. This final version benefits from comments we received after posting a draft on http://www.oxfamblogs.org/fp2p/. After more than 500 downloads, we would like to thank all who commented and sent in research that we had missed. Why join the circus? Because we think that too much of the debate is being conducted in a political vacuum, dominated by overly theoretical policy analyses of what could ideally be developed. It’s the messy business of power and politics that will really determine what happens to poverty, equality, essential services and sustainability over the next few decades, and we think there’s an urgent need to bring power and politics into the centre of the post -2015 discussion. The international system is awash with fine-sounding global undertakings and commitments (at the last count, the ILO alone had 189 international conventions on its books). Some of these have much more impact than others. This paper argues that to have impact, any post-2015 arrangement has to take into account the lessons of over a decade of implementing the existing MDGs, and be shaped by the profound global change since the MDGs were debated over the course of the 1990s and early noughties. The most significant shift is that the new arrangements have to be designed to influence governments, whereas the main impact of the MDGs was on the aid system. Why the shift? Because aid is becoming less important, both because it is likely to decline in volume over the next few years, and because many governments’ dependence on aid as a percentage of revenues is falling even faster than aid itself. So if influencing governments is the goal, what can we learn from the experience of the MDGs? The first thing to note is a startling lack of research. Many reviews blur the distinction between ‘MDGs’ and ‘MDG policies’/’MDG planning’ (in effect, social welfare). Analysis of the data on improvements in health, education, and other key sectors largely ignores the vital question of how much of that improvement can be plausibly attributed to the MDGs, rather than to other factors such as national politics, economic growth, or technological innovation. Given the substantial political and financial investment in the MDGs, and the need to design an effective post-2015 framework, being unable to attribute  –  with any certainty  –  progress due to the MDGs is a truly lamentable gap in our knowledge. There is even less research on (and less anecdotal or circumstantial evidence for) the impact of the MDGs on the policies and behaviours of rich countries, beyond changes in their aid budgets. MDG 8 set out an ambitious agenda for a ‘global partnership for development’,  on areas including trade, finance, debt relief, access to medicines, and technology transfer. There is scant evidence that this has had any impact on rich country behaviour in those areas. Understanding this failure is vital, given that many proposals for the post-2015 regime seek to place more obligations on rich countries in areas such as climate change and resource consumption. What we know is that some governments have adopted the language of the MDGs and have customized them to fit national priorities, while civil society groups have increasingly used them as advocacy tools. Beyond that, many post-2015 participants seem to think it is not possible to give a more complete answer to the traction question because of the missing counterfactual (that is, how can we know what would have happened without the MDGs?). That is not the   How can a post-2015 agreement drive real change? The political economy of global commitments  3   case. It is certainly possible to know much more than we do about attribution through more rigorous qualitative research. For example, in-depth interviews with policy makers could investigate the traction exerted by a range of external and domestic forces on their decisions (avoiding any leading questions on the MDGs). We have yet to locate such research. So much for the MDGs, what about whatever comes next? International instruments can exert influence in three key ways: 1. By changing national norms   in areas such as women’s rights. However intangible, norms matter, leading to long-term changes in what society considers acceptable or deplorable, which then leads to changes to laws, policies and behaviours. 2. By directly influencing government decision making , through any of a number of possible carrots (aid, contracts, acceptance, approval) or sticks (sanctions, disapproval). 3. By giving civil society organisations and other domestic actors more tools  with which to lobby, campaign, and secure action by their governments. In most cases, the main drivers of change will be domestic  –  the result of national politics and culture. But international initiatives are second-order factors that can nudge things along. We suggest six kinds of instrument at global and regional levels. Big global norms : rallying cries intended to influence the underlying attitudes of decision makers and citizens , such as ‘zero poverty’ or ‘zero hunger’. At best, these change the way people and leaders think about the world, and the role of government. But talk is cheap, and ringing declarations are swiftly forgotten; the Millennium Declaration is generally thought to have been headed for the dustbin of history before being saved by its subsequent codification into the MDGs. Global goals and targets : as encapsulated by the MDGs. Regional goals and targets : the African Union has been particularly energetic in agreeing regional targets, setting out what its member governments should be aiming for on the Rights of Women (AU Protocol, 2003), or their allocation of spending to agriculture (Maputo Agreement 2003), health (Abuja Declaration 2001) and similar commitments on social protection, and water and sanitation. Civil society, including Oxfam’s Pan Africa Programme, has made effective use of these targets to press governments across Africa to improve their performance. Global league tables : the international community and/or civil society can simply collect and publish data allowing a comparison between different countries’ absolute situation and rate of progress, as in the UNDP’s Human Development Index. Anecdotal evidence (and long NGO experience) suggests that league tables can be effective both in attracting public and media interest, and in goading politicians into action  –  there is nothing a leader likes less than to be seen to lose out to a rival nation. Data transparency : according to Jan Vandemoortele, one of the architects of the MDGs, perhaps their greatest legacy will be the improved quality, collection and dissemination of social data. Something resembling a global movement for data transparency can be discerned in the plethora of initiatives such as the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), and the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI). One option would be to make this the centrepiece of a post-2015 arrangement, and leave it to others (national or regional bodies, international institutions) to ‘mash up’ the data into different indices and use it to advocate for progressive policies. International law : Most governments are already signatories to dozens, if not hundreds, of international conventions and the role and influence of international law appears to be on an inexorable upward curve, steadily encroaching on previously untouchable areas of state sovereignty.    4 How can a post-2015 agreement drive real change? The political economy of global commitments   What are the strengths and weaknesses of these options in influencing norms, decision making or civil society activism? Here we are basically into guesswork/gut feeling, captured in the table below. Possible options for international instruments to drive change post-2015 Instrument Influence on national norms On decision making Civil society take-up Big global norms Sometimes strong, but often disappear without trace Long-term influence (e.g. shaping future leaders’ world views)  Strong, if resonate with national reality Global goals and targets Partial Transmission via aid system, otherwise likely to be partial Yes, when resonate with national reality Far stronger if accompanied by national goals, civil society commitment to these, and clear national accountability mechanisms Regional goals and targets More influence where regional identity is stronger (e.g. African Union) Especially if governments have to ratify and legislate. Rivalry can also be effective Can provide a valuable advocacy tool, especially where regional identity is strong Global league tables Weak Effective if builds on regional rivalries Can provide a valuable advocacy tool Data transparency Weak Depends how data are picked up by national actors Depends on civil society capacity to use data for advocacy purposes, alliances with academics, etc. International law Strong, but slow osmosis into national common sense (e.g. children have rights) Especially if governments have to ratify and legislate, or report publicly on their performance (as with the UNCRC or CEDAW) Depends on civil society capacity to use legal system (and responsiveness of legal system)
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