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What kind of a Post-2015 development framework will bring about the real change we need?: AWID reports on CSO side event

The side event "What kind of a Post-2015 development framework will bring about the real change we need?" was co-organized by CIDSE, the Global Policy Forum, and Social Watch on the opening of the UN General Assembly in New York on 23rd September 2013 to identify gaps in the official Post-2015 agenda when held against the views and aspirations expressed by civil society. AWID reports on the discussions that took place including on alternatives that could make a vision of greater justice and equity a reality.

Report prepared by Alejandra Scampini, AWID

CIDSE opened the panel highlighting the main framework for this very critical conversation: reaching a broad consensus on the future development agenda is the ultimate goal of the upcoming negotiations at the UN General Assembly and beyond. Extensive consultations and reports of high-level policy-makers, the private sector, and academics have contributed to the discussion on how to eradicate poverty and ensure global sustainable development. Yet, to which extent have the needs of the poor and most vulnerable people been reflected? The panel discussion aimed to identify gaps in the official Post-2015 agenda when held against the views and aspirations civil society has expressed in their active engagement in consultations on this agenda to date. The panel equally discussed alternatives which could make a vision of greater justice and equity that also addresses the challenges posed by climate change and resource constraint a reality.

The first part of the panel focused on addressing different impression of where we are at now in terms of the post 2015 process and more importantly why is the bar so low in terms of expectations.

Roberto Bissio from Social Watch (SW) recalled the history behind the extreme poverty approach and linked it to the McNamara speech in Nairobi: “At that time, we had poverty in all our society but it was worse in some areas, so he put the focus on extreme poverty”. According to SW, we are in that scenario again, lowering the bar. “Growth matters, economic growth matters, but we are not linking it with inequalities” he said. In the last 20 years, trade multiplied by five and GDP per capita more than doubled in this period, but he emphasizes that “in the middle of this prosperity and growth, social indicators have slowed down, so we are not even looking at the indicators properly”. Similar to what AWID already noted in response to the High-Level Panel and Secretary General reports, Bissio pointed that the mistake is defining poverty just in relation to income, while failing to consider the multiple dimensions of poverty with an interlinking and intersectional approach. “We are looking at the wrong kinds of policies: those of growth and its indicators. Therefore the solutions recommended will not be good, We will realize that the whole agenda means we are only talking to the private sector; we are establishing public-private partnerships, big corporations are going to be on the tables” was his final remark. Participants highlighted the importance of bringing to the table the evidence coming from CSOs and academia on the impacts of the crisis to ask for the deep changes needed.

Heidi Hautala, Minister of Development from the Government of Finland agreed on the need to change views on growth asking to what extent GDP is a legitimate measurement and indicator of well-being of people and planet? Her government will push for three main issues in these debates: 1) build alternative indicators of well-being and statistical evidence: she cited the example of the happiness index in Bhutan that includes almost 79 indicators to measure the degree of happiness. 2) push for water sanitation, beyond just access to water 3) Improve control mechanisms for international corporations including stricter regulations and corporate accountability: she mentioned the potential use of social media to hold corporations to account by CSOs and citizens in developing countries.

Ignacio Saez, from the Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR) brought the human rights framework to the table and pointed that we need to move forward to have practical alternatives. He recalled that in the past, the definition of poverty was much more holistic and development was not only about growth. He reminded also of the tools to measure progress on human rights such as the ones created by Social Watch or the more recent initiatives such as the happiness index. “We need to have all rights ensured, and make sure that under the pathway to transformation we address redistribution of power and resources”, he concluded.

The panel also addressed issues of overconsumption patterns, changing the consumption and production models not just in the North but also around the world. How can this be addressed? The Finish government representative called to be careful when using a North-South divide simplistically, because there are problems of consumption and production everywhere. “Any country today has difficulties to put in place taxation mechanisms to direct sustainable consumption and production with less resource intensity because the competition internationally is hard” said Heidi Hautala. However, she was not very optimistic about the need to have a global effort to push down on consumption through taxation. How to promote international cooperation towards binding regulatory systems of production and consumption? She affirmed the need to put in place sustainable models of production and consumption, but there were no direct answers in the panel on how to move forward in this direction.

As a side note, the debates on changing the patterns of consumption and production are very much a part of the agenda of the Women’s Major Group and other women’s rights organizations (including AWID) pushing to influence the Financing for Development agenda (FfD).

Mariama Williams from the South Centre, put the emphasis on structural issues and the macroeconomic framework. She mentioned how fiscal policies and incentives offered to business sectors and corporations, for example subsidies to agriculture in the North, are having an impact on consumption patterns in the South. “It seems parliamentarians and governments have some responsibilities, and business others” she said. Governance and accountability are critical for her. She called the audience to seriously address structural issues behind the development models including trade issues that need to be addressed more in-depth. “There is rhetoric in the reports coming from the Global Compact, the UN High Level Panel and the Secretary General, but they do not seriously tackle the structural issues” se said.

AWID also took the floor to point that the panel was overlooking the reproductive dimension of these debates, the care crisis, and the care economy. Even when inequalities were mentioned, no references were made to women or women’s rights missing a crucial intersectional approach to these debates.

How does this all fit in the post 2015 agenda?

There is consensus that there is limited space to push for the issues mentioned in this panel. Back in Monterrey, civil society had more space compared to the unclear and closed process taking place at the Expert Committee on Sustainable Development Financing. Even some governments that are not members of the Committee have been excluded to participate. The Finnish Minister clarified that the Committee on Means Of Implementation of the post-2015 agenda is still defining terms of reference, aims, goals, etc but it is in their interest to push for a high degree of openness including civil society participation. She also cautioned against too much rhetoric that does not touch the real big issues and politics and expressed the need to bring other connecting processes like the international agreement on fair investment regimes to the post-2015 agenda.

How to push for systemic transformation within the post-2015 agenda?

In spite of all the challenges, criticisms, or bad experiences to the post-2015 agenda so far, the panel affirmed the importance of the post 2015 process. “If we are not in the post 2015 agenda, where else will we have these debates?” asked Roberto Bissio. The panelists agreed in that we need to think in more creative ways. The reality is that the equation of growth and equality is not adding up, so it becomes essential to tap on structural issues. Ignacio Saez from CESR also suggested we keep pushing for systemic issues in the post 2015 agenda and not lose courage. Regional civil society positions that were documented in the NGLS consultation report will have to be considered.

Yet, as we prepare for the evolution of the UN General Assembly this week, the question remains: Is there political will for transformational change besides proposals coming from the UN and civil society? That remains to be seen.