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Time to deliver on global promises

Hero image description: Syrian primary school children attending catch-up learning classes in Lebanon. Photo: Russell Watkins/Department for International Development

If 2015 was the year of summits, pledges and promises on international development, 2016 starts the delivery period – and ODI has a critical role to play in turning words into action.

Governments around the world signed-up for some lofty goals in 2015. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) envisage the elimination of poverty, an end to avoidable child deaths and universal secondary schooling by 2030, along with some far-reaching environmental goals. At the Paris climate summit in November, 195 countries adopted a legally binding deal to limit global warming to less than 2°C. Securing these agreements was far from easy. Delivering results will pose challenges of a different order of magnitude.

Sustaining progress will require a far stronger focus on countries affected by conflict and state fragility – and on the most marginalised sections of society.

Take the SDGs. There has been dramatic progress in many areas of human development over the past 15 years. But sustaining that progress will require a far stronger focus on countries affected by conflict and state fragility – and on the most marginalised sections of society.

Breaking down the inequalities in opportunity associated with wealth, gender, ethnicity and other sources of disadvantage is one prerequisite for delivery on the 2030 promises. As well as monitoring progress and analysing sources of marginalisation to see who is being left behind, ODI is helping to frame the practical policies needed to formulate equity.

The sheer scale of the challenges ahead has not been widely recognised. Over the next 15 years, governments have to sustain the economic growth needed to create jobs, combat poverty and raise living standards, while decarbonising national economies and preventing the further depletion of natural resources. Achieving this will require an economic transformation that raises productivity and delivers inclusive growth, and an ecological transformation in approaches to natural resource management and climate change.

Old distinctions between rich and poor countries are becoming increasingly irrelevant.

Scanning the policy horizon, I’m struck by just how rapidly the world is changing. Old distinctions between rich and poor countries are becoming increasingly irrelevant. Many of the issues we work on in ODI – inequality, financing, political accountability, gender and conflict, to name a few – are as relevant to developed countries as they are to ‘the South’. Europe’s refugee and migration ‘crisis’ is a stark reminder that, in an interdependent world, no region is immune to the consequences of poverty, violence and the breakdown of states elsewhere.

ODI is uniquely well-placed to respond to these challenges. We have world class researchers who are passionate about development and want to make a difference. Over the past few years we have emerged as a global leader on communications and convening, enabling us to reach wider audiences, inform public debates, and engage with politicians and policy- makers. We are a think tank with deepening partnerships across the world, including with governments in fragile states. As conflict, natural disasters and climate change increase the risks facing vulnerable populations, ODI will also continue to play a leadership role in promoting the development of a more inclusive and effective humanitarian system.

This year’s report captures the extraordinary scope of our work – and the dedication, commitment and professionalism of our staff. I am tremendously proud of what we have achieved and look forward to building on the foundations now in place.

Kevin Watkins, ODI Director