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Can the G20 keep the focus on accountability?

Written by Dirk Willem te Velde

The Saint Petersburg Accountability Report on G20 Development Commitments was published last week, on the 28th August. It is one element of an ‘adequate accountability framework’ for the G20 that was decided upon by G20 leaders at the Seoul Summit in 2010. The report is a very good first step towards what will hopefully become a permanent feature of the G20’s approach to accountability.

The report reviews the G20 development principles, discusses progress made on 67 development commitments, discusses links with G20 core issues and highlights lessons learned. Its assessment is based on a 2010 Multi-Year Action Plan on development as part of the Seoul Consensus for Shared Growth (which followed ODI’s contributions A Development Charter for the G20and the report The G-20 framework for strong, sustainable and balanced growth: what role for low-income, small and vulnerable countries?). The fact that the G20 summit produced a Multi-Year Action Plan is already commendable: even though only few commitments are quantifiable, not all summits produce such a clear list of commitments and action plans, according to which they can be held accountable.

The report naturally involved making a number of choices. It focuses on the accountability of the commitments contained in the Multi-Year Action Plan, but not on other G20 commitments that may affect development. It also focuses on whether G20 countries have complied with the commitments made in the Seoul Action Plan, but it does not assess the impact of those commitments on the G20 objective to ‘narrow the development gap’ (which I discuss briefly in this blog on G20 coordination). And it focuses on actions taken by the G20 jointly, not on the contribution of each country individually to each commitment, which might mask the fact that not all countries have contributed equally to the implementation. The report finds that there have been significant successes in implementing the Multi-Year Action Plan. Out of 67 commitments, 33 are assessed as complete, 33 are ongoing, and only 1 has stalled.

The report also emphasises three key areas of success for the Development Working Group: ‘bringing forward catalytic policy action, particularly among G20 members, establishing credible outreach to non-member countries and fostering strong partnership with international organizations.’ In particular, it highlights the regular and fruitful consultations between the G20 and Commonwealth and Francophonie countries, and includes the key conclusions of my and my colleague Zhenbo Hou’s paper, called The accountability of the G20’s development agenda: perspectives and suggestions from developing countries of the Commonwealth and Francophonie.

The report draws a number of conclusions and asserts that the G20 Development Working Group’s contribution to global development efforts would be maximised by:

  • focusing on a specific number of issues where the G20 can address systemic gaps and add value;

  • facilitating policy coordination across different G20 workstreams, given their overall impact on developing countries;

  • enhancing engagement with non-G20 members and low-income countries, and including the private sector and civil society in policy consultations and activities;

  • more coherent and targeted cooperation with international organisations; and

  • leveraging different sources of funding on a voluntary basis to support and promote development initiatives.

These were all elements on my 2012 wish list for the St Petersburg Development Principles, but, currently, we are awaiting further action on these to be incorporated into this Summit’s future Development Outlook.

Overall, the Development Working Group has proven to be a useful tool and platform to discuss growth and development issues. Its task to ‘foster growth on a sustainable basis by strengthening the relationship between economic growth, social inclusion and environmental protection’ – as stated in the Accountability Report – is important, as long as it remains focused on increasing the level of productivity that will be an essential basis for narrowing the development gap.

The Development Working Group is unique within the G20, given its focus on the poorest and most vulnerable countries. All the work of the G20 will affect these countries so, as the Accountability Report acknowledges, it is very ‘important that there is close coordination of G20 agendas across its workstreams’. It is important that the upcoming Summit keeps up the momentum created by the Accountability Report, and we are eagerly waiting to see how the G20 leaders will take note of its conclusions. It would also be good to see further action on core issues like tax, monetary and investment policy, which can have a tremendous impact on development.