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Five tests for development success in 2015

Written by Susan Nicolai

​2015 is a big year for development, with defining moments that will set the stage for years to come. In July, governments will meet in Addis Ababa to agree a strategy for financing global development. In September, as the Millennium Development Goals wind down, a new set of poverty goals will be sworn in by the UN General Assembly. In December, a major deal on climate change is expected at the Paris climate conference, while preparations continue for the World Humanitarian Summit in May 2016.

The results of these negotiations matter to all of us, not just the politicians and bureaucrats sitting around the table. Today’s connected world amplifies citizen voices like never before, and brings along with it the opportunity to influence. Whether it’s through mass demonstrations like the People’s Climate March, or more controversial stunts like Greenpeace’s Nazca Lines, there is unprecedented scope for the public to weigh in on future directions for development.

Yesterday’s launch of Action2015, a campaign to rally the public across 50 countries to call for concrete and ambitious action on issues of ’inequality, injustice, poverty, and climate change’ is one such important initiative.

But what are campaigners asking for? Despite the overall focus on extreme poverty, a quick scan of their hashtag reveals an array of issues, from improving girls’ education to the rights of the elderly. It will be critical to keep an eye on the big picture to test how much progress we’ve made, come 2016. Here are five issues that could make the difference between success and failure this year:

1. Breaking down false walls

Traditionally, tackling long-term poverty, addressing climate change and responding to disasters have each involved different people, institutions and frameworks, with surprisingly little conversation between the three.

But the world doesn’t work this way. The costs of climate change fall hardest on the poor, often in ways that that require humanitarian action like in response to the tsunami. Taking an integrated approach can bring benefits all round – just look at Vietnam which is championing universal energy access as part of poverty alleviation, or Burkina Faso where farmers are re-greening large swathes of desert.

ODI called for better integration on zero poverty and zero net emissions at the latest climate conference in Lima. The test for 2015 will be to build not only coherence between agendas but also plans for joint action. 

2. Tackling inequality

Following major gains in the fight against extreme poverty, the remaining poor are becoming harder to reach – using the same strategies would mean progress is likely to slow over the next two decades. While countries like Malawi and Ghana have made gains through greater macroeconomic stability and agricultural growth, strategies like social assistance, investment in education, and pro-poor growth are sure to take on increasing importance.

As gaps between rich and poor within countries widen, we need a greater focus on inequality. A simple but critical test will be whether or not global targets and indicators on development embed equity into the frameworks using stepping stones or another method.

3. Rethinking who is financed and how
Diverse sources of funding are critical for development. In Nepal, higher household incomes, increased tax revenue and donor prioritisation combined to fund a 50% reduction in maternal mortality from 1995-2010, which included a 20% fall in people’s out-of-pocket health expenditure.

How international public finance (or ‘aid’) fits into this mix is a topic of hot debate, and a central focus of our upcoming conference in Accra. One test at the end of the year will be whether the growing number of middle income countries benefit and thus support any deal made. Another, on the climate front, will be whether we see an increase in investment in the Green Climate Fund and reduction of subsidies for fossil fuel exploration.

4. More and better data

With more than seven million votes in MyWorld, it is clear that citizens worldwide want their voices heard, and amongst other things, prioritise more transparent governance. Countries like Indonesia and Tunisia have made strong progress toward more open, democratic and inclusive systems, but what is needed globally for greater transparency and accountability?

One key ingredient is the data revolution as laid out in the recent UN Secretary General’s Report, ‘A World that Counts’. To be further explored at the upcoming Cartagena Data Festival, the real year-end test will be securing investment so that from 2016 on development data is disaggregated to see at a glance what the patterns of poverty and inequality are within and between countries and groups.

5. Staying local

There is much talk about implementation of the goals, but the most impressive development gains typically come where national and local ownership is strong. In Kenya, public demand for education has led to political prioritisation, which alongside community and private sector provision, resulted in major gains in access at all levels.

Amid numerous calls to ‘localise’ the Sustainable Development Goals agenda, this is an area where civil society has an important role to play. By the end of 2015, will there be a structure in place to support national and local governments to adopt their own targets and strategies?  As importantly, a complementary system for accountability will be needed.

If a year from now we can say each of these tests were met, we may actually be able to deliver a better future for the world’s poor.