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What’s on the international agenda in 2016?

Written by Joanna Rea


​Those working in international development would be forgiven for expecting – and probably secretly wishing for – a slightly quieter 2016. By all measures 2015 was a big year. A plethora of summits on everything from climate change to new global goals to financing for development to trade and disaster risk reduction (…and …breathe).

While we won’t reach the triumphant heights of 2015’s summitry, 2016 will probably be more important as we turn our attention from ‘saying’ to ‘doing’. And there are lots of opportunities for that.

1 January 2016 was day one of the 5,475-day countdown to deliver the new Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) agenda. To achieve this we’ll need to move swiftly from the poetry of ‘Leave No One Behind’ to the prose of national level implementation, agreeing indicators, monitoring and accountability.

Discussions are underway about how to measure SDG progress, and Ban Ki-moon has just published his report on a proposed process of ‘follow-up and review’. Attention is turning to July’s High Level Political Forum, when countries will gather for the first time to agree how to maintain momentum and deliver vital early action, and to September’s United Nations General Assembly.

For all of 2015’s agreements, political focus and action will be critical and this should be front-of-minds throughout the year.

In addition to all this, 2016 will also see a major summit on Syria, a UN summit on migration and refugees, a UK-led summit to tackle corruption and the much-anticipated World Humanitarian Summit. The outcome of this will be a strong test of the international community’s resolve to fix the crumbling global humanitarian system that is struggling, and in some cases failing, to respond to the increased frequency and severity of crises around the world.

Then there are the annual staples like the World Economic Forum, the IMF and World Bank Spring and Annual meetings, the UN General Assembly and a December Climate COP in Morocco. And we’ll most likely see more attention on some now firmly-established meetings such as this year’s Indian-led BRICS summit.

On the global stage, world leaders will continue to fret about the fate of a delicate global economy and attention will turn eastwards as China takes the helm at the G20. Can China cement its position as a global player and deliver a G20 agenda that bolsters the global economy and in turn the prospects for many developing countries?

Meanwhile Japan will host the 47th (yes 47th) G7 summit. This now limited forum continues to drift along so perhaps the most useful role Japan could play this year would be to agree to convene its last meeting – with apologies to Italy which is probably already planning its 2017 summit.

In Europe, a new consensus on international development is likely to be agreed and its narrative will probably follow in the footsteps of the recently published UK aid strategy. This reframing of aid toward national (or regional) interests and security present a range of opportunities and challenges. On one hand it acknowledges the complex nature of development and the need for integrated responses, but on the other it could represent a capture of core development principles and objectives by wider – and in many ways more powerful and compelling – defence and security aims.

2016 will also see a lot of changes in leadership. Look out for elections in Ghana, Peru, Uganda, Zambia and The Philippines, as well as that low-key and inexpensive matter of the election of a new US President. We also have new leaders at the top of some key international development agencies such as USAID, Norad, the new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and UN Refugee Agency. And we can expect the appointment of a new (woman?) UN Secretary-General.

And if that’s still not filling your diary, there is most definitely a UN day or decade for that.

As we launch into 2016 we’ll need to strike a balance between focusing on doing what we said we would in 2015 while also seizing the opportunity that 2016 presents on a whole range of critical issues, from migration to the global economy to the humanitarian system to the convergence of development and security. And then there are the things we don’t even know about yet…

So not so quiet after all.