Five things you need to know about the Addis Summit

08 july 2015

1.    In Addis Ababa, the world is being asked to decide on how it will finance our common future.

The conference in Addis Ababa is the third international conference where world leaders look specifically at how to finance the global agreements to build a better and safer world.

The first such meeting took place in Monterrey in Mexico, in 2002, and marked the first global agreement on countries’ responsibilities to work together on issues of trade, aid and debt relief. That conference gave rise to the “Make Poverty History” campaign and was responsible for an unprecedented increase in the amount of overseas aid that rich countries provide to developing countries.

The second summit took place in Doha, Qatar, in 2008 and it emphasised that aid alone cannot end extreme poverty and that developing countries need help in building up a sustainable tax basis, too.

The third summit, taking place in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, is meant to gauge whether countries have lived up to the commitments they made in Monterrey and Doha and to consider how the emerging new agreement on global development can best be financed.  

2.    The Addis Summit is part of a global agreement to build a better world.

The year 2015 is the deadline for the achievement of the goals of the current global agreement on how best to tackle the world’s biggest problems.

These goals, called the “Millennium Development Goals” (MDGs) since they were agreed in the year 2000, challenged the global community to work together to halve the number of people living in extreme poverty, halve the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water and reduce maternal and child deaths. And it is fair to say that the Goals galvanised the most successful anti-poverty movement in history, which helped lift more than one billion people out of extreme poverty, made inroads against hunger and enabled more girls to attend school than ever before. 

The deadline for the achievement of the MDGs is 2015. Over the past 3 years, negotiated a new set of goals to replace the MDGs. Based on the biggest public consultation process ever, UN members are set to agree a new set of 17 Goals, building on the successes of the MDGs and addressing some of the areas not covered by the original goals.

The question on the table in Addis is how the world is going to pay for the new ambitions.

3.    Global agreements work.   

We tend to forget that the world is governed by an intricate web of international agreements and treaties. States have long ago recognised that the affairs of countries should not be subject to the “law of the jungle”, and they have voluntarily entered into a realm of binding agreements limiting their freedom of action and defining States’ responsibilities towards each other and towards their citizens.

The most famous of the 500+ international treaties led to the creation of the United Nations and its Security Council, which has a legally binding mandate. But there are many other international treaties – such as the Treaty of Bern which founded the international postal system – that are highly successful but largely unknown outside a small group of experts. Others, like the Montreal Protocol on Ozone-depleting substances, become hot topics for a while and then fall back into oblivion.

The experience of the Millennium Development Goals shows that international agreements work, even when they are not legally binding.

The MDGs appealed not just to decision-makers in the aid industry, but also captured the imagination of politicians, business leaders and ordinary people across the developing world, and brought together an unprecedented coalition against hunger and poverty. A coalition that was sustained by relentless pressure from citizens around the world, who campaigned to make poverty history and to cancel the debt.

4.    The recipe to fight poverty is working, but will need a lot more funding

At the Addis Ababa summit (13-16 July), UN member states are meeting to find a global agreement on how to finance "sustainable development" over the next 15 years.

Since 2002, the Millennium Development Goals were underpinned by an agreement to provide "more and better aid", known as the Monterey consensus. Now that - in 2015 - the United Nations are working on a new set of priorities for the next 15 years, a new global agreement on Financing is necessary.  

Since Monterey, the amount of money being made available for global development has increased significantly: Governments have significantly increased the total amount of overseas aid, tax revenues of developing countries have increased dramatically, and Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) into developing countries by private companies is also increasing, as are remittances by people originating in those countries. The challenge is now to ensure that all those moneys are used to achieve the “fully inclusive and equitable global economy” that UN member states set as the overall aim of international development cooperation.

And countries can begin by delivering on the promises they have already made. Most notably, despite repeated statements by rich countries of their “commitment” to the target, very few countries have achieved the UN target of spending 0.7% of national income on overseas aid.

But even if all rich countries honour their aid commitments, their aid budgets will not be sufficient to completely achieve the new Sustainable Development Goals. The UN estimates that the new Goals will require some $6-7 trillion per year, or roughly the equivalent of 10% of the world’s total GDP. This is an investment of gigantic proportions – and a re-direction of existing resources – which will transform societies and leave a lasting impact for generations to come.

5.     Ireland has a big role to play in Addis

Ireland has been at the forefront of international efforts to come up with this radical, new agenda for the world. The negotiations at the UN have been led by Ireland and Kenya, and Irish diplomats have for many years now corralled and gathered political support for the new global plan for the future.

The Government has stated that the appointment of Ireland as co-facilitator of the international negotiations “is evidence of the international community’s appreciation of our overseas aid programme and other efforts made by Ireland to support vulnerable populations abroad.”

Ireland has invested a lot of energy and time in these negotiations, and is naturally keen that the negotiations end up being a success. Yet, if the Addis summit fails, the likelihood of the SDG negotiations failing is also increased. That is why it is so important that Ireland plays a strong role in Addis, too.

And finally: Ireland has set and missed three deadlines for the achievement of its promise on overseas aid. Overseas aid is a key part of the agenda in Addis, and Ireland’s lack of clarity on this issue is not helping things. Ireland must urgently present a credible plan on how and when it intends to achieve its “solemn commitment” to reach the UN target, as current government policy only states that this will happen “when economic circumstances permit.” 

Further Reading