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30 Years of economics for development

The Present Development Debate and Beyond

Finn Tarp

The current global development agenda is centred on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), established at the turn of the Millennium. They have an overall target date of 2015, less than two years from now. The MDGs encapsulate eight sets of goals, with time-bound targets concerning poverty and hunger, education, gender equality and empowering women, child mortality, maternal health, HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases, and environmental sustainability. The last one, MDG8, focuses on developing a global partnership for development to help achieve the other goals.

Progress has certainly been realized since the establishment of the MDGs. Poverty has been halved in relative terms and, importantly, has fallen in all regions, including in sub-Saharan Africa. Worldwide, the below five mortality rate is down from 97 to 80 deaths per 1,000 live births and in sub-Saharan Africa from 174 to 121. Significant progress towards universal primary education can also be reported. School enrollment in primary and secondary education increased in sub-Saharan Africa from 54 per cent in 1990 to 76 per cent in 2010, and of critical significance: the gender gap in school enrollment has narrowed.

The Development Job is Far from Done

While a sense of achievement is justified as we approach 2015 – we should not, for even a split second, lose sight of the fact that the development job is very far from done. Some 2.5 billion people lack access to basic sanitation, and more than 900 million people continue to live in extreme poverty in a world of plenty. And, in spite of the significant progress in enrollment, many children complete their primary school education functionally illiterate and innumerate.

Moreover, it is becoming increasingly clear that the global development community needs to pay much greater attention to what some analysts refer to as transformative growth – that is to the need for deep-rooted changes in productivity and in the sectoral composition of output. The economic progress realized in recent years has not been distributed equally at global, regional or national levels; and the challenges posed by climate change are much more formidable than we thought even just a few years ago.

UNU-WIDER and the Development Debate

At UNU-WIDER we are in a process of preparing the framework for our next work programme for the years 2014-18; and we are cognizant of the fact that the world has changed in many significant ways over the past couple of decades. Against this background we intend to emphasize research on Transformation, Inclusion and Sustainability in the coming period, with particular attention on three general concerns: Africa, Gender and Aid effectiveness. Three main stakeholders are particularly important to us: national decision-makers; international development organizations, and researchers. These three groups constitute the primary audiences for UNU-WIDER’s research, which will continue to be geared towards informing ongoing debates about global, regional and national development strategy and policy.

A new post-2015 development agenda is in the making, and one of the more obvious challenges we all face is how to address – in a meaningful manner – a much broader set of concerns than those that prevailed around 2000. There is also the potential to pursue many new possibilities for broadening the global partnership for development; and the current process has to become more inclusive than the one that led to the formulation of the MDGs – which were not negotiated, and which were to a large extent donor driven.

The Post-2015 Development Agenda

'Realizing the Future We Want for All' is the title of the First Report of the UN System’s Task Team (UNTT) on the Post-2015 Development Agenda. This report lays out a series of critical findings and recommendations, and it calls for an integrated policy approach to ensure inclusive economic development, social progress and environmental sustainability. The report also highlights in clear language that the post-2015 agenda must respond to the aspirations of all people for peace and a world free of want and fear. It is becoming clear in the ongoing debates that the absence of a robust mutual accountability mechanism was a major weakness of MDG8, and many areas lacked clearly defined targets. Consequently, delivery on commitments and the extent of their additionality have been difficult to track in any meaningful manner. This needs to be corrected as we move forward.

A more multi-polar world has emerged through globalization and rapid growth in a relatively large number of countries across the developing world. As a corollary, the institutional framework within which development cooperation takes place has become increasingly complex with many new approaches and many more donors and actors. The traditional landscape within which aid agencies have operated is changing – as clearly illustrated in research carried out under the ReCom research programme coordinated by UNU-WIDER.

Despite the merits of MDG8, the associated targets were to a large extent framed within a traditional ‘donor-recipient’ paradigm that is now quickly eroding and transforming. The new post-2015 development agenda needs to recognize that development finance includes foreign direct investment, remittances and a range of innovative sources that must be explicitly considered alongside domestic finance.

The Need for New Partnerships

The need for new partnerships across a range of institutions is also becoming evident. Consequently, global, transparent, and mutually accountable partnership should be absolutely central in the formulation of the post-2015 development agenda. At the same time, while aid is becoming a smaller player in relative terms it should nevertheless be kept in mind that official transfers continue to play a role for many of the poorest countries.

In addition, there is clearly a need for developing international mechanisms and the regulatory environment to finance global public goods. Including issues such as, for example, how to address climate change and poverty in middle-income countries. More specifically, it has become obvious that the dual track approach on climate change financing and development cooperation must be fundamentally reconfigured.

I believe that UNU-WIDER can make a significant contribution to the emerging post-2015 global development agenda, and the Institute’s research programme will, as noted, start focusing on Transformation, Inclusion and Sustainability. They are, as I see it, key elements of any development agenda for the future. I am therefore pleased that the WIDERAngle will over the coming months feature a series of special contributions around the post-2015 development agenda, starting with an opinion-editorial by Heidi Hautala, Finland’s Minister for International Development. I am most grateful for her willingness to take the lead and look forward to an open and free-flowing debate from which we can all learn.

Finn Tarp is the Director of UNU-WIDER. Professor Tarp also holds the Chair of Professor of Development Economics at the Department of Economics at the University of Copenhagen

WIDERAngle newsletter
February 2013
ISSN 1238-9544

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