Securing a future for the next generations – navigating today’s global challenges

In an era frequently described as ‘unprecedented’, the global landscape often seems daunting. Countries classified as democracies are increasingly outnumbered by those classified as autocracies, interstate conflicts have escalated, and the multifaceted impacts of climate change—from health crises to forced displacement—continue to intensify. Meanwhile, gender inequality persists, progress in poverty and inequality reduction has stalled, or even reversed in some contexts, and multilateral co-operation faces significant strain amidst rising geopolitical tensions. How can we still hope to secure a sustainable future for the next generations?

The role of development co-operation

Development co-operation, inherently political, plays a crucial role in addressing these challenges. While countries hold the primary responsibility for their own development outcomes, this does not diminish the role of international development co-operation providers. Rather, it underscores the need for a balanced approach that supports those most in need, even in challenging political climates. 

Ultimately–but very daunting– each country must have the right policies in place to support every person. This means—especially in a world where countries classified as autocracies proliferate—that development co-operation should remain agile and innovative. Enabling locally owned initiatives is a must to ensure that different actors (individuals, communities, institutions, and governments alike) can be drivers of their country’s development. Creating clear incentives for sustainable development and thinking and working politically are essential, including leveraging foreign policy tools.

Financial constraints and opportunities

Despite its importance, official development assistance (ODA) is only a fragment of what is required to establish resilient, equitable societies for future generations. As the financing gap for sustainable development widens, exacerbated by recent global crises, and high interest rates on debts limit the fiscal space of countries to achieve their development objectives, the call for increased ODA and other forms of development finance remains completely valid, if insufficient on its own.

National environments that attract private investment in sustainable projects are critical. This involves not only increasing funding, but also reforming policies and regulatory frameworks to align with the SDGs and address structural inequities at the global and national levels. It also means that development co-operation—with its limited resources—must focus on creating and supporting such enabling environments and policies. Applying the development effectiveness principles is key to achieving more strategic, higher-level policy change programmes that countries can lead and finance themselves—as opposed to fragmented, small-scale projects. 

The imperative of policy coherence

Achieving sustainable development for future generations requires coherent policies that consider their overall impact on Global South countries, be it on taxation, trade, migration, climate action, or any other area. Integrating these transboundary impacts into policymaking is often made difficult by the lack of quality analysis on the extent to which one policy might have a negative and/or a positive impact on another policy area. It also requires explicit political will to actively investigate these impacts. Indeed, different ministries across governments need to systematically evaluate how their decisions affect global development and avoid siloed approaches that fail to address the interconnectedness of today’s challenges.

Fostering inclusive and peaceful societies

Promoting inclusive and peaceful societies is foundational for securing a future for the next generations. Addressing the root and interconnected causes of inequality and conflict, such as social exclusion, economic disparities, and political marginalization demands nurturing inclusive development processes, enhancing social cohesion, and supporting mechanisms for peaceful conflict resolution.

The OECD defines fragility as a combination of exposure to risks and insufficient coping capacities at various levels—state, system, or community—to manage, absorb, or mitigate those risks. Investing in resilience-building and adaptation initiatives is thus crucial. This encompasses support to climate resilience, such as developing sustainable infrastructure, promoting resilient agricultural practices, and strengthening disaster preparedness and response capacities. By fortifying resilience, we safeguard populations against climate-related and other shocks, ensuring their long-term security and wellbeing.

At the same time, with mounting pressures for multiple transitions, attention must be paid to the economic, social, and environmental dimensions of such processes, recognising the opportunities and risks that they pose to poverty goals, inequalities reduction, and wider development objectives. Notably, recent reversals in progress on poverty and inequality reduction demonstrate the need for urgent action to regain losses and accelerate progress towards shaping inclusive, equitable, and resilient societies for future generations.

Looking forward

Today’s global landscape demands a multi-dimensional approach to development that considers how intertwined issues like climate change, conflict, and widening inequalities can be mutually reinforcing. By adopting a holistic perspective and leveraging both local and international resources wisely, we can pave the way for a sustainable future with benefits for the current population and generations to come.

As we explore how to secure the future for the next generations at the WIDER Development Conference, I hope we also create a new cohort of actors that shows political will, stimulates innovative co-operation, and ensures coherent policymaking in order to shape a world where sustainable development is not just aspiration, but reality. The OECD’s forthcoming 2024 Development Co-operation Report will delve deeper into these issues, by focusing on the interrelation between poverty, inequalities, and green transitions in the face of mounting global challenges. 


Frederik Matthys is Head of Policies and Networks in the OECD Development Co-operation Directorate. From 2006 to 2021, he worked for the UN in different capacities at country and HQ level most recent as Chief Policy and Innovation. He started his career working as policy advisor in Belgium for the Flemish Department of Foreign Affairs and as a change management consultant in the private sector.

The views expressed in this piece are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Institute or the United Nations University, nor the programme/project donors.