Post-2015 as the litmus test for global governance

Shannon Kindornay,
The North-South Institute, Ottawa, Canada

Multilateralism is in trouble. Global governance is in trouble. And if you don’t think that’s the case, you haven’t been paying attention. We have a world plagued by multiple crises and challenges and an ever changing landscape of geopolitical realities – take any introduction to G20 or UN communiques from the last five years and you will see what I mean. It reads something like this: the world is facing ongoing financial and food crises, a scarcity of resources – particularly in the land and water sectors – inequality is growing and economic growth and jobs creation is uneven, all in a context where climate change remains the elephant in the room.

Global power is shifting. New and (re)emerging actors, such as the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) and the private sector, are altering the international landscape, giving rise to new challenges and opportunities for addressing these issues. And civil society and citizen’s movements, for example, the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street movements, are demanding their rights and accountability from governments (as well as corporations) who themselves are increasingly ill-equipped for our highly networked and technologically interconnected world.

Now consider global governance, and the multilateral institutions, through which it occurs. Traditionally, the multilateral institutions, like the UN, World Bank and International Monetary Fund – institutions that promote and facilitate global governance and cooperation among countries – oversaw and delivered concerted responses to global challenges. Yet, as the world faces new and old challenges, and governments continue to be unable or unwilling to cooperate to address global public goods challenges, such as climate change, the continued relevance and impact of these multilateral institutions has been significantly raised.

A new edited volume by Hany Besada and Shannon Kindornay, Multilateral Development Cooperation in a Changing Global Order, lays out these issues clearly. The presence of old donors, emerging economies, civil society and the private sector is being felt by all development actors, leading to greater fragmentation of the multilateral system and more competition for institutions and financial resources. It has also meant greater competition in terms of the ideas that shape development thinking.
These trends have exacerbated old challenges related to the need for reforms to improve the legitimacy of governance and decision making processes in multilateral institutions, to better account for developing country priorities and reflect emerging geopolitical realities.

The inability of multilateral agencies, particularly financial institutions, to address concerns around representation, has led emerging economies to establish other national and multilateral mechanisms to achieve their goals, such national development banks, bilateral South-South Cooperation and regional trade blocks and groupings such as the BRICS and IBSA (a forum for dialogue between India, Brazil and South Africa).

At the same time, though financial contributions for development in the form of aid and philanthropic giving (charities) has increased significantly in the past decades, multilateral institutions, which have proliferated at an alarming rate, are seeing a decline in their funding because of donor fatigue. In terms of development ideas and knowledge, the financial crisis of 2008 and the ensuing aftermath, as well as the success of BRICS countries, has also led to mainstream questioning of dominant (western) understandings of how successful development ought to be achieved, including the agendas and ideas promoted by key multilateral institutions, such as the World Bank, that have tended to privilege neoliberal and technocratic solutions to the inherently political problems of development.

And now, in this context, the global community has turned its attention to the post-2015 agenda, which will replace the Millennium Development Goals. This process is being informed by an UN-led consultation process, as well as intergovernmental discussions on the creation of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) (whose establishment was agreed to atthe Rio+20 Summit in June of 2012). Yet, despite the great deal of attention the post-2015 agenda has received to date, the future is still uncertain. The establishment of the post-2015 agenda serves as a manifestation of the key themes and challenges discussed in the edited volume. It is characterized by competing perspectives and ideas, and fragmented multilateral processes, some of which have faced questions regarding their legitimacy. In some respects, post-2015 serves as the next litmus test for the world’s ability to make multilateralism work.

In relation to ideas, no less than seventeen comprehensive and 60 sectoral and thematic proposals recommending concrete post-2015 goals, targets and indicators have been proposed by think tanks, governments and UN organizations to decision makers. At the institutional level, numerous fora have been established within the UN system/context to address post-2015, each with varying degrees of representation. These include a High Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, a UN System Task Team on the Post-2015 Development Agenda which involves over 50 UN entities and international organizations, the intergovernmental Open Working Group on the SDGs which resulted from Rio+20, and the related Expert Group on Financing for Development.

For its part, the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation, which was established following the 2011 4th High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness and brings together government, civil society and private sector actors concerned with effective development cooperation, is also looking at how it can engage on these agendas. Where groupings such as the G20 fit into this global context is unclear. While everyone agrees that the post-2015 and SDG processes should come together, there is no denying that a myriad of multilateral actors and processes are at play, all striving to influence the future global agenda, which will ultimately be negotiated by governments that have, in the past few years, demonstrated an inability to find strong agreement on key global challenges and issues relating to development such as climate change, trade and development, and aid effectiveness. At this point, it is unclear how this plethora of multilateral fora will work together.

It is not all doom and gloom however. As the edited volume makes clear, multilateral institutions and the policy frameworks that underpin them still matter and will continue to matter – they represent the system we have and in many instances, global challenges require global solutions. As the post-2015 process makes clear, the establishment of new development agendas and forums provides a context for future cooperation. Acknowledging the past and present challenges facing efforts towards coordination will necessarily mark a starting point for the way forward. The current development paradigm is in a state of flux. It is through this transition that there is opportunity to revamp and reform the multilateral system to ensure its relevance to future global agendas. The challenges and road ahead will be defined by the ability of the international community to learn from past lessons, adopt meaningful reforms, and advance coordinated efforts towards effective peace building and sustainable development.

Shannon Kindornay, leads The North-South Institute’s work on development cooperation for its Governance for Equitable Growth program. Her research focuses on development cooperation, governance of the international aid architecture, aid effectiveness, and aid and the private sector. She is the co-editor of a recently released edited volume, Multilateral Development Cooperation in a Changing Global Order (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013). Prior to joining NSI, she worked on human rights, governance, and trade and development. She holds a MA from Carleton University’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs and a BA in global studies and political science from Wilfrid Laurier University.

Shannon Kindornay op-ed Post-2015 as the litmus test for global governance