Rethinking Bretton Woods | Thu, Jun 26, 2014
The Special Summit of Heads of States and Governments of the countries of the Group of 77 (G-77) plus China was held on June 14th and 15th in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. This meeting commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Group. In the Declaration of 242 points, the governments of the group adopted a common diagnosis of context and strengthened commitments on development in the national context, South-South cooperation, global challenges, and the special needs of countries in special situations.
(A version of this article in Spanish is available from the online magazine Economia Critica, where it originally appeared).
The G-77, founded in 1964 in Algeria during a Ministerial Summit, currently brings together more than 130 states and acts as negotiating bloc of developing countries in various forums in the UN. In that sense, it holds enormous potential as a political force if it works together and in a coordinated way. Unfortunately, in the last few decades, this has not been the case.
In that sense, maybe the biggest challenge that the group will face in the short-term is the negotiation of the new development framework that will replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2015, that is, the SDGs which will soon be the framework of commitments to demand from States.
From MDGs to SDGs
The MDGS were created as a project of the then-Secretary General of the UN, Kofi Annan, who aimed at creating a least common denominator that would represent an agreement on a common direction for development efforts shared by the UN, donors, and different agencies such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Although they were created with the low ambition intent of forming a tool of communication and construction of mass awareness about development, they almost imperceptibly became the entire development agenda itself. With this context, the importance of what is at stake in the definition of this sequel to the MDGs becomes clearer.
First of all, the new SDGs will not solely be objectives for development, as was decided in Rio de Janeiro (Rio + 20 Conference on Sustainable Development). In theory, sustainable development is understood as comprising three pillars: economic development, social development, and environmental protection.
In practice, the negotiation of a “North-South” vision that adequately balances those three pillars is riddled with threats to developing countries. It is true that the MDGs already contained an goal specifically focused on sustainable development, but what the new version would be seeking would be a mainstreaming of sustainable development in all goals so that they all reflect a new way of viewing development.
That developing countries have nothing to fear when it comes to mainstreaming sustainable development is shown in particular by the recent summit of the G-77, carried out in a nation that promotes the notion of “living well” and the rights of “Mother Earth.” In fact, one could conclude that they have much to teach on the matter.
But it is the conceptualizing of the details of sustainable development that could generate unfair consequences for the peoples in developing countries. To understand how, one only has to look at one subset of the topics that are a part of the agenda: those which are negotiated in the summits on climate change.
There has been a repeated effort on the part of states that have benefitted from years of a development model that has contributed most to the actual levels of pollution and emissions of greenhouse gases, to resist and ignore the notion of “common but differentiated responsibilities,” originally adopted at the Rio Conference in 1992.
Similarly, those states have also made an effort to transform the fight against climate change into a new source of markets and extraordinary profits for countries and companies that possess certain advanced technologies, and for financial companies that are able to finance them.
Notions like “green economy” and “ecosystem services” can easily be used in that context, and push to the backseat an analysis of the role that those same actors had (and may continue to have) in the creation of the problems of the current development model, by displacing communities and peoples who have better protected what remains of the natural resources on the planet.
Second, to speak of the SDGs represents an expansion of the agenda which will have to be achieved, nevertheless, with the same existing means: means that turned out to be insufficient for reaching the MDGs.
While it was very clear that the results of the Rio +20 Conference (2012) called for the creation of a series of goals as well as a negotiation concerning the means to implement those same goals, the subsequent evolution of negotiations in the UN setting is extremely worrisome. While the design of the goals advances at a regular pace and 17 areas and more than 200 targets that could go into those were already identified, the idea of a programmatic portion that identifies means of implementation were pushed into the background.
Problems in sight
At this moment, it is not rare to come across diplomats involved in the deliberations in the UN that do not even consider that the result of the agreement to be reached in the summit of September 2015 are to be something more than a new list of goals.
That has led to frantic efforts on the part of developing countries to give visibility to the “means of implementation” by inserting them as one of the SDGs, or as an aspect addressed under every one of them in a fragmented form.
Neither of the two paths can end well. The former because it will eventually end up in the same reductionism that condemned to failure MDG 8 (Global Partnership for Development) in the framework agreed upon in 2000. The latter because the biggest structural and systematic questions on the subject of debt, international financial architecture, trade, etc., cannot be divided up in light of how they contribute to one goal or another (for example, sustainable cities or decent work).
But the most important challenge that the countries of the G-77 face is to recover the real development agenda, to relocate the idea of “development goals” as the tool for assisting with the education and mobilization of the public, and remove it from the role of guidelines in development policy planning.
According to the statements of Jeffrey Sachs in one of the panels during the preparatory meetings, the new list of goals will have to be so simple that a fifth grader could recite from memory with no problems.
This reflection, saving that one cannot take it as representative of the deliberations, is indicative of the mode of thinking that conditions the elaboration of goals and makes it clear that the tool being sought should never be confused with the complex process of development itself and the inevitable predominately social and political construction that requires changes in the existing economic relations. Given that this is very difficult without exceeding by far the limitations that the actual methodological boundaries of the discussion impose, the current terms of reference will have to be altered.
That in itself is a political project of such great magnitude that it is hardly possible if it involves the total energy of a G77 that acts in a much more coordinated and united way than what it has done over its first fifty years. Let us hope that the Santa Cruz Declaration provides inspiration to do so.