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International development in a contested world: ending extreme poverty and tackling climate change

International development in a contested world: ending extreme poverty and tackling climate change



Another development strategy from the UK Government!

This time a White Paper, led by Andrew Mitchell as part of his big, laudable project to rescue and rehabilitate the UK aid and development programme.

I guess we can assume that the White Paper supersedes: (a) the Government’s seven priorities for aid, announced in December 2020; (b) the policy laid out in the Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy, in March 2021 (and the IR refresh in March 2023); and the UK Strategy for International Development, published in May 2022. Probably, someone will tell me that there is strategic consistency linking these five different strategies in three years. Or more likely, probably not. But, honestly, I can’t muster the energy to go back and check. Five strategies in three years!

It is true, though, that the new White Paper has landed more successfully than the 2022 strategy. On that occasion, commentators lined up to criticise the lower priority given to poverty reduction, the emphasis on British trade interests, the turn against multilateralism, the geographical allocation, and, of course, the abandonment of 0.7. I linked to some of the commentary here, but also pulled out nine positives, including the commitment to a whole of Government approach, the focus on UK comparative advantage, a patient partnership approach, and a commitment to research and evidence.

Those themes largely survive in the new paper, which is billed as a roadmap to 2030. It is also described as a ‘radical rethink’, driven by changing world geopolitics, the proliferation of conflict, the crisis of climate change, and the risk of future pandemics. There is a new overall goal, which is to end extreme poverty and tackle climate change and biodiversity loss – underpinned by sustainable and inclusive economic growth. There are seven new priorities:

  • Going further, faster to mobilise international finance to end extreme poverty, tackle climate change and biodiversity loss, power sustainable growth and increase private sector investment in development;
  • Strengthening and reforming the international system to improve action on trade, tax, debt, tackling dirty money and corruption, and delivering on global challenges like health, climate, nature and energy transition;
  • Harnessing innovation and new technologies, science and research for the greatest and most cost-effective development impact;
  • Ensuring opportunities for all, putting women and girls centre stage and investing in education and health systems that societies want;
  • Championing action to address state fragility, and anticipate and prevent conflict, humanitarian crises, climate disasters and threats to global health;
  • Building resilience and enabling adaptation for those affected by conflict, disasters and climate change, strengthening food security, social protection, disaster risk financing and building state capability;
  • Standing up for our values, for open inclusive societies, for women and girls, and preventing roll-back of rights.

Partnership is prioritised (shades of the 1997 White Paper (see my commentary at the time with Roger Riddell on partnership as conditionality or contract,  here; and the framework of the OECD/DAC Paris Principles and Jim Wolfensohns’ Comprehensive Development Framework for the World Bank (my commentary in 2000 with Tim Conway, here)). And there is also a commitment to ‘bolster multilateralism’, which marks a departure from the 2022 Strategy, and harks back to the 2009 White Paper, led by Douglas Alexander for the Labour Government.

Seven thematic chapters then take these topics forward, each with a set of UK commitments, the ‘We Will’s of any White Paper. There are dozens of these, ranging from expanded membership of the UN Security Council, through a raft of proposals on finance, to specific commitments on various projects and programmes funded by British aid.

It seems to me there are two issues to explore.

The first is the adequacy of the ‘We Wills’. I have a few thoughts on that, especially in relation to climate change, but also conflict.

The second is the credibility of the White Paper as a ‘strategy’.

The adequacy of the ‘We Wills’

On the ‘We Wills’, the question can be thought of as a kind of logical framework. Given the overall objective, are the proposed measures effective, efficient, and compatible with the UK’s comparative advantage? In the case of climate change, there are as many as 24 ‘We Wills’, pasted in below for ease of reference. Others could be added to that list from other chapters, for example on finance, trade or research.

On climate change

Mainly, it is encouraging to see climate change being given such prominence – not that that is new, since the Integrated Rreview made it the top international priority, but rather because Andrew Mitchell had something of a blind spot on the topic in his previous stint as Secretary of State. It is always good to welcome a repenting sinner!

In terms of content, back in 2019 when Rory Stewart was Secretary of State, I proposed a programme for DFIDDepartment for International Development on climate change. I suggested a new strategic objective and a ten point action programme, including five big shifts (a) From the SDGs to Grand Challenges; (b) From projects and programmes to budget support; (c) From ownership to conditionality; (d) From fragile states to climate vulnerable countries; and (e) From bilateral to multilateral. See the paper linked above for the reasons why.

The new ‘We Wills’ are all sensible, but do not quite touch on all those recommendations. For example, the idea of climate conditionality is at odds with the emphasis on partnership and ownership. It would have been good to mention the planned introduction of carbon border taxes in 2026. Is that a form of conditionality, or just a very strong incentive?

There are also some notable omissions. There is nothing on climate diplomacy, for example, which might have been expected in a paper dealing with whole of Government approaches. And there is a big hole where discussion of Loss and Damage might fit (see Will Worley in the New Humanitarian on this).

So, the prominence of climate change is a cause for celebration – but there is work to do.

On conflict

On conflict, just briefly, the White Paper makes a strong case for the importance of making conflict central to development policy. ‘Our vision for 2030’ it says,

‘is that international efforts combine development, diplomatic and security approaches to reduce the intensity and frequency of conflict within a more effective and coherent multilateral system. There will be greater emphasis on improving our collective foresight, acting earlier and preventing conflict and atrocities. Peace and security actors will pursue long-term, conflict and gender-sensitive, nationally led strategies to reduce and resolve conflict. All of this will be delivered with patience and a willingness to withstand setbacks. Wider transnational threats and drivers of insecurity, including serious and organised crime and violent extremism, will be tackled. In line with the Ottawa Convention, the world will become landmine-free.’

What is a bit surprising here is that there are only six ‘We Wills’, all focused on aid policy: for example, supporting national conflict prevention strategies, championing women peace-builders, and support to demining. A whole of Government approach might have included something on diplomatic and military options, including support to UN peace-keeping forces, which might or might not be ODA-eligible, but would certainly qualify as ‘development’ in the sense used in the White Paper. When the UK was a member of the EU, it contributed to the European Peace Facility and to the cost of EU military and police missions in places like Iraq, Somalia and the Sahel.  Andrew Mitchell is Minister for Africa as well as development. Is this considered an entirely separate hat?

The credibility of the White Paper as a strategy

On the White Paper as strategy, the question is what makes for a good strategy, and whether the WP delivers. There is a great McKinsey paper by Richard Rumelt on the Perils of Bad Strategy which I really recommend. Rumelt talks about the failure of many strategy papers to identify and come to grips with a clear set of problems, often mistaking goals for strategy. Also, ‘strategy involves focus and, therefore, choice. And choice means setting aside some goals in favour of others.’

‘Good strategy’, he says,

‘works by focusing energy and resources on one, or a very few, pivotal objectives whose accomplishment will lead to a cascade of favourable outcomes. It also builds a bridge between the critical challenge at the heart of the strategy and action—between desire and immediate objectives that lie within grasp. Thus, the objectives that a good strategy sets stand a good chance of being accomplished, given existing resources and competencies’.

In practice, there are three steps:

A diagnosis: an explanation of the nature of the challenge. A good diagnosis simplifies the often overwhelming complexity of reality by identifying certain aspects of the situation as being the critical ones.

A guiding policy: an overall approach chosen to cope with or overcome the obstacles identified in the diagnosis.

Coherent actions: steps that are coordinated with one another to support the accomplishment of the guiding policy.’

If we judge the White Paper by this standard, it does a pretty good job of diagnosis and with respect to a guiding policy. There are lots – lots – of actions, presumably coherent. What is not clear to me, though, is what choices have been made. As I commented on ‘X’ when the paper came out, ‘There are lots of 'we wills', which is fine, but I would love to see a list of 'we won'ts'.’ Specifically, also, and just a few of the questions one might ask: ‘what does a greater commitment to multilateralism mean in terms of resource allocation?’; ‘how much money will be available to middle income countries to deal with climate change?’; ‘what are the staffing and country office implications of the new strategy?’; what will be the balance between programme aid, project aid, technical cooperation and other instruments?’. And ‘with EUEuropean Union contributions fading out, and perhaps less money spent on first year refugee costs in the UK – and perhaps even a return to 0.7 - what are the priorities for any increase in budget?’.

The 2023 strategy had a whole chapter on operationalisation. Has that been superseded? A question for Sarah Champion, perhaps, and the International Development Select Committee. She is certainly supportive of Andrew Mitchell’s ambitious project, and will want to see it succeed.


The UK’s commitments on climate change

Climate and nature finance

5.17. We will work with international partner organisations, including funds and multilateral development banks (MDBs), to reform the international climate and nature finance system.

 5.18. We will help secure an ambitious new global climate finance goal in 2024 through playing a constructive role in international climate negotiation processes, balancing mitigation and adaptation funding.

5.19. We will champion launching a Centre for Access to Climate Finance, at COP28, and implementing country-led trials to test what works.

 5.20. We will work with other countries to deliver the 10 Point Plan for Financing Biodiversity and co-lead the development of biodiversity credits, an innovative finance mechanism, to incentivise investment in biodiversity.

5.21. We will promote and support policy reform to scale innovation and repurpose inefficient fossil fuel and agricultural subsidies to deliver just climate and nature positive transitions.

5.22. We will support the growth of high-integrity carbon and nature markets to unlock a global estimated potential of $40 billion per year of private finance for low- and middle income countries by 2030, developing trusted integrity standards and capitalising on digital innovation.

5.23. We will champion global efforts to agree definitions, principles and reporting of ‘nature positive’ ODAOverseas Development Assistance with the OECD, MDBs and partner countries, and deliver on our commitment to ensure UK ODAOverseas Development Assistance is nature positive in line with these.

Supporting a just and clean global energy transition

5.24. We will support the governments and citizens of partner countries to benefit from their mineral resources.

5.25. We will support a comprehensive, long-term and co-ordinated UK capability building offer on energy access and transition for emerging and developing countries, enhancing their implementation of nationally determined contributions (NDCs).

5.26. We will accelerate and scale up transition to clean and affordable technology in sectors such as energy and mobility, working through the UK’s Ayrton Fund, the COP26 Breakthrough Agenda,76 Powering Past Coal Alliance, Energy Transition Council78 and the Green Grids Initiative – One Sun One World One Grid.

5.27. We will work with partners to increase global funding for decarbonisation by deploying initiatives such as the international Climate Investment Funds, Mitigation Action Facility and the global NDCNational Development Council Partnership.

5.28. We will offer support to countries interested in introducing or scaling up carbon pricing mechanisms.

Supporting just and sustainable transitions in forests, food, water and land and ocean use

5.29. We will protect forests, land and natural resources by working to counter illegal practices, supporting action to strengthen governance and to help communities to secure rights to the land and resources they depend on for their livelihoods.

5.30. We will reform global markets and supply chains for forest and agricultural commodities, reducing deforestation.

5.31. We will help farmers to secure their livelihoods through sustainable and resilient agriculture and food systems.

5.32. We will mobilise political support and investment to protect and restore forests, land and forest tenure security, produce food sustainably, and tackle water insecurity.

5.33. We will support governments, businesses, investors and consumers to better integrate impacts of their actions on nature, and the services it provides, in their decision-making, including through improved information.

5.34. We will protect the marine environment by addressing marine biodiversity, pollution, climate change, and sustainable seafood, including using the UK’s Blue Planet Fund.

5.35. We will reduce pollution by supporting low- and middle-income countries to implement sustainable alternative practices and by promoting global solutions through international frameworks and treaties.

Reducing risk and vulnerability and building resilience to climate impacts

5.36. We will maintain a balance between adaptation and mitigation, with at least £1.5 billion of International Climate Finance (ICF) spend on adaptation in 2025.

5.37. We will advance action on climate adaptation by building capacity, planning and finance at national and international levels, transforming priority sectors and systems, and working with effective nature-based solutions.

5.38. We will improve the climate resilience and prosperity of vulnerable coastal communities and SIDS.

5.39. We will improve the generation and use of innovative weather and climate information. We will work with the UK Met Office and partners so that people and governments can better understand, plan for and reduce the risks and impacts of climate change and of weather extremes, including from flooding, drought and zoonotic diseases.

5.40. We will establish a new co-ordinated UK R&D initiative for international nature and invest in water and ecosystems research to test and scale innovations that build resilience to climate change.



# DrMichael Tribe 2023-12-16 18:09
Somewhat belatedly, sorry Simon, I have found the new UK White Paper on Aid Policy - and your valued comments on it.
I can say that my own take on recent UK aid policy statements is very much the same as yours - why so many statements, and why the back-tracking on major international development priorities. I gave a presentation on the 'decolonisation of aid' at at DSA Scotland meeting in July 2023, which is about to be converted into a chapter for an edited book - I'll send the PowerPoint slides to you tomorrow - Paris Declaration principles highlighted - as in your comments.
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