Simon Maxwell

Is there a blueprint for driving change at global level – and is it being applied to sustainable energy and food security?

Interested in driving change at global level? Here’s how to do it, apparently: agree a Declaration; set global targets; write (or recommend the writing of) country plans; promise international support, usually through a specially created fund; and set up new bodies to coordinate action and monitor progress. Quite often, it is thought useful to have a High Level Panel to work through the issues in advance, and provide the ideas which will shape the Declaration.

There has been a long debate about the merits of this kind of approach. Does the use of quantitative targets bias interventions to what can be measured? Are global targets imposed from above? Do country plans reflect donor-driven priorities? Do vertical funds distort spending? Are new institutions really necessary? Critics are often – well, critical. Proponents, on the other hand, point to the benefits of political momentum, additional funding, and results on the ground. My own view is probably best captured by the title of an article I wrote back in 1998, when the International Development targets were all the rage, and the Millennium Development Goals were still a gleam in Clare Short’s eye: ‘International Targets for Poverty Reduction and Food Security: A Mildly Sceptical but Resolutely Pragmatic View with a Call for Greater Subsidiarity'. Here is an extract from the summary:

‘International development targets adopted by UN Conferences provide political impetus, focus expenditure and help in monitoring progress. However, simple targets can misrepresent complex realities and distort policy. Monitoring targets can have a high opportunity cost. Political impetus can be lost if targets are over-ambitious. . . .’

The political impetus is key. ‘Pity the poor minister’, I observed ‘who has to fight their corner without the benefit of the President’s signature on the latest international declaration. If I were running the International Civil Aviation Authority or the Universal Postal Union, I would be organising a summit before you could say ‘potholes in the runway’ or ‘queues at the post office’.

A point I did not make in 1998, but might have done, is that the sonorous declarations which frame global initiatives are often opaque when it comes to the choices and trade-offs. One big choice is always evident, which is that the topic under review is of exceptional importance: what price repairing the potholes in the runway when food security or sustainable energy are the priorities of the moment? What price the funding of diseases not covered by the Global Fund? The very establishment of a global initiative implies choices at the margin about resource allocation.

Beyond that fork in the road, however, lie other choices about the substance, especially about incentive and regulatory frameworks and public expenditure packages. Perhaps it is legitimate to argue that these are best sorted out at country level. But perhaps not – especially when global policies are needed, as with the case of the environment. I wrote approvingly, only a few months ago, of the work of the Secretary General’s High Level Panel on Sustainability, which had strong things to say about such topics as subsidies on fossil fuels: the challenge was to see these views reflected in the Rio+20 Declaration.

Two recent examples of initiatives at a global scale are the Global Action Agenda on Sustainable Energy for All, issued by the UN Secretary General’s High Level Panel in April 2012, and the new Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, announced by the G8Group of Eight at Camp David in May 2012. How should they be rated?

Sustainable Energy for All

The Secretary General’s High Level Group on Sustainable Energy for All published its Global Action Agenda in April. The Group had been set three high level targets: ensuring universal access to modern energy services; doubling the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency; and doubling the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix. Its response is to recommend eleven ‘action areas’, each illustrated with a list of high-impact opportunities. The list of eleven action areas includes seven ‘sectoral’ areas and four ‘enabling’ areas, all listed in Box 1. Examples of the high-impact opportunities range from efficiency standards and home solar, to loan guarantees and new research partnerships. Needless to say, countries will be tasked with developing their own, tailored plans. Globally, metrics will be developed to measure progress, and regular assessments will be carried out. No vertical fund is proposed (yet!) – but there is talk of a special Trust Fund. Overall, we are told that ‘energy is the golden thread that connects economic growth, increased social equity, and an environment that allows the world to thrive.’


All this is fine, as far as it goes, but does rather leave questions in the air about priorities, sequences and modalities. There is plenty of discussion in other reports, on topics like fossil fuel subsidies, the pricing of environmental resources, or the use of subsidies to kick-start renewables: see, for example, the report of the High Level Panel on sustainability, or the new World Bank policy paper on green growth. At national level, these are hot topics: the new UK Energy Bill, for example, has generated a storm of debate about the role of the market in electricity generation.

Andrew Scott from ODIOverseas Development Institute (London) commented on the need for more detail when reporting on the EU’s Sustainable Energy for All Summit in April:

‘One of the key questions facing the Sustainable Energy for All Initiative was articulated by Danish Minister for Development Co-operation, and co-chair of the summit, Christian Friis Bach, namely how the three objectives are going to be reconciled. Recognising that price incentives make a difference, he asked how we can set these high enough to promote energy efficiency, low enough to enable access to energy services by the poor, and right enough to ensure environmental sustainability?’

Were the authors of the Global Action Agenda just being cautious on these topics? Did they really not have a view? Or were they rushed, wanting to put something out before Rio+20? The co-chairs, certainly Kandeh Yumkella and probably also Charles Holliday, know a great deal about this topic. So do those listed as Principals, including Andris Piebalgs. Perhaps there is more to come.

Food security and nutrition

A contrasting case is provided by the G8Group of Eight initiative on food security and nutrition. The relevant section of the communiqué is short enough to reproduce in full:

‘For over a decade, the G8Group of Eight has engaged with African partners to address the challenges and opportunities afforded by Africa’s quest for inclusive and sustainable development. Our progress has been measurable, and together we have changed the lives of hundreds of millions of people. International assistance alone, however, cannot fulfill our shared objectives. As we move forward, and even as we recommit to working together to reduce poverty, we recognize that our task is also to foster the change that can end it, by investing in Africa’s growth, its expanding role in the global economy, and its success. As part of that effort, we commit to fulfill outstanding L’Aquila financial pledges, seek to maintain strong support to address current and future global food security challenges, including through bilateral and multilateral assistance, and agree to take new steps to accelerate progress towards food security and nutrition in Africa and globally, on a complementary basis.

Since the L’Aquila Summit, we have seen an increased level of commitment to global food security, realignment of assistance in support of country-led plans, and new investments and greater collaboration in agricultural research. We commend our African partners for the progress made since L’Aquila, consistent with the Maputo Declaration, to increase public investments in agriculture and to adopt the governance and policy reforms necessary to accelerate sustainable agricultural productivity growth, attain greater gains in nutrition, and unlock sustainable and inclusive country-led growth. The leadership of the African Union and the role of its Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (CAADP) have been essential.

Building on this progress, and working with our African and other international partners, today we commit to launch a New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition to accelerate the flow of private capital to African agriculture, take to scale new technologies and other innovations that can increase sustainable agricultural productivity, and reduce the risk borne by vulnerable economies and communities. This New Alliance will lift 50 million people out of poverty over the next decade, and be guided by a collective commitment to invest in credible, comprehensive and country-owned plans, develop new tools to mobilize private capital, spur and scale innovation, and manage risk; and engage and leverage the capacity of private sector partners – from women and smallholder farmers, entrepreneurs to domestic and international companies.

The G8Group of Eight reaffirms its commitment to the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people, and recognizes the vital role of official development assistance in poverty alleviation and achieving the Millennium Development Goals. As such, we welcome and endorse the Camp David Accountability Report which records the important progress that the G8Group of Eight has made on food security consistent with commitments made at the L’Aquila Summit, and in meeting our commitments on global health, including the Muskoka initiative on maternal, newborn and child health. We remain strongly committed to reporting transparently and consistently on the implementation of these commitments. We look forward to a comprehensive report under the UK Presidency in 2013.’

Most of the key elements of our global initiative blueprint are in place: an overall target; country-led initiatives; financial pledges; monitoring. Any missing pieces can be found in the background documentation, specifically a White House Fact Sheet.  It is reproduced at the end of this note. It offers some interesting differences of emphasis compared to the communiqué (for example a stronger statement about the role of smallholders); and also lists a breathtaking number of initiatives linked to the new ‘New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition’: a list is in Box 2, with what appear to be new items marked with an asterisk. One obvious omission: not a mention of the G20 initiative on food, which was so prominent only a year ago. Global shocks, and trade-related issues, which dominated then, feature very little in the new initiative.











Of the 21 items listed in Box 2, 13 are marked as new, ranging from the writing of plans and  reports and the organisation of conferences, through Declarations and frameworks, to new partnerships, platforms, facilities, and challenge funds. There is strong support for an existing vertical fund (the GAFSP) and commitment to a Leadership Council to ‘drive and track implementation’. The G8Group of Eight certainly cannot be faulted for lack of imagination in thinking about how to make things happen!
Despite the plethora of new initiatives, it is not quite clear where the New Alliance has positioned itself in substantive terms. Does it adjudicate between competing narratives on agriculture and food security? There are, after all, many debates in this field: cash crops or food crops? Large-scale or small-scale? Labour-intensive or capital-intensive? Stocks or imports? What is the role of the private sector? In the absence of a High Level Panel to review the debates and take positions, we are left to interpret the documents.
Most independent observers have focused on the private sector orientation of the New Alliance, observing that the new money to be mobilised is to come from the private sector. Many have been critical. A typical response was from Oxfam, who warned that



‘the ‘New Alliance to Increase Food and Nutrition Security’ focuses too heavily on the role of the private sector to tackle the complex challenges of food insecurity in the developing world . . .  The average private sector role in existing country food security plans, the basis for the L'Aquila agreement, is about 5%, and most have no role at all. This new alliance - is a nice complement at best, a deflection at worst. . . Smallholder farmers need the freedom to pursue their own growing strategies, not take overly-prescriptive tips on farming from G8Group of Eight leaders, or one size fits all technologies from far away CEOs.’

Others complained that the initiative focused too much on production, not enough on consumption. However, speaking inChicago just before the Camp David meeting, President Obama said that ‘we’re going to keep focusing on nutrition, especially for young children, because we know the effects of poor nutrition can last a lifetime’. At the same meeting, Hillary Clinton said ‘nutrition is just too important to be treated as an afterthought’. The documents all reference Scaling Up Nutrition.

This is not the place for detailed analysis of the New Alliance proposals. For the record, however, I am more sympathetic than some to the role of the national and international private sector – as reported in my report on discussions at Davos in 2011. It would have been good to say more about land policy and ‘land grabs’ – on which see the new European Report on Development. It’s good that nutrition is in. On the other hand, this is really an initiative about agriculture more than ‘food security’ as customarily understood. In that context, it seems odd not to say anything about global markets, or about the balance between food and cash crops.

The more general point is that the New Alliance would have benefited from making more visible the evidence and analysis underpinning the action programme – perhaps in the form of a High Level Panel Report. As it is, we are left to read between the lines and guess what choices have been made in adjudicating the big questions about the future of agriculture in Africa.


To conclude, these are two contrasting approaches. Both exhibit high-level ambition, with strong international targets and multi-faceted programmes of action. Both want to engage the private as well as the public sector. Both prioritise country-led programmes, Both promise monitoring and reporting. The energy report contains many practical suggestions as to new policies or programmes, but does not (yet) push these to the point of specific proposals, as in the G8Group of Eight action plan. The G8Group of Eight has created a whole new architecture of institutions to deliver change.

Neither initiative really provides depth of analysis, though much doubtless exists in the background (we hope!). That for me is an important lesson. The problem to be solved is self-evident in both these cases. But when shaping global initiatives in contested territory, it is necessary to win the argument about which solutions to choose – or at least, to provide a robust case for the solutions that eventually emerge.


Picture credit:


Fact Sheet: G-8 Action on Food Security and Nutrition

At the Camp David Summit, G-8 and African leaders will commit to the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, the next phase of our shared commitment to achieving global food security.  In partnership with Africa’s people and leaders, our goals are to increase responsible domestic and foreign private investments in African agriculture, take innovations that can enhance agricultural productivity to scale, and reduce the risk borne by vulnerable economies and communities.  We recognize and will act upon the critical role played by smallholder farmers, especially women, in transforming agriculture and building thriving economies.

The New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition is a shared commitment to achieve sustained and inclusive agricultural growth and raise 50 million people out of poverty over the next 10 years by aligning the commitments of Africa’s leadership to drive effective country plans and policies for food security; the commitments of private sector partners to increase investments where the conditions are right; and the commitments of the G-8 to expand Africa’s potential for rapid and sustainable agricultural growth.

We welcome the support of the World Bank and African Development Bank, and of the United Nations’ World Food Program, International Fund for Agricultural Development, and Food and Agriculture Organization for the New Alliance.  We also welcome the successful conclusion of the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the context of National Food Security and support the broad-based consultation process and pilot use of the Principles of Responsible Agricultural Investment.

The New Alliance Will Build on and Help Realize the Promise of L’Aquila

Since the L’Aquila Summit, where we committed to “act with the scale and urgency needed to achieve sustainable global food security,” we have increased our bilateral and multilateral investments in food security and changed the way we do business, consistent with core principles of aid effectiveness.  Based on the findings of the 2012 G-8 Accountability Report and consistent with the Rome Principles on Sustainable Global Food Security, the G-8 will agree to:

  • Promptly fulfill outstanding L’Aquila financial pledges and seek to maintain strong support to address current and future global food security challenges, including through bilateral and multilateral assistance;
  • Ensure that our assistance is directly aligned behind country plans;
  • Strengthen the coordination of G-8 strategies, assistance and programs in-country and with partner countries to increase efficiencies, reduce transaction burdens, and eliminate redundancies and gaps.

The New Alliance will be rooted in partnership

To accelerate national progress in African partner countries, the G-8 will launch New Alliance Cooperation Frameworks that align with priority activities within each partner’s Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) national investment plan and include predictable funding commitments, specific policy actions, and statements of intent from the private sector.

The G-8 will partner with the African Union, New Partnership for Africa's Development and CAADP to implement the New Alliance, and leverage in particular the Grow Africa Partnership, in order to ensure our efforts build on African ownership, yield significant outcomes, and can be replicated across Africa.  The G-8 will work together to advance the objectives of the New Alliance and G-8 members will support its individual elements on a complementary basis.

To mobilize private capital for food security, the New Alliance will:

  • Support the preparation and financing of bankable agricultural infrastructure projects, through multilateral initiatives including the development of a new Fast Track Facility for Agriculture Infrastructure.
  • Support the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP), with the goal of securing commitments of $1.2 billion over three years from existing and new donors, scaling up and strengthening the operations of its public and private sector windows and support other mechanisms that improve country ownership and align behind CAADP national investment plans.
  • Report on the progress of G-8 development finance institutions in catalyzing additional private investment in African agriculture and increasing the range of financing options and innovative risk mitigation tools available to smallholder farmers and medium-sized agribusinesses.
  • Call on the World Bank, in collaboration with other relevant partners, to develop options for generating a Doing Business in Agriculture Index.
  • Announce the signing of Letters of Intent from over 45 local and multinational companies to invest over $3 billion across the agricultural value chain in Grow Africa countries, and the signing by over 60 companies of the Private Sector Declaration of Support for African Agricultural Development outlining their commitment to support African agriculture and public-private partnerships in a responsible manner.

To take innovation to scale, the New Alliance will:

  • Determine 10-year targets in partner countries for sustainable agricultural yield improvements, adoption of improved production technologies, including improved seed varieties, as well as post-harvest management practices as part of a value-chain approach, and measures to ensure ecological sustainability and safeguard agro-biodiversity.
  • Launch a Technology Platform with the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa and other partners in consultation with the Tropical Agriculture Platform and the Coalition for African Rice Development (CARD) initiative that will assess the availability of improved technologies for food commodities critical to achieve sustainable yield, resilience, and nutrition impacts, identify current constraints to adoption, and create a roadmap to accelerate adoption of technologies.
  • Launch the Scaling Seeds and Other Technologies Partnership, housed at the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa to strengthen the seed sector and promote the commercialization, distribution and adoption of key technologies improved seed varieties, and other technologies prioritized by the Technology Platform to meet established goals in partner countries.
  • Share relevant agricultural data available from G-8 countries with African partners and convene an international conference on Open Data for Agriculture, to develop options for the establishment of a global platform to make reliable agricultural and related information available to African farmers, researchers and policymakers, taking into account existing agricultural data systems.
  • Launch an information and communications technology innovation challenge on extension services at the African Union Summit in July 2012.
  • Explore opportunities for applying the non-profit model licensing approach that could expand African access to food and nutritional technologies developed by national research institutions.

To reduce and manage risk, the New Alliance will:

  • Support the Platform for Agricultural Risk Management (PARM) to complete national agricultural risk assessment strategies, to be conducted by the World Bank and other international institutions in close partnership with New Alliance countries, with the mandate of identifying key risks to food and nutrition security and agricultural development and recommending options for managing these risks.
  • Create a global action network to accelerate the availability and adoption of agricultural index insurance, in order to mitigate risks to farmers, especially smallholder and women farmers, and increase income and nutritional security.  This network will pool data and findings; identify constraints; support regional training and capacity-building; and accelerate the development of instruments appropriate for smallholders and pastoralists.
  • Recognize the need for Africa-based sovereign risk management instruments, recognizing the progress by the African Union and its member governments toward creating the African Risk Capacity, a regional risk-pooling facility for drought management.

To improve nutritional outcomes and reduce child stunting, the G-8 will:

  • Actively support the Scaling Up Nutrition movement and welcome the commitment of African partners to improve the nutritional well-being of their populations, especially during the critical 1,000 days window from pregnancy to a child’s second birthday.  We pledge that the G-8 members will maintain robust programs to further reduce child stunting.
  • Commit to improve tracking and disbursements for nutrition across sectors and ensure coordination of nutrition activities across sectors.
  • Support the accelerated release, adoption and consumption of bio-fortified crop varieties, crop diversification, and related technologies to improve the nutritional quality of food in Africa.
  • Develop a nutrition policy research agenda and support the efforts of African institutions, civil society and private sector partners to establish regional nutritional learning centers.

To ensure accountability for results, the New Alliance will:

  • Convene a Leadership Council to drive and track implementation, which will report to the G-8 and African Union on progress towards achieving the commitments under the New Alliance, including commitments made by the private sector.
  • Report to the 2013 G-8 Summit on the implementation of the New Alliance, including the actions of the private sector, in collaboration with the African Union.


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