The Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness (HLF4, 29 November – 1 December) concluded with the adoption of the “Busan Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation.” Bringing together 2,500 State and non-State representatives, the Forum aimed to reshape the conventional call for “aid effectiveness” into a new paradigm of “development effectiveness.”
Acknowledging the complexity of today’s global landscape, the outcome document calls for a new form of development cooperation that embraces traditional donors, private funders, civil society, and newly emerging donors such as the BRICs (refers to the emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China).To this end, the discussions addressed various non-aid related issues that, together with aid, affect development results, such as gender equality, climate financing, respect for human rights, and effective institutions.
Today’s principles of aid effectiveness have their roots in the Paris Declaration (2005) and the Accra Agenda for Action (2008), which were respectively the outcomes of the Second and the Third High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness. The HLF4 was convened to share experiences of implementing the aforementioned Declaration and Agenda for Action, and to draw lessons from good and bad practices. Also, as the Paris Declaration expired in 2010, the Forum was expected to forge a new roadmap for enhancing aid effectiveness and development cooperation. The Forum featured a number of high-level officials such as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and the Rwandan President Paul Kagame.
The formal discussions comprised thematic sessions and so-called “building blocks,” which were multi-stakeholder dialogues surrounding various themes of development. Topics directly concerning aid practices included: transparency; results and accountability; aid fragmentation; aid predictability; ownership; and country systems. More structural issues or issues that interlock with enhancing the overall development effectiveness included: conflict and fragility; climate finance; effective institutions; capacity development; south-south cooperation and triangular cooperation; rights-based approaches; and private sector. Fourty-nine side events, 28 mini-debates, and 14 knowledge workshops were organized in parallel by government missions, international institutions, and civil society organizations, featuring open discussions on more concrete themes.
On the second day of the Forum, a Special Session on Gender drew particular attention, as it was the first time a High Level Forum hosted a gender-focused discussion. The US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, during her speech, introduced “Evidence and Data for Gender Equality (EDGE),” an initiative devised to compile accurate and systemic gender-segregated data. The initiative is part of the Busan Action Plan for Gender Equality and Development, jointly launched by the Korean and US government. The Plan grounds on results-focused approaches to reduce gender inequality in development practices. However, some civil society representatives criticized that the Plan continues to view women as vehicles for economic growth and shows insufficient regard for rights-based approaches. For this reason, the Global Women’s Forum, a network of women’s organizations formed during the Busan Global Civil Society Forum, officially announced that they cannot endorse the plan.
(Click here to view a political statement of the Busan Global Women’s Forum)
For civil society, the HLF4 provided an exceptional opportunity for engagement in high-level dialogues, as it offered one of the 18 seats at the negotiating table to a civil society representative. Antonio Tujan Jr., Director of IBON International, took the seat as the civil society “Sherpa.” Under the lead of Better Aid and Open Forum for CSO Development Effectiveness, civil society actors had prepared for the meeting since the completion of the Third High Level Forum, including through repeated regional consultations. On 26-28 November around 500 civil society representatives convened in the Busan Global Civil Society Forum for last-minute dialogues on key agendas and to formulate civil society’s final strategies for the HLF4. Read civil society’s joint statement to the HLF4 here.
Now that the big moment has come and gone, various evaluations have been released on the outcome of the longstanding process. The positive strand highlights that the new partnership has paved the way for furthering multi-stakeholder approaches in global development partnership; has highlighted the common principles for development such as tackling poverty and inequality, reducing gender inequality, promoting sustainable development and respect for human rights; and has elucidated the vitality of civil society organizations (CSOs) in development partnership and committed to create an enabling environment for CSOs’ contributions. On the other hand, more critical voices say that Busan has failed to clarify time-bound targets and concrete plans for future development cooperation; has not explicitly endorsed rights-based approaches; continued to resort to private-sector led growth; and has failed to ensure full commitments of new donors - particularly those of China and India – in adhering to the new framework.
As south-south cooperation was one of the key themes of the Forum, commitment of China and India as the most influential Southern donors has indeed remained in the limelight throughout the whole negotiation process. The two expressed the willingness to join the partnership at the very last minute, upon compromise that the agreements on south-south cooperation will be pursued on a “voluntary basis.” As much as the phrase makes it difficult to foresee the future of how and whether the documented guidelines will be taken on, so does the selectively consented principles for new development cooperation. Despite its limitations, Busan has certainly laid out the languages that go beyond those produced in Paris and Accra. The international community, however, has maintained a poor record in undertaking the signal commitments made in those two Forums. Thus the virtual ramifications of the new framework on development effectiveness will only speak for themselves through ensued actions.
More detailed information on the HLF4 and the process of civil society participation is soon to be published in an NGLS e-Roundup.