Addis Ababa: ‘New flower’ of an ambitious and comprehensive financing framework?

17 July 2015

by Sabine Terlecki, CONCORD head of policy and advocacy

While new horizons reached Greece and Pluto this week and took over all media attention, rainy Addis was in fact the place of birth for one of the most important international frameworks for the next decade and beyond: The ‘Addis Ababa Agenda for Action’ (AAAA), outcome of the 3rd International Conference on Financing for Development – FfD3.

It has been days of intense negotiations, or probably one should rather say ‘behind the scenes deliberations’, and there was a high risk of leaving Addis without an agreement. So the good news is: We have it! The ‘Addis Agenda’ got approved on 15 July around 20.30h by 193 nations.

Addis Ababa: a missed historic opportunity?

Addis Ababa, ‘new flower’ in the African language of Amharic, was indeed aimed at becoming the new flourishing flower of a comprehensive financing framework, an historic opportunity to show leadership, ambition and concrete actions, and to promote the vision of an economy which is at the heart of the people and planet. While just after its approval the country’s permanent representatives to the United Nations (UN) already started praising the outcome over Twitter, global CSOs feel that an historic opportunity has been missed and express their disappointment.

The ‘Addis compromise Agenda’ – missing the teeth for concrete solutions

Ambitious aspirations turned into a compromise agenda missing solutions for concrete problems. Key compromise issues were the final negotiations focused on the intergovernmental Global Tax Body (para 29). Furthermore, G77 dropped their ask on the Common but Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR) as well as their demand on having fewer links between FfD3 and Post2015. Furthermore, the EU didn’t push anymore on fossil fuels.

On the shiny side of the FfD3 coin it has to be taken note that there is in fact some good language on e.g. the role of children for equitable and sustainable development, on women’s and girls’ empowerment and on the enhancement of policy coherence across all the three dimensions of sustainable development.

However, this rhetoric does not hide the relative ‘toothlessness’ of the agenda and they are mostly not followed by concrete implementation plans and commitments. On the broad lines the ‘Addis Agenda’ doesn’t go far enough in many key areas and has clear gaps, especially in terms of transparency and accountability. The framework does also not recognize enough the need of systemic change and neglects normative and systemic reforms that would enable developing countries to mobilize their own available resources.

The ‘Addis Agenda’ is also not fit to provide sufficient political leadership to strengthen the role of the United Nations to lead the necessary human rights-based, pro-development reforms of global economic and financial systems and institutionalize greater coherence. Moreover, the ambitions of this financing framework does by far not correspond to the ambitions set for the Post-2015 Development Agenda and are therefore insufficient in supporting the operational Means of Implementation (MoI) for the Post-2015 Development Agenda.

Private sector – Why did no one shout for public transparency and full accountability to government and citizens?

Support to private sector in development should contribute to fighting poverty in all its dimensions, injustice and inequalities, promoting human rights, sustainable development and dignity for all. Governments need to ensure that private companies operating on the ground do no harm, behave in a sustainable way and pay their fair share of taxes. Unfortunately, the ‘Addis Agenda’ doesn’t endorse binding commitments to ensure business accountability based on internationally recognized human and labor rights as well as environmental standards. In a previous draft of the ‘Addis Agenda’ the demand for private sector to be publicly transparent and fully accountable to government and citizens was still stated, unfortunately this disappeared in the final outcome document. Without a parallel recognition of the developmental role of the State and clear safeguards to its ability to regulate in the public interest, there is a great risk that the private sector undermines rather than supports sustainable development.

Investing in women is smart economics, investing in girls even smarter

While it is good to see in the ‘Addis Agenda’ the support to the Women’s Empowerment Principles established by UN-Women and the Global Compact it is indeed surprising that the key focus is on ‘Gender equality as smart economics’. Women’s and girls’ role and participation in the economy cannot be described only as contributors to the economy. They are also beneficiaries and equal participants in the process. Even more important is investing into women’s and girls’ empowerment as well as into nine years of quality education. So not Gender Equality as smart Economics but investing in women is smart economics, investing in girls even smarter.

Tax power remains under control of traditional donors

The final negotiations in Addis were mainly on paragraph 29 regarding the intergovernmental UN tax body. CSOs pushed until the very end for an intergovernmental, transparent, accountable, adequately resourced tax body under the auspices of the UN with universal membership that could lead global deliberations on international tax cooperation. However, the final paragraph 29 now describes a committee elected by governments based on geographic distribution by UNSG in consultation with Member States, so a kind of voluntary trust fund to provide resources but with rather limited political power.

Key concerns of global civil society

Global civil Society already reacted (please see here the full reaction and the Addis Ababa CSO Ffd Forum declaration). A specific reaction of European CSOs will follow soon.

Below a summary of the key concerns of global civil society:

• Gender Equality as Smart Economics
• Misplaced optimism towards private finance
• International tax policy remains the domain of the powerful
• No concrete commitments to ensure tax justice and equity
• Tendency by traditional donors to elude responsibilities and effectiveness
• commitments
• No critical assessment of trade regimes, including investment treaties
• Recent UN normative developments on debt ignored
• Limited progress on technology
• Weakening of UN mandate to address systemic issues
• No strong commitment in terms of transparency and accountability

At the concluding panel of the global CSO meeting on 12 July ahead of the Addis conference U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated that “Strengthening the voice and representation of developing countries is very much important.” Unfortunately also in that respect the ‘Addis Agenda’ could not succeed. A club of traditional powerholders is still in the driving seat, and some barriers of inequalities and solidarity between and within countries couldn’t be eliminated.