What did the G20 deliver for development?

Last week’s G 20 summit in Seoul came and went; so, what are we left with in terms of development policy? There had been much talk about the emerging Seoul Consensus (for example this background paper (via) , or this Oxfam publication – which arguably came up with the label of “Seoul development consensus”. But, when push came to shove, what did the summit deliver?
Not much – or rather, nothing – according to Bill Easterly:

Did it occur to any of the G20 sherpas that it would have been better to say, “we have nothing new on development” than to produce such vacuous babble then actually goes backward even from the dismally modest record of previous summits?

This, it seems, is a pretty harsh judgement and others have expressed a more optimistic comment, for example, Lawrence MacDonald from the Centre for Global Development sees the summit documents as having:

the potential to become more important with the passage of time, especially if the development community seizes upon them as opportunities to press the big economies for pro-development policies and spreads the word. Here, then, is my list of three Seoul sleepers:
– The Seoul Development Consensus for Shared Growth. The six G-20 development principles articulated in this brief document are eminently sensible…
– The Multi-Year Action Plan for Development. Korean officials were right to push hard for a detailed document with specific commitments and deadlines (…)
In the coming weeks policy experts (including some here at CGD) and development advocates will want to unpack these commitments, figure out which are most promising, and then use them to press for progress….
G-20 Anti-Corruption Action Plan. The least noticed Seoul Summit outcome may prove to be the most important. The nine-point anticorruption plan includes pledges to prevent corrupt officials from being able to travel abroad with impunity, to support the recovery of proceeds of corruption stowed abroad, and to enact and implement whistle-blower protection rules. As with development, it’s the first time that the G-20, created to deal specifically with the 2008 financial crisis, has taken up transparency and governance issues. (…)
Perhaps the biggest disappointment from the Seoul Summit was the mealy-mouthed promise to make progress on providing the world’s poorest countries with duty-free, quota-free access to the G-20 markets.

On noting what the Seoul Consensus that emerged from the summit may mean for development, the Sherpa Times provides the following commentary, and illustrates it with a word-cloud from the documents, in which the most notable point is actually what is not there:

just for fun, we put the Seoul Development Consensus through a Wordle which underlines the economic growth model. Try to find ‘MDGs’ (I can’t).

wordle

So it seems the Korean G20 was the final nail in the coffin of the Gleneagles aid commitments – which are now relics of a richer time. Although the G20 will work on infrastructure and ‘growth’, the investments will most likely not reach the small scale producers or businesses but be confined to projects that help transport raw materials out of developing countries.
So the outcomes of Seoul are a major disappointment. However, development did make the agenda which was a great result …
The Seoul Development Consensus in the end lets the G8 countries off the hook as it did not link to any of their previous aid commitments and did not demand any action from the remaining 12 countries. Instead, the paper is a list of expectations and reports for the future with no political capital or resources expended.

The agreement then, appears to be that including development on the G20 agenda constitutes a considerable step, which I would agree it is – especially if the G20 evolves from being an emergency solution to the economic crisis to the key driving force for international cooperation (the implications of this – in both practical and normative terms – constitute another debate altogether). But the actual document seems to harbour more potential than actual content. This also seems to be the:

NGO industry’s verdict of the G20 Summit which is almost 100% consistent in saying ‘yes, but’. The NGO industry almost unanimously welcomes the G20’s focus on development and are excited by the new framework but caution that more needs to be done. This convergence of opinion is one of the most positive responses to a G Summit and is a great outcome for the Korean hosts, but also underlines the NGO sector’s utter confusion about the role of the G20.
The development NGOs struggled with analysing the G20 communique through the traditional development lens as the G20 did not include these issues on the agenda. Many of these NGOs praised the new approach but made vague calls for more action.

The Sherpa then includes a list of responses ranging from the happiest to the bleakest, with Save the Children and The One Campaign being the happiest, and Greenpeace and Tck Tck Tck the unhappiest (WWF and Oxfam did not post their reactions).
My take on all this is two-fold: first, the inclusion of development is indeed a welcome move, but to expect firm commitments in Seoul (especially in terms of resources) was unrealistic; there is much to be done, but the space – with a development working group in place – is there. Second, and perhaps most importantly, the Seoul development consensus’ focus on growth, (private) investment, key sectors (like infrastructure), etc marks a departure from the central role occupied during the past few years by the Millenium Development Goals (MDG) (a shift mirrorred by other donors like the EU and Wold Bank). Commitment to the MDGs must continue – and there is people working for this – but the focus on growth is both a sign of the current state of things, and a sufficiently firm basis and open commitment for the coming years. A commitment which which can (and should) be shaped by the adjectives (“inclusive”; “equitable”; “sustainable”) chosen the rest of the development community.

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