Make Poverty History?
'We can be the first generation that ends poverty'
We need food instead of fine words at the development finance table in Addis Ababa, and leaders must pledge the resources to ensure an equal share for allBan Ki-moon
An African proverb teaches that “fine words do not produce food”. That wise counsel is foremost in my mind as leaders gather in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for a pivotal global financing conference to put the world on course to end poverty and protect the planet.
This must be a year for global action. In September, the international community will adopt a new set of sustainable development goals for the next 15 years. In December, governments have committed to reach a first-of-its-kind universal and meaningful climate change agreement in Paris. But without resources, commitments will amount to little more than promises on paper.
That is why it is encouraging that this year of action begins with the third international conference on financing for development in Addis Ababa. In a world in which both the global population and resource constraints are growing, development finance needs a reboot. The Addis Ababa conference can be the starting point for a new era of cooperation and global partnership.
Many obstacles stand in the way of a better life for people and the planet – but even in trying economic times, a lack of resources need not be one of them. The knowledge, technology and money exist. Billions of dollars are exchanged through trade and financial markets every day. Globally, public and private savings stand at around $22tn a year. The stock of global financial assets is estimated to be about $218tn. Just a small portion invested towards sustainable development would make a big difference. Everyone must play a part.
Of course, the most important source of funding for development starts with a country itself – and this is true even for the poorest country. Those resources could come from increased government revenues in the form of more effective taxation and additional investment by responsible business.
At the same time, illicit financial flows rob developing countries of enormous sums of money – an estimated $50bn a year in Africa alone. Ills such as corruption, smuggling, and inadequate management of valuable natural resources deprive countries of much needed legitimate revenues. Stronger and more inclusive international tax cooperation is fundamental to combat tax avoidance, tax havens and enhance a country’s ability to manage its own economy.
For least developed countries and small island developing states, foreign aid and climate finance represent an indispensable resource. Yet only a handful of donor countries have met their longstanding promise to invest 0.7% of gross national income in international aid. Donors must do more to meet their financial commitments in a timely fashion.
It is also essential for the world to get on the pathway to securing $100bn a year by 2020 for climate finance.
As the engine for decent jobs and income, the private sector is the driving force of the global economy. Responsible private investment is central to the financial equation. The voices of people and communities are essential to these partnerships that ensure inclusive ownership for lasting results.
I often hear people say that business and sustainable development are not compatible. The facts prove otherwise. At the climate summit in New York last September, hundreds of business leaders committed nearly $200bn in sustainable development investments. Around the world, companies that are building sustainability-centred business models are reaping rewards in better performance and higher profit.
It is time to ensure the right incentives and mutual accountability to unlock greater progress towards sustainable development. Innovation and the transfer of appropriate technologies are also essential.
With the right investments and policies, we can be the first generation that ends poverty and the last that avoids the worst effects of climate change.
The Addis Ababa conference on financing for development can mobilise the means for funding what people want most – better health, quality education, decent jobs, good roads and a cleaner, greener world. It can secure concrete commitments on issues such as finance, trade, debt, technology and innovation for the next generation.
Global leaders must now back up fine words with food – and set the table for sustainable development and a life of dignity for all.