There is a debate beginning in the international community about what will replace the millennium development goals (MDGs) in 2015. Central to this debate is how to integrate sustainable development within the poverty reduction agenda embodied in the MDGs. It is now widely recognised that without a fundamental shift in our consumption and production behaviour, we will undermine many of the hard fought development gains so successfully made over the past two decades.
In the UK, this year we became the first G8 country to reach a commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of gross national income on aid and development. However at the same time, we are seeing an increasing number of attacks on aid and development by Tory backbenchers and elements of the right-wing press.
David Cameron and Justine Greening are complicit in this attack with their spin in recent months suggesting that most of our extra aid will be spent to plug holes in the defence budget and provide commercial opportunities for British business, and their lack of vision, innovation and passion which were once the hallmarks of UK development policy. It is regrettable that Department for International Development (DFID) has been ‘shrunk’ into a solely aid-distributing department rather than being a key driver of global structural change which requires meaningful cross-government working with other departments on issues such as tax, trade, climate change, migration and security.
While Labour was instrumental in setting the stage for reaching this historic commitment, we need to be able to address some of this challenge. We wholeheartedly believe UK investment in development is rooted in a commitment to social justice, but this will also include moving from being the party of the 0.7 per centage commitment to the party that champions real structural change, results and value for money.
We need to be clear on human rights and corruption. We must be robust in defending budget support but with a greater level of conditionality. We must have a higher standard of debate about labour standards and ensure that sustainable economic growth is part of the story and a responsible capitalism agenda. We need to move beyond an aid vision to a development vision which incorporates tax, trade, labour standards and the green agenda.
Globally aid is becoming a smaller piece of the pie as foreign direct investment (FDI) and remittance to developing countries increases. We therefore have a real opportunity to drive a development agenda which is progressive and aims to end poverty and aid dependency.
We also need to be honest with the British public that what we are trying to do is not simple. We are trying to build state institutions, develop economies in sustainable and inclusive ways, build vibrant civil societies that hold their governments to account, ensure the people have access to a good job and that taxes are fairly paid.
We must be clear that this agenda will require a coming together of a wide range of actors to make this vision a reality. This means genuine partnership between developed and developing economies. Bringing the aid agencies and the environmental organisations together in common cause. Private sector companies, that are promoting sustainable business practice and reaching some of the hardest places, and trade unions who can play a role in capacity building. We need both political will and mass public mobilisation.
2015 is a key opportunity for the world to build this vision. Only if we have a coming together of the sustainable development goals and the poverty reduction agenda can we truly hope to see radical, progressive and transformational change that we need.