Latest Developments, December 18

In the latest news and analysis…

From multilateralism to plurilateralism
The Financial Times reports the World Trade Organization’s biennial ministerial meeting has wrapped up without progress on the “stalled” Doha round of talks, which is ostensibly meant to improve the position of poor countries within the global trade system.
“A number of rich economies, including the US and EU, have explored the possibility of a so-called ‘plurilateral agreement’, involving a subset of WTO members which would agree to open their markets only to each other rather than the wider membership. But many emerging-market countries have rejected a move away from the traditional WTO ‘single undertaking’ approach in which negotiations in several areas – agriculture, industrial goods, services – are undertaken in parallel. Plans to address new issues such as climate change and food security within the WTO have also aroused suspicion among some developing countries, which suspect they are a ruse to advance rich countries’ interests.”

Vicious cycle
The UN News Centre reports that a UN human rights experts has said World Trade Organization policies are hurting small-scale farmers in the poorest countries.
“[Olivier De Schutter, Special Rapporteur on the right to food] stressed that the international trade regime must acknowledge the dangers for poor countries in relying excessively on trade, as this exposes them to volatile grain prices, which can quickly change their landscape into one of poverty and hunger, felt by urban and rural consumer alike.
‘The food bills of LDCs increased five- or six-fold between 1992 and 2008. Imports now account for around 25 per cent of their current food consumption. These countries are caught in a vicious cycle. The more they are told to rely on trade, the less they invest in domestic agriculture. And the less they support their own farmers, the more they have to rely on trade,’ he said.”

Drone dangers
Human Rights Watch has called on the US government to transfer command of drone strikes from the CIA to the armed forces and to “clarify its legal rationale for targeted killings.”
“In asserting that targeted attacks on alleged anti-US militants anywhere in the world are lawful, the US undermines the international rules it helped craft over the past half-century. This sets a dangerous precedent for abusive regimes around the globe to conduct drone attacks or other strikes against anyone labeled a terrorist or militant, and undercuts the ability of the US to criticize such attacks.
About 40 other countries currently possess basic drone technology, and the number is expected to expand significantly in coming years. These drones are primarily used for surveillance. China, France, Germany, India, Iran, Israel, Italy, Russia, Turkey, and the United Kingdom either have or are currently seeking drones with attack capability.

Privatizing education
A new Center for Global Development paper reaches the conclusion that low-income countries would benefit from more private schools.
“We find a robust, causal exam performance premium of one standard deviation delivered by private schools. This point estimate is significantly larger than found in previous studies, and dwarfs the impact of narrower interventions within public primary schools in the micro-empirical development literature (see (Kremer 2003)). Furthermore, from a social perspective private schooling is relatively cheap: nearly two-thirds (64%) of children in private schools pay fees less than the median per-child funding levels in public schools circa 2005/6. Taken together, our results suggest that expanding access to private schools may provide a viable route to improving education quality at relatively low cost in low-income countries with weak public school systems.”

Northern knowledge
The Overseas Development Institute’s Jonathan Glennie suggests there is something wrong with knowledge flows within the development industry.
“In terms of value for money, it must be time to set out a timetable to massively reduce the role of northern consultants (generally friendly with the sources of money) and increase the role of southern consultants in the technical co-operation mix.
Unfortunately, the desire of donors to be able to attribute change directly to their dollar or pound, rather than being satisfied to contribute to broader processes, militates against capacity development ever being taken seriously by northern donors. Structures are created more to manage aid than to enable the sharing of knowledge.”

Biosphere bailout
The Guarian’s George Monbiot suggests saving the banks but not the biosphere is bad economic policy.
“This support was issued on demand: as soon as the banks said they wanted help, they got it. On just one day the Federal Reserve made $1.2tr available – more than the world has committed to tackling climate change in 20 years.

No legislator, as far as I know, has yet been able to explain why making $7.7tr available to the banks is affordable, while investing far smaller sums in new technologies and energy saving is not.”

Decline and flail
The London School of Economics’ David Held and Kristian Coates Ulrichsen argue that the post-9/11 wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya may be the latest examples of the historical tendency for declining empires to resort to “flailing out as they attempt to retain the status quo and reverse their decline.”
“In choosing to invade Iraq the Bush administration and Bush’s British ally rode roughshod over considerations of international peace and security, and disregarded the United Nations and the post-war international architecture. NATO continues to bomb Afghanistan even after the death of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, which also hosts a resurgent Taliban that is once again destroying Afghanistan while destabilizing the fragile nuclear-armed Pakistani state. The intervention in Libya exceeded its UN mandate as NATO willfully misrepresented the nature and intent of its actions to tip the balance of power against Gaddafi. It is difficult to see Libya avoiding the sort of lengthy civil strife that has resulted from the external interventions and acts of imposed regime change in Afghanistan and Iraq. The terrible irony is that the attempts to resist terrorist violence in the decade after 9/11 have ended up weakening the very structures of law and constraints on the use of force that have formed the cornerstone of the international system and bedrock of global security since 1945.”

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Latest Developments, November 14

In the latest news and analysis…

Aid Transparency Index
Publish What You Fund has released its first Aid Transparency Index, in which the list of donor countries that performed ‘poorly’ includes the US, Canada, Australia, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Japan and Norway.
“In the course of the research, a number of countries provided worrying examples of how poor reporting can distort perceptions of whether aid is well spent:
• Almost the only information available about one of France’s biggest aid beneficiaries, Cote d’Ivoire, related to a project commemorating 20 years of research into chimpanzees
• Greece provided no information about its current aid activities, but an annual report from 2009 included pictures of a half-built block of flats in Serbia as evidence of an ‘implemented project’
• Austria is the fourth biggest recipient of Austrian Development Agency aid according to the government’s database of ‘agreed contracts’”

Mining and inequality
Yao Graham of Third World Network-Africa argues booming profits for mining companies are not translating into comparable increases in revenues for the African countries in which they operate.
“The case of Zambia, for which copper makes up about 80 per cent of export earnings, is a good illustration of the asymmetry of power and benefits between mining companies on the one hand and African states on the other. Zambia levies a derisory 0.6 per cent royalty on copper in some cases.
In 2004, with copper prices averaging $2,868 US per tonne, it earned $8 million US in budget revenue from 400,000 tonnes of copper exported by foreign mining companies. This is a mere fraction of the $200 million US it earned in 1992, before privatization, from the same volume and similar price of copper. In the meantime, with the quadrupling of copper prices between 2002 and 2008, firms operating in Zambia such as the Canadian company First Quantum Minerals, have seen sharp jumps.”

Derailing Doha
The Fairtrade Foundation’s Aurelie Walker presents 10 pieces of evidence to support her contention that the World Trade Organization’s so-called Doha Development Round of negotiations has seen the marginalization of the very countries it was supposed to help.
“The WTO has failed to live up to its promises over the past decade, which reveals a wider systemic problem in the global community. True and lasting solutions to global economic problems can only come when the model of global competitiveness between countries becomes one of genuine cooperation.”

Planetary patriotism
California State University, Sacramento’s Angus Wright discusses the obstacles and necessary conditions to addressing global environmental challenges.
“The secret we seek is what inspires humans to act positively and creatively in the face of huge challenges. As humanity faces the environmental crisis, this is its greatest challenge: How do we elicit the kind of collective and individual action and creativity that will be needed?
I think previous experience implies that it cannot be fear alone, nor opportunity alone, nor persuasion alone, nor organisation alone, but a blend of these elements, with much else. We have been able to lump these things together successfully in the past in something called patriotism – a powerful force for good and ill – and now we need something like a planetary patriotism. But no planetary patriotism can be built without acknowledging and dealing with the major things that divide us as well as the challenge that must unite us. Putting on a happy face won’t cut it.”

Sustainable Development Goals
The Overseas Development Institute’s Claire Melamed argues that truly sustainable development will require more than simply coming up with eco-focused counterparts to the Millennium Development Goals.
“If economic growth is to be truly green, developing countries will need to leapfrog over much of our recent history of technological development and have immediate access to the kind of shiny new technologies that are still prohibitively expensive in much of the rich world.
This is possible – with dramatic changes to intellectual property laws, and with the kind of subsidies that until now have been reserved exclusively for the wealthiest farmers.  Neither are particularly likely, and this is just a taster of the huge changes in policy in almost every country if ‘sustainable development’ is to become a reality. We might even have to broach the subject of how more growth in one country might mean less in another.”

Seeming green
The Copenhagen Consensus Center’s Bjørn Lomborg argues political rhetoric about greening economies does not correspond to what is currently feasible in the real world.
“Danish politicians – like politicians elsewhere – claim that a green economy will cost nothing, or may even be a source of new growth. Unfortunately, this is not true. Globally, there is a clear correlation between higher growth rates and higher CO2 emissions. Furthermore, nearly every green energy source is still more expensive than fossil fuels, even when calculating pollution costs.”

Drones and literature
Reuters’ Myra MacDonald argues a recent short story about drone strikes in Pakistan is illustrative of a narrative she considers both problematic and increasingly important.
“We will return to the short story later, but first step back a bit and consider that the narrative gaining traction, at least in urban Punjab, is that the people of the tribal areas have been radicalised by American drone attacks.  Pakistan’s rising political star, Imran Khan, attracted tens of thousands to a rally in Lahore last month with a version of this narrative. Stop the drones, and the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), or Pakistani Taliban, can be engaged in peace talks to end a wave of bombings across Pakistan.”

Philanthropy and facts
In his overview of current trends in philanthropy, Oxfam’s Duncan Green suggests the Arab Spring and networks are hot, while the State and analysis are not at the ongoing Bellagio Initiative Summit.
“I don’t attend many discussions where I find myself wishing for fewer stories, and more analysis, but this was one of them – more NGO than the NGOs when it comes to substituting heart-warming anecdotes for academic rigour.”