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Monday, December 17, 2007

Practicing coherence for development

The WorldConnectors (www.worldconnectors.nl) – a Dutch think tank committed to a sustainable and peaceful world - recently issues a statement on policy coherence for development.

Euforic's Peter Ballantyne reflects on issues discussed in a round table meeting of WorldConnectors on the statement.

Important in framing the overall discussions among WorldConnectors are the principles of the Earth Charter initiative - a global network of people, organizations, and institutions that share a sense of global interdependence and shared responsibility for the well-being of the human family and the living world.

The WorldConnector discussions showed that recognizing - and acting on - the interdependence of policies and actions is fundamental if we are to achieve more coherent international development cooperation. Greater coherence also calls for people and politicians, as well as governments, to share responsibilities for the ‘total costs of ownership’ of the products they buy and the policies they formulate. A narrow or short term benefit, without a proper coherence check, can have unintended negative consequences for our world.

Policy coherence for development’ is not a new concept. It is enshrined in the Maastricht Treaty and has subsequently been worked on by the European Union, its Member States, and the OECD. It is also a key part of the Paris Declaration on aid effectiveness that guides the development policy management decisions of aid agencies and the developing-country governments they partner with. Civil society groups concerned for better aid are also active on PCD issues, monitoring lawmakers and collating examples and cases of incoherence.

So, what’s new?

The WorldConnector statement elaborates on three areas where coherence is required: First, within a policy area, such as within development policy or within foreign policy. Second, across the policies of a government, for instance between development and trade or development and fisheries. The third area is across the aid and non-aid policies of different countries, including in multilateral forums like the EU. These are all areas where aid effectiveness can be improved through more consistent and coherent (and inter-connected) policies and actions, especially by governments.

The discussions in Rotterdam trod new ground when they went beyond government and civil servants and explored what was called ‘societal coherence.’ This moves far beyond the interdependence of government policies. It calls for behavior changes by individuals as well as civic and private organizations; it encourages them to also take greater shared responsibility for their actions. Such societal coherence looks at the combined activities of governments, business, consumers, and civil society. It implies that all of these actors are able to participate in ‘inclusive democracy’ that gives them a voice in important matters, and the right to call others to account for their actions.

It’s one thing to push governments and civil servants to be more coherent, it’s quite another challenge to change the behavior – and the norms and values – of individuals, companies, and international organizations so they become more coherent.

What's the problem?

As examples, actions that would be considered illegal in Europe can be commonplace in a far away country – illegal logging, child labor, or corruption. Activities we spent years campaigning and working to abolish in our own country can quite easily be encouraged elsewhere by our own companies. Consumers often buy the products of such activities, unaware of the total costs to the planet in terms of the environment or human and social rights. And governments in Europe cannot press charges against the perpetrators when the actions taken break no rules in the far away place.

Companies are often fingered as the culprits, often unfairly. Other actors are often involved in a problem that requires cooperation as well as confrontation. For example, attractive tax regulations in a European country can reduce the tax receipts of a developing country government; some forms of tourism undermine rather than boost local cultures and businesses; an aid agency’s investments in medical education in a developing country can be undermined when these trained medical staff migrate to better jobs in Europe; a large carbon ‘footprint’ in a Dutch home may condemn future generations in developing countries to homes without water, or indeed cities under water.

Societal coherence thus poses tough questions: How do we encourage consumers to be ‘ethical’ in their shopping decisions? How do we know what is ethical? How do we encourage companies and their suppliers to follow, or go beyond, global standards when these are above what is locally required where they work? How do we ensure that international and development organizations are accountable to the people they aim to help? How do we enforce or regulate such activities, balancing encouragement and incentives on the one hand with sanctions or regulations on the other? How do we mobilize and sustain the political will to tackle such problems?

In setting out to tackle this ambitious agenda, the principles of interdependence and shared responsibility in the Earth Charter offer particularly relevant ‘anchors’ with which to encourage PCD – not just ‘policy coherence for development’ but also ‘personal’ and ‘political’ or ‘public’ coherence for development!

See also Euforic's dossier on coherence ; check out the EVS portals: www.eucoherence.org and www.coherentie.nl

Story by Peter Ballantyne

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