Canada and the Post 2015 development agenda: some observations…

Picture1I have been following the discussions and scholarly literature on the Canadian development aid and agenda post 2015. I have collected some observations and tried to highlight key dimensions that are worth noting and further exploring. This framework is a work in progress. Any feedback and comments are appreciated.

Canada has always affirmed its commitment toward the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and beyond, and contributed lately in setting the principles that have been guiding the post 2015 sustainable development goals (SDGs) while serving on various forums, particularly the 30-seat Open Working Group (OWG) on SDGs. Its presence in the development cooperation is getting off the radar screen recently. This might be attributed to a couple of factors:

  • Paradigm Shift in scoping development assistance: illustrated in the shift from a development oriented approach to a more commercial and economically driven one. This is clearly reflected in the emphasis on trade and commerce over poverty alleviation dimension.
  • Institutional set-up: as a direct manifestation of the conceptual shift, the conservative government has merged CIDA and the Department of Foreign Affairs in 2013 under the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFATD). As such, development and humanitarian assistance rank low in DFATD priorities. This is clearly illustrated in DFATD mandate – as defined on its website, namely to “manage Canada’s diplomatic and consular relations, to encourage the country’s international trade and to lead Canada’s international development and humanitarian assistance”.
  • Shift in focus: This shift in paradigm in favor of the new approach is associated with:
    • Emphasis on less risky places/ countries and themes, to ensure both safe implementation and steady flow of funds.
    • Obvious focus on (1) middle income countries rather than the poor ones; (2) mostly in extractive industries and (3) over a shorter timeframe to yield results.
  • Dwindling ODA contribution: manifested through the decrease (estimated at 10%) in the government ODA took place over the last 5 years.
  • Chronic ODA management syndrome: The change in perspective has not triggered changes in the way ODA is managed so far. The latter is still managed centrally, result-focused and with a tendency to avoid risks! Ian Smillie, in his contribution to the recently launched book “Rethinking Canadian Aid” has warned from three tendencies development assistance usually falls into: (1) centralized, top-down, rigid, paper-bound, and remotely managing development programs, (2) politicians’ obsession for quantitative short term results not long-term impacts! jeopardizing knowledge capture and management, and (3) Risk avoidance characterized by hiding failures and consequently losing the opportunity to learn from failures.
  • Stakeholders Engagement: The implications of the conceptual shift are observable on the Government- CSOs consultation toward post 2015 development agenda. The process has been mostly government-led and managed. In fact, DFATD has mandated an internal team to coordinate among the concerned departments and align the national agenda with the global goals, in order to support the government negotiations at the UN end of 2015. The national consultation process however was not as inclusive as it should be. There were limited opportunities for Canadian CSOs to engage and provide input. Nevertheless it is worth noting that a lot of hope is held over the recent policy on “International Development and Humanitarian Assistance Civil Society Partnership” in which the government fully recognizes the role of CSOs in achieving sustainable development. It reiterated its commitment to support an enabling environment for civil society in developing countries, to foster multi-stakeholder approaches to development.

Is this shift in paradigm for the best interest of Canada? Will the partnership policy translate into action soon? and most importantly, what are the implications of both on the SDGs era?

What prompted the AGS sustainability drive?

It is believed that the decision-making dynamics in the AGS related to the global development agenda (such as the MDGs, the Rio+20 and the post 2015 development agenda, as well as Climate change) are mostly driven by the States’ foreign policy. Evidently, AGS have a strong geopolitical weight in the regional and world economy (given their oil and gas reserves); they became highly exposed after September 2001; they are at the heart of the Climate Change discourse; they have the largest share of the sovereign wealth funds globally; and many AGS envision global ambitions.

Understanding the decision-making structures and dynamics requires, as suggested by Nonneman, a multi-dimensional analysis that examines the domestic determinants – mostly regime survival, the regional (inter and intra) geopolitical challenges and aspirations, as well as the international positioning and dependencies.

Indeed, I would argue that all the AGS have seized the initial global calls for greening the economies in light of the 2008 crisis as the opportunity to position themselves in the global post 2008 era. Along with their Arab League counterparts, the AGS endorsed in 2009 the first Arab Strategy for Sustainable Consumption and production. At the same time, their global outreach has prompted the development of key initiatives aiming at off-setting the unsustainable practices yielding high carbon emission and waste generation, as well as to propagate a polished image of the states that aim to be key players in the regional and global economies (leaders in the services and transport industries -aviation and marine, among others), while preserving each member state’s competitiveness edge. This would explain the huge “sustainability” claimed investments in research and development under the umbrella of Qatar Foundation, hosting of the International renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) in UAE, the nine digit-investment in the planned zero-waste MASDAR city in Abu Dhabi, along with its research arm, the announcement of the 1,000 MW Mohamad Bin Rashed Al Maktoum solar park stretching over a 40 square kilometers in Duabi, as well as the recent Saudi Arabia announcement of its planned 100 billion investment to generate 41 GW of solar energy by 2032.

Regionally, it is noticeable that the Arab Gulf States exhibit different pace and approaches to development, subject to both domestic determinants as well as intra-regional competitiveness. Inter-regionally, though the investment opportunities for many Arab Gulf States were imminent in many sectors in the neighboring countries, it is worth noting that the regional circumstances –namely the “Arab Uprising” and its consequences so far – have impacted their policies. AGS were obliged to look inward and attend to the escalating voices and needs domestically. They seem to get further locked in their regime survival policies, namely providing more to their constituents in order to ensure their loyalty and legitimacy, amplifying their “nationalist” branding and tightening the security measures in an attempt to make it hard on insurgence to mess with the agreed socio-political contract between the ruling elites and their constituents.

What are the attributes of such contract? and how does it influence the sustainability drive?

The Arab Gulf States: the development and environment nexus

Located on the west coast of the Arabian Gulf and sharing many socio-economic and cultural similarities, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, United Arab Emirates and Kingdom of Saudi Arabia established in 1981 a political and economic coalition called the Cooperation Council for the Arab Gulf States. Twenty years later, the AGS’ economy has become one of the fastest growing economies in the world mostly led and managed by governments. The AGS has witnessed unprecedented social and economic transformations manifested through the sole reliance on hydrocarbons to fuel their energy-intensive industries; a world-record population growth driven mainly by labour emigration- estimated at 42% of AGS population in 2010- and an unprecedented urbanization. Domestic demand for oil and gas has increased drastically to fuel the rapidly expanding infrastructure, transport, real estate and industrial development, transforming AGS from energy exporters to consumers. In fact, the demand for electricity has doubled over the last decade and is foreseen to keep growing with urbanization, given that the demand from the built urban environment currently accounts for more than 75% of total electricity demand in each state.

Their level of development has been reflected in the human development index (HDI) that suggests a correlation between the level of development and affluence, as well as the consumption and wasting patterns. In fact, four of the six AGS are exhibiting high HDI; two of them, namely Qatar and United Arab Emirates, ranked in the “very high” HDI category (HDR, 2012). HDI ranking resonates with the AGS progress in meeting the Millennium Development goals (MDGS), particularly on the first five goals. They are close to achieving gender parity in education, with almost close to universal enrolment; women’s political participation is increasing, but not fast enough, reaching an average of 18.6% (mainly driven by the increased women quota in the Saudi Shoura council in 2013). Besides, AGS have halved the maternal mortality ratio between 1990 and 2010 (reaching 15 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2010), and reduced the under-five mortality rate by 73% in the same period (from 29 to 8 deaths per 1,000 live births)

Yet from an environmental perspective, the picture is gloomy! The AGS development seems to be gained at a high cost producing unprecedented pressures on the regions’ natural resources and its management capabilities. Little attention has been paid to the environmental dimension of their development path. In fact, with less than 0.6% of the world’s population, the Arab Gulf States produce more than half of the global desalinated water; generate on average 1.5 kg per day per capita of solid waste (considered among the highest worldwide); and emit 19.9 tonnes of carbon per capita in 2010, the highest worldwide, accounting for around 2.4 % of global emissions. This is further reflected in the AGS ecological footprint, mostly associated with the consumption-based economy and lifestyles. Estimated at 5.7 global hectares per capita in 2008 (239 million gha in absolute terms), the AGS ecological footprint outpaced its bio-capacity by seven times- estimated at 0.8 gha per capita (33 million gha). Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates have the second and third highest footprint per capita in the world, after Qatar (11.7 gha per capita). To put it in perspective, it is estimated that 6.6 planets would be required to satisfy the level of consumption and emissions of carbon dioxide if the world population lives like an average resident of Qatar.

Nevertheless and despite that most AG States have not yet adopted national sustainable development policies linking the environmental, social and economic priorities, the region has been investing recently on pioneering and internationally attractive environmental initiatives mostly in the energy sector, such as the solar energy powered cites. Besides, there has been some progress at the macro level illustrated in the trendy launches of various “green” based strategies and plans in the region. UAE has kicked off the implementation of its Green Growth Strategy 2014, Qatar initiated its national vision 2030 on advancing sustainable development, and the Saudi Arabia endorsed its sustainable environment and development strategy. In addition, the region has witnessed a significant improvement to strengthen the environmental and development data and statistical capabilities. This is illustrated in publishing the emissions registries in UAE and Qatar since 2007, the ecological footprint calculations and the environmental performance index replication in UAE – namely Abu Dhabi, among others. More interestingly, since the 2008 economic crisis, government officials in the region have overly used the term “sustainability” to qualify and market their projects and initiatives.

It is then legitimate to further explore the evolution of the sustainable development discourse in the AGS and unveil the political-environmental nexus with regard to the existing institutional frameworks for mainstreaming environment into decision-making.