How Universal is a Global Development Agenda?

How Universal is a Global Development Agenda?

Universality and differentiation in the post-2015 development agenda

The complexity and interconnectedness of today’s globalised world have rendered development challenges increasingly interlinked and global in nature. Prosperity cannot be sustained without finding integrated and common solutions and without all countries contributing in a spirit of solidarity and shared responsibility. The post-2015 agenda has framed sustainable development as a universal project. On the one hand, it includes issues that are of common concern to all and pose challenges at the national level, on the other hand, it defines objectives to be achieved at the global level.

Universality cannot be separated from the contrastive principle of differentiation, as responsibilities and accountability will have to differ depending on the circumstances of each country, their respective development statuses and the means available to them.

The European Centre for Development Policy Management (ECDPM) have produced a new Discussion Paper, financed by Irish Aid, on ‘Universality and differentiation in the post-2015 development agenda’. It argues that:

– Translating the universal post-2015 goals and targets into national actions, commitments, responsibilities and accountability that respect national priorities and circumstances is a major challenge – especially as all national-level actions should add up to the ambitious global objectives to effectively achieve sustainable development. Universality in the post-2015 agenda may be possible only with an equitable system of differentiation.

– There is a need for a pragmatic and flexible differentiation system that accounts for country priorities and ownership, but builds in incentives to encourage ambitious contributions. Differentiation should not be static but remain open to change and adaptation over time. To avoid simplistic categorisations, the system should use equity and effectiveness criteria in a nuanced way, along a continuum that ensures contributions by all, commensurate with national circumstances, capacities and capabilities.

– In order to ensure universality and build in accountability, comparability and incentives, common rules or guidelines that leave some room for self determination could be helpful. In areas where global standards are lacking, national processes of determining target levels, benchmarks and commitments may be valuable, guided by common parameters and guidelines as well as a process of reviewing levels of ambition.


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