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Opinion

Eight International Development Priorities for the new UK Prime Minister

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss chairs the Commonwealth Foreign Affairs Ministers Meeting from her office at the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office in London. Credit: Simon Dawson / No 10 Downing Street / Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

BRIGHTON, UK, Sep 6 2022 (IPS) - The UK’s new Prime Minister (and former Foreign Secretary), Liz Truss, enters Downing Street with a full and urgent in-tray, dominated by the highest inflation rate for 40 years and concerns across the country about the cost-of-living crisis.

Whilst urgent domestic policy is required, these national issues are symptomatic of a broader set of global crises, including the ongoing impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine.

Therefore, the Prime Minister also has an urgent foreign policy agenda to address, within which international development has a vital role to play.

The FCDO’s long-awaited International Development Strategy was published in May, but the vision it set out broadly failed to meet the scale of the global challenges we face. These are the eight international development priorities we believe the new PM should be addressing:

1. Climate justice

Climate and environmental change are creating pervasive threats to the UK and all other countries, highlighted most recently by the UK’s record-breaking summer temperatures and the devastating floods in Pakistan. Ahead of the COP27 climate summit, where the UK hands over the COP Presidency to Egypt, the new PM should take the opportunity to show global leadership in the pursuit of climate and environmental justice.

This means prioritising support for those most disadvantaged and already experiencing the worst impacts and ensuring that their voices and knowledge count in decision making. It also means investing in effective mitigation and adaptation initiatives, which are purposefully connected to interconnected issues, such as access to water, food, healthcare, gender justice, education and land rights.

2. Health security

The UK’s expertise and investment in tackling epidemics has been world leading. The production and roll-out of technologies such as Covid-19 vaccines, and in health systems strengthening and universal health coverage (UHC), are valued by low-income countries and have been a critical part of the UK’s soft power.

As the Covid-19 pandemic proved how globally interconnected our health is, investment in future pandemic preparedness, that embraces institutional, knowledge and system questions (not just pharmaceutical interventions), and is guided by inclusive, localised and context-specific evidence, is critical for the UK, as well as globally.

3. Multilateral Cooperation and the SDGs

Universal challenges such as climate change and global health require co-ordinated international responses, which link local and national action with global level commitments and solidarities. Multilateral agencies such as the UN are best placed to lead these. Whilst there is room for reform, it’s short-sighted for the FCDO to have cut support for multilateral agencies without a clear assessment of the impact this will have.

IDS research shows that today’s crises – conflict in Ukraine and Ethiopia, climate change induced floods and heatwaves, pandemics, and rising inequalities – are all interconnected and require a rounded response, not a strategy that handpicks a few priorities in isolation. The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide the framework for addressing development challenges as a whole and should be at the core of the Government’s strategic planning.

4. Food equity

Whilst exacerbated by the conflict in Ukraine, rising global food insecurity is the result of a vastly unequal global food system, where power is held by vested interests and low crop yields are aggravated by drought or flood, conflict, and economic instability.

In the short-term, the UK needs to help stabilise global food supplies, but longer-term reforms are also needed, such as supporting more regenerative methods of food production and agro-ecological approaches that enhance agricultural biodiversity and resilience.

By investing in ‘bottom up’ research working with smallholder farmers and pastoralists in low-income countries, the FCDO can help identify what works best where, preventing the ‘one-size-fits-all’ technological solutions that often cause more problems than they solve.

5. China

Development has a great role to play in support of UK diplomacy. For the UK-China relationship where official channels of communications and diplomacy may deteriorate, strong relationships fostered by development and knowledge exchanges provide alternative channels for constructive dialogue.

There is particular potential around issues such as the vast Belt and Road Initiative, climate change, global health and the SDGs. Liz Truss is reported to be planning to take a more robust stance on the UK’s approach to China but we believe constructive dialogue with China around approaches to development co-operation should continue.

6. Transparency

In July, the department was downgraded in the Aid Transparency Index and the FCDO has been repeatedly criticised for its poor record on transparency since the DFID/FCO merger, including from the cross-party International Development Committee, Bond, the UK network of International Development NGOs and from the National Audit Office.

At a minimum the FCDO must be transparent about forward-looking budgeting and provide public data on planned ODA spending. To ‘stand up for freedom around the world’ as set out in the International Development Strategy, the FCDO must lead by example and have a clear framework for transparency, monitoring and evaluation, by which it can be held accountable.

7. Restoring 0.7

Reducing the UK’s ODA budget from 0.7% of GNI to 0.5% in 2021 resulted in a real terms reduction of £4.6bn. This dramatically reduced the UK’s ability to deliver the high-quality aid and interdisciplinary research essential to improving the lives of people around the world. It also dismantled international science partnerships and damaged the UK’s global reputation.

Other countries such as the US, Japan, Canada and Australia increased international aid budgets in light of Covid-19 and other global crises, yet the UK Government downgraded its contribution.

Re-instating the Conservative manifesto commitment to 0.7, along with appointing an International Development Minister at FCDO would demonstrate to the rest of the world the UK’s commitment to international development, and tackling the challenges that affect us all – poverty and inequalities, disease and climate change.

8. Investing in international research

There is a vital role that the knowledge generated from UK-led international development research can play, with a threefold benefit to the UK as well as to global communities – contributing to the Government’s goal for the UK to be a science superpower, benefiting the UK directly through lessons learnt and new discoveries that can apply to challenges at home, and finding effective and value for money support for lower and middle-income countries.

Whilst we welcomed the commitment to evidence and expertise in the International Development Strategy, this should go further. It is important to ensure that social science contributions are valued as much as technical science ‘solutions’. It is important to champion the importance of working with and from the perspectives of people living in poverty and marginalisation, and not overlooking the capabilities of low-income countries in generating knowledge for vital transformations.

The commitments to UK science must be complemented by investing in the equitable, interdisciplinary and international research partnerships needed to find contextual solutions that will benefit marginalised people around the world, and in many cases, here in the UK as well.

In conclusion, through UK-led international development, the new Prime Minister has the opportunity to help tackle the significant crises we all face. As new disasters around the world unfold with increasing frequency and severity, we are constantly reminded that the cost of delay or denial is far too high.

Melissa Leach is Director, Institute of Development Studies, UK.

IPS UN Bureau

 


  
 
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