Stephen Hale is Oxfam International Deputy Advocacy and Campaigns Director.
It’s just two weeks until the New Year, and the onslaught of articles looking back at 2010. Journalists everywhere will be filing these pieces now so that they can escape for Christmas. So I thought I’d beat the rush and provide something for them to cut and paste.
What kind of year has 2010 been for global action on poverty? Pretty bleak in most respects. First and foremost an additional 64 million people will be in extreme poverty at the end of 2010 as a result of the economic crisis. The crisis has cut employment and trade in the worlds’ poorest countries. Research commissioned by Oxfam shows it is also forcing many of the poorest governments to make budget cuts, and risks creating a new debt crisis. Second, the economic and fiscal crisis has predictably squeezed political and public attention to global poverty in many countries in the North. The MDG summit in September provided a snapshot of the current global consensus, with a repetition of previous language in many areas and very few new commitments to action. The decline in European leadership has been noticeable, with far less commitments and diplomacy in the run-up to both the MDG summit and the most recent UNFCCC talks in Cancun than we have come to expect.
But there have also been some notable examples of political leadership, which provide grounds for optimism for 2011. President Obama’s speech at the MDG summit laid out five elements of a new US Global Development Policy, and helped the US to rise from 15th to 11th in the Centre for Global Development’s Annual Development Index. The US Feed the Future initiative is backed by $3.5 billion over three years. It could play an important part in galvanising investment in agriculture in Africa, though this investment must be accompanied by policy reform. President Sarkozy has made a strong and public case for a Financial Transaction Tax to finance action on development, and set an ambitious agenda for his G20 Presidency which could re-energise the global political dialogue on poverty. South Korea, the first non G8 country to host the G20, secured a commitment to ‘The Seoul Consensus’ on development and to making development a permanent item on the G20’s agenda.
But it wasn’t just a year of speeches and communiqués. There were more concrete actions too. In India, the Right to Universal and Free Education Act came into force. For the first time this places a legal obligation on the state to provide free and compulsory education for all children from 6 – 14 years. It will now need a very sustained effort to secure consistent implementation. In Brazil President Lula left office after eight years, having set a new standard for global action against hunger through the Bolsa Familia cash transfer programme and other policies. The Chinese government continued to lead the world in low-carbon investment, creating much-needed pressure on others to do likewise. China’s investment in wind energy alone in the second quarter of 3010 was $10 billion, around 50 per cent of total global investment.
These positive stories from 2010 provide two pointers to how we can accelerate progress in 2010. First, it is clearer than ever that the key to sustained political leadership in the North will be to strengthen public support (demand) for action on global poverty, through demonstrating both the moral case and that there is no secure and prosperous future for this planet and all its people unless there is an effective global effort to tackle the scandal of poverty and the threat of climate change. Second, the continuing economic and political rise of the ’emerging’ economies means that global leadership on poverty can now come from a much wider array of countries than before. For these countries, leadership on poverty can come both from their domestic action and from their global policies and investments.
It’s disappointingly easy to find examples of political leaders whose commitment went backwards this year. So what’s your favourite bit of good news from 2010? And most importantly who will provide the global leadership on poverty we need in 2011?