The European year for development (EYD) gives us an opportunity to raise awareness and instigate a public debate about development policies. The EU’s 28 member states combined constitute the world's largest aid donor, yet opinion polls show low knowledge of Europe's impact. 2015 will also be the year when two major UN processes conclude: the post millennium development goals (MDGs) talks in New York in September and the climate talks in Paris in December. The EYD must go beyond a series of events to showcase EU development policy and must be a year of action where the EU takes the lead to ensure a successful outcome to these global talks.
"Poverty will never be history unless we tackle climate change"
The aim of the post MDG UN summit is to agree a new global development framework and replace MDGs with sustainable development goals (SDGs). The European parliament has called on the EU to play a leading role in this process along with national governments to ensure the goals are ambitious, put the eradication of extreme poverty at their heart, as well as emphasising human rights. Good governance, reducing inequalities and empowering women and girls are also vital. An essential part of the SDG process is to match policy goals with serious commitments on financing and these are due to be made at a special conference in Addis Ababa in July. We need to see countries reach the committed target of spending 0.7 per cent of their national income on development aid, which is one key part of the financing efforts needed if the SDGs are to be achieved.
The climate talks in Paris in December follow shortly after the New York talks. I have seen first hand the effects of climate change on some of the world's poorest people, for who global warming is not a future problem but a real and present danger. We need a renewed sense of urgency and serious emission reduction targets backed up by policies to deliver them if we are to stabilise global temperatures. Poverty will never be history unless we tackle climate change.
However, there is a third process which comes up for review this year which has featured lower down on the agenda: the EU gender action programme. In too many countries, progress is being undermined as women are subjected to violent attacks in conflict situations, notably in Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Syria, and girls' access to education is under attack. The rights of women and girls must get back on track in 2015 by investing in policies to redress the balance.
The official launch of the European year for development in Riga on 9 January was a positive start to this crucial period, as was the launch of the international civil society campaign for action in 2015. Civil society and non-governmental organisations will play an absolutely vital role in the efforts to make this year a success. Figures from a recent Europe-wide survey of public opinion show 85 per cent of those surveyed believe it is important to help people in developing countries, and 64 per cent said that tackling poverty in developing countries should be one of the main priorities of the EU. The EYD must galvanise this support and use it to pressure politicians at the two UN summits to make a deal which lays the foundation for a more equal, sustainable world community beyond 2015.