Development policy: engaging the world on equal footing

Development is not something achieved through economic means alone, it’s about learning from each other’s experiences, argues Norbert Neuser.
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By Norbert Neuser

10 Jul 2020

When I was asked to contribute an article to The Parliament Magazine, the main question that came to mind before writing was: What do I consider to be the key instrument for supporting European development policy, particularly in Africa. Would it, for example, be through economic development or the European Green Deal?

As a vice-chair of the Development Committee and, since joining the European Parliament in 2009, development policy has been my vocation. Development policy cannot focus on any single issue; it is as simple, and at the same time as demanding, as that. It is a complex endeavour, one that must take all aspects of life into account, otherwise it is doomed to fail.

Development relies on investment, but this must be done with respect for people, the climate, the environment and biodiversity in its entirety or it will only serve the few and push the many behind.

“Leave no one behind. This means that we should engage with each other on equal footing, share our experiences and learn from policies and best practices”

In 2015, when world leaders came together at the United Nations in New York, they committed to 17 global goals aimed at ending extreme poverty, fighting inequality and injustice and mitigating the harmful effects of climate change by 2030.

All nations committed to these goals, also known as the Sustainable Development Goals, guided by a single ideal: Leave no one behind. This means that we should engage with each other on equal footing, share our experiences and learn from policies and best practices that have been put in place in cities and states around the world.

This global project, the 2030 Agenda, goes beyond development policy. It is for all of us. To me this makes sense, as, in our interconnected world, we share problems that we can only solve together. Climate change is one of the most pressing examples which, again, affects all aspects of human life and our future. A healthy climate is not a luxury or an outdated concept.

It can determine whether or not people lose their homes and livelihoods as a result of rising sea levels; whether droughts or flooding will destroy harvests; whether extreme rainfall events swell rivers enough to burst their banks, sweeping away everything in floodwater - homes, cars, bridges and power lines.

If we turn a blind eye to reality, then how can we support economic development that is not enshrined in the European Green Deal? A green deal for us is fi ne, but for Africa, well, would lower standards be acceptable? Does Africa have to repeat all the mistakes we made, achieving economic growth at any cost, instead of benefiting from the insights and technologies that we now have at our disposal? Would that be in line with our values? And if we would ignore this, as some stakeholders would be inclined to do, would that be in our best interest in the long run? In the interest of Africa? In the interest of the world? The answer to all these questions is a simple “no”.

“Amid the Coronavirus turmoil, we must not overlook a growing, lifethreatening emergency, particularly in Eastern Africa: Hunger”

Leaving no one behind also means learning from each other. I admire Africa, its strength, its positivity, its people that create - often under difficult circumstances - so-called “pockets of effectiveness”; public organisations that provide public goods and services in an effective way. In this time of the Coronavirus, this pandemic has put our world on an equal footing when it comes to addressing the outbreak.

We should acknowledge that several of our African partner countries already have well-functioning organisations in place, experienced in combatting outbreaks of infectious diseases such as cholera, polio, yellow fever and Ebola. These organisations can now be used to coordinate contact tracing, testing and isolation measures. Leave no one behind is a mutual and dynamic ideal, and we would do well to learn from Africa’s experience and knowledge.

It goes without saying that we will support Africa as it strengthens its health systems, stabilises its economy and gains access to vaccines. Amid the Coronavirus turmoil, we must not overlook a growing, life-threatening issue, particularly in Eastern Africa: hunger. In this region alone, up to five million people are at risk of hunger and famine caused by severe locust infestations. Furthermore, the situation has been exacerbated by the measures put in place to curb the Coronavirus pandemic.

Locust swarms naturally occur in Africa; however, this infestation is particularly devastating and life-threatening, as it has been amplified by climate change; recent flooding and droughts having created ideal breeding conditions for them. Leaving no one behind is not an ideal that can be achieved through economic development alone. It needs wisdom and understanding of the myriad causes and contexts while respecting nature and the need for local solutions. It is worth seeing and listening to and learning from. If there is a priority in development policy, this is it.

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