11th Seoul ODA International Conference

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am honored to take part in this important Conference whose timely purpose is to consider the role of official development assistance in this SDG-era.

Allow me to pay tribute to the government of the Republic of Korea for bringing focused attention to the role of development cooperation, be it through the Global Partnership on Effective Development cooperation (GEPDC), established in Busan in 2011, and through its active involvement in the work of the United Nations Development Cooperation Forum (DCF).

ODA has a long and distinct history as the primary modality of international development cooperation for tackling extreme poverty, hunger, disease and other development challenges.

In 1969, one year after the OECD/DAC adopted the concept of Official Development Assistance (ODA), the UN General Assembly underscored this primacy by committing development partners or OECD/DAC members to provide development assistance equivalent to 0.7 per cent of their GDP (and later GNI).

The General Assembly has repeatedly reaffirmed this commitment.

For many least developed countries, ODA constitutes the most significant and reliable source of public finance. These countries have extremely limited capacity to attract flows beyond ODA.

Last year, OECD estimated that for LDCs, concessional finance accounts for 62 per cent of total external finance compared to just 11 per cent for other countries. It is neither accidental nor surprising, therefore, that the UN General Assembly also set a target for development partners to provide at least 0.15 per cent of their GNI as ODA to LDCs.

In my remarks to you today, I would like to recall the spirit and transformative nature of the 2030 Agenda, offer a global overview of the role and status of official development assistance, and suggest six areas where ODA can be more strategically and effectively deployed in this SDG-era.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The Adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in September 2015 marks a decisive turning point in international relationships.

For the first time 193 countries agreed on a very complex framework of interlinked goals and targets – the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), resulting from a preparatory process that was participatory to an unprecedented extent.

The international community gave itself the “vision-piece” of the globalization puzzle.

I know we have many development cooperation professionals in the room today. I know that you appreciate the importance of establishing a clear vision, before embarking onto any strategic planning. The 2030 Agenda is a vision that reflects the diversity and complexity of humanity; it addresses the root-causes of the world’s important challenges, and importantly… progress towards achieving this vision can and will be measured.

In order to ensure that our ODA and our development cooperation make a meaningful contribution towards implementing the 2030 Agenda and achieving the SDGs, we need to understand how this 2030 Agenda is different from previous frameworks. We need comprehensive, participative and self-critical processes within our ministries, agencies and NGOs, to discuss the changes in paradigm required by the new Agenda. Allow me to mention just three of these changes and what consequences they could have for ODA specifically and development cooperation more broadly:

Firstly, the universal and interlinked 2030 Agenda recognizes that sustainable development requires countries and peoples to work together in seeking, and generating, sustainable and inclusive solutions.

Sustainable development can not be achieved by one country or by one company. Sustainable development can not be achieved unilaterally. In a manner of speaking, this Agenda a “Declaration of Inter-dependence”.

This requires meaningful participation of different stakeholders in decision-making, and the pooling of our resources, knowledge, expertise and experience for better results. National governments and institutions must reach out to each other, and to local authorities, in the pursuit of a coherent and integrated approach to sustainable development.

It also means that we need to gauge against the 2030 Agenda our policies that connect countries with each other, such as policies on investment, taxes, migration, trade, and of course ODA.

Secondly, the 2030 Agenda call for accountability to the people, including through meaningful collaboration and consultations.

The SDGs are too comprehensive and too ambitious to be achieved through a classic development cooperation partnership approach, as was attempted for the Millennium development goals (MDGs). They require the involvement of the whole society, and ensuring that all financial flows are redirected towards sustainable development, as called for by the Addis Ababa Action Agenda (AAAA).

For this to happen, the SDGs must become a kind of “social contract” between a country’s leaders and its people. This means, that the people need to know about the promises of the 2030 Agenda. School children need to know about these global goals.

In this regard, I would like to call your attention to one of the targets that is particularly meaningful: Namely Target 4.7, which calls for

“… all learners (to) acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including, among others, through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development.”

For development cooperation and ODA, the consequence of this second shift in paragdigm, is that we need to systematically ask ourselves whether and to what extent our cooperation and our ODA, strengthens the relationship between duty bearers and rights holders. It can not be that our aid turns the attention of the service providers towards the donor, instead they should be focused on responding to the needs of the intended beneficiaries.

Governments also have an important role to play to bring together and help build trust with and among civil society, private sector, academia, international organizations, philanthropic organizations, volunteer groups etc.

Thirdly, the 2030 Agenda commits to leave no one behind.

This is a fundamental promise, unlike any other, which commits us to ensure that all people fulfil their potential in dignity and equality, peace and security.

Income alone is no longer adequate in measuring poverty and social wellbeing. All 169 SDG targets are our guide in ensuring that no one – in any country or community - is left behind.

This shift in paradigm, requires us to begin all our strategic planning processes by seeking to understand who the most vulnerable are and what risks they face, and by systematically building their resilience and reducing those risks.

To fulfill this promise, a number of things are important:
  • Undertaking large-scale investments that have a strong potential of forging new opportunities to all, including individuals, groups and countries that are marginalized. This requires knowing who are the most vulnerable and why, consulting them adequately, and using development cooperation to create mechanisms that support their voice and systematically build their resilience.
  • Strengthening and retrofitting domestic institutions is key, including in the critical areas of data, monitoring and review;
  • Investing in and using new evidence-based tools to inform action and policy change, and ensuring that efforts are well targeted, and benefits equally shared.
  • Investing in multilateral structures and institutions that accelerate sustainable development, reduce inequality, promote global governance and democracy, foster peace and prevent conflicts.
Ladies and Gentlemen,

The ambition and scope of the 2030 Agenda requires unprecedented levels of financial and non-financial resources.

Last year, ODA reached a new peak of US$ 142.6 billion, year-to-year increase of 8.9 per cent. However, this increase was partly attributed to the steep rise in the amount of ODA spent in tackling the refugee crises in Europe . Development assistance from the Republic of Korea rose by a commendable 3.4 per cent.

The use of development assistance by some OECD/DAC countries to address the refugee crisis within their borders, is however of concern. Also, ODA to the LDCs (where it is most needed) has declined by nearly 4 per cent, and aid to Sub-Saharan Africa by US$ 3 billion.

Except for a handful of countries, development partners have consistently fallen short of the 0.7 per cent commitment. In 2016, only six out of the 29 OECD member countries reached this target .

We must constantly remind ourselves of the unique role that ODA plays in helping developing countries to help enhance their adaptive and productive capacities, strengthen resilience, and reduce vulnerabilities.

Let me highlight six specific areas where ODA could more strategically deployed in SDG implementation.

First, ODA should be aimed at tackling long-term capacity gaps in developing countries.

Demand-driven development cooperation can help support policies and strategies to adapt… public institutions to reform… and new functions to be established within existing entities, to mainstream the 2030 Agenda and Addis Agenda.

ODA can help close gaps in policy and institutional capacities, in areas such as public administration; domestic resource mobilization, including tax administration; and data and statistics.

Second, ODA should be aimed at promoting coherence among different development agendas and activities, facilitating inclusive cross-sector partnerships and providing capacity support for policy development.

Here, the focus should be on ensuring better linkages between development cooperation and humanitarian assistance, and promoting systematic investment in building the resilience of countries and communities.

Third, ODA has the potential to help correct market failures and asymmetric access to development opportunities among and within countries, and to support their national sustainable development strategies.

Fourth, as indicated in the Addis Agenda, development cooperation should be geared towards tackling corruption and the illicit financial flow that continues to devastate many developing countries.

Fifth, ODA should also be strategically leveraged in areas such as domestic resource mobilization, and forging public-private partnerships. However, the catalytic use of ODA should be closely monitored against its effectiveness in generating positive outcomes for poverty eradication and sustainable development, and not just increasing the volume of finance.

Sixth, development cooperation can support strengthened accountability of all development actors and enhance the quality and impact of partnerships. I am speaking here of such efforts as promoting the oversight role of parliamentarians, providing capacity support for civil society, and facilitating the greater engagement of the public in all spectrums of the development processes.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In closing, the fundamental commitment to leave no one behind requires, among other efforts, that OECD/DAC members make some changes -- keeping their commitments, using ODA strategically, and aligning their systems with the country systems of their partners in developing countries.

ODA must be targeted in support of countries and communities with the least resources and weakest capacity, including the LDCs, and in multilateral structures and institutions.

The challenges before us are enormous, but so are the opportunities. Above all, let us bear in mind that the achievement of the SDGs will require the commitment of all governments towards the people and children of this world, that the 2030 Agenda is not just a new deal among nations, but a solemn promise to its people.

I thank you for your attention.
File date: 
Wednesday, September 13, 2017
Thomas Gass