Global development: Barack Obama’s agenda

Published on openDemocracy, by Simon Maxwell, Jan 20, 2009.

… The agenda in many policy areas areas is huge and daunting. This is certainly true of the global development challenge, where a host of issues will demand attention and leadership from the Obama administration. Among them are global governance and cooperation in key international institutions, including the United Nations amid an emerging new balance of global power; agreement on a Doha-round trade deal; a new framework for carbon-reduction on the scale needed to limit global warming; and an increase and improvement in aid flows to address the problems of poverty and inequality.

Even a determined and focused US administration cannot ensure progress on any or all of these issues on its own; it will require international cooperation, and that is a challenge of its own. But the real risk may be that the United States, like some other donors preoccupied with the global financial crisis, becomes focused entirely on domestic problems and turns away from the development “project” …

… Both sides now

A comprehensive agenda produced by the CGD contains recommendations for reform of the complex and over-managed machinery of development cooperation (see Nancy Birdsall, ed., The White House and the World: A Development Agenda for the Next US President [Center for Global Development, 2008]). The agenda’s wide remit – including chapters on trade, health, corruption, climate change, and failed states – underlines the importance of continued US engagement and leadership in international development.

The size and weight of the United States in the global economy and politics mean that, even under the very difficult conditions that Barack Obama inherits, the country will remain central to progress in global development. The promise of the new president to re-engage with the world is also an opportunity for development professionals too to build and sustain strong links with colleagues in the US (as for example we in the Overseas Development Institute[ODI] are doing through the German Marshall Fund’s transatlantic task-force on development).

Governance and reform, a trade deal, a climate deal, more (and more effective) aid, understanding how development, foreign policy and security are interlinked – all these will be on Barack Obama’s and the world’s agenda for 2009. Welcome to a new era – but there is no time to lose. (full text).

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