The SOCCOMAD women's collective in Yoko, Cameroon
The SOCCOMAD women's collective in Yoko, Cameroon. UN Women/Ryan Brown - Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

12 things to watch in 2020 and what it could mean for international development

The Eurasia Risk report describes 2020 as a tipping point. A year where the economies of China and the US diverge in terms of technology. Where civil unrest will define democracies and where climate change continues its destructive march towards 3.5 degrees of warming.

It’s a bumper year for international development, too. Government, NGOs and the business world will be taking a serious look at progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). There’s an opportunity to ratchet up efforts on climate change at COP26 and see replenishments for major global funds like Gavi.

Positive outcomes from all of these are critical if we are going to make the progress we need. Development actors should aim to go beyond the status quo to ensure that global events around tech regulation, trade and sport can shape the future positively, especially for those most left behind.

At Bond, we will be helping our members to respond to these key moments. We will also look beyond 2020 to see how the world is changing and the creation of new risks and opportunities for the poor and vulnerable.

Casting an eye across different social and economic predictions, here are 12 things to look out for in 2020 as we enter the decade of delivery.

1. An opportunity to accelerate the SDGs

Progress on the SDGs is patchy and we are a long way short of hitting our targets. We also have a $3 trillion hole in the budget, which is not being filled by blended finance. The ‘bumper UNGA’ in the UN’s 75th year will be a significant chance to redouble efforts and push forward on financing. It is also a chance to learn what needs to be done differently to get to the scale needed, in collaboration with others.

2. Conflict and insecurity on the rise

Barely a week into the new year and US foreign policy in the Middle East is leading to greater tensions in an already volatile region. Protracted conflicts and terrorist activities in African countries like Cameroon and Burkino Faso means that, in 2020, nearly 168 million people will need humanitarian assistance and protection. The Nexus between emergency, development work and peace building will be critical, with funding filtering through to provide infrastructure and social safety nets to people who are displaced long-term and in fragile states. How the UK responds to increasing volatility, including from extreme weather events, will also be an important consideration for the Foreign Policy Review happening by March.

3. Make or break for climate change

It is hard not to overemphasise how significant climate change is going to be. It is already reshaping our landscapes, food systems and nature, and the impact it has on the poorest communities especially is catastrophic. COP26 in Glasgow is massive. Current national plans fall a long way short of keeping warming within scientifically acceptable limits and we are still grappling over carbon finance mechanisms. As a minimum, we must ensure that the UK is not funding major fossil fuel investments with ODA or otherwise. We need to get serious about our own impacts, factor in resilience and be joined up with our campaigning and advocacy to ensure that the UK lives up to its stated green ambitions and international influence.

4. Power and populism in flux

The American election will be a strong indicator of whether populism is here to stay. Changes in voter registration, gerrymandering and unchecked international interference are likely to threaten legitimacy of this key democratic process. We can also expect more civil unrest responding to austerity in South America. In India, Modi’s social reengineering project against minority groups is driving the middle class to the streets. Restrictions to the internet and crackdowns on protests like we saw in Sudan and Kashmir in 2019 will likely increase. We need to be vigilant about space for civil society and consistently make the case for it, providing solidarity for those who may suffer as a result.

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5. A big year for women and girls

The anniversary of the Beijing Declaration for Action and the Security Council’s resolution 1325 is a chance to give women the platform they need to further advance their rights and ensure they are reflected in other significant global deals. Islamic Relief’s gender justice campaign will be formally launched next month, boldly tackling some of the misconceptions around gender in Islam.

6. The UK’s role as global leader will be tested

How the UK positions itself globally, where the UK invests aid and how we work with both the EU and other global players post-Brexit will tell the world what global Britain means in practice. We have an opportunity to provide a vision that upholds British values with development, diplomacy, defence and trade, working together for people and planet. We will need to work hard to maintain the UK’s reputation as the home to incredible development and humanitarian expertise, represented in big and small NGOs. We also need to be outspoken of the perils of a no-deal Brexit as the new precipice looms in December.

7. New models of development on offer

Europe is likely to lead the charge in terms of big issues like Climate Change, Cyber regulation and human rights. The EU has already set out its ambition to be a net zero emission continent by 2050 in the European Green Deal. Unusual suspects like New Zealand, Singapore and Finland could shape more progressive agendas, such as New Zealand’s wellbeing budget. If President Abiy Ahmed can address ethnic tensions and truly reform, Ethiopia might join this ‘cross compass’ solidarity to find better development pathways. We will see how ‘PROCOL Kenya‘ develops – working with the Institute for Global Prosperity to explore how communities and nations can prosper within natural limits and tackle persistent inequalities and unemployment. There is a strong imperative for rethinking this year – not only are the traditional development pathways less available in a global market where cheap labour is saturated by Asia, but resource constraints will necessitate a more ‘post-consumer/ post-growth’ mindset drawing on ideas like the circular economy.

8. Getting serious about intergenerational fairness

“People Power” shows no sign of abating, with the risk of increasing division between generations represented by Brexit and the school strikes on climate change. A solid response is needed. The School of International Futures is working on a tool to assess policies through an intergenerational lens, building on early examples such as Finland’s Committee for the Future and Wales’ Future Generations Commissioner. There are opportunities here to engage and campaign differently in relation to inequality and climate change, but also to harness the innovations in social technologies.

9. Trade at the forefront

Trade deals are going to be a significant focus for the UK post Brexit, and trade tensions between the US and China will continue. For the UK, it will be important to ensure that these deals protect human rights and the environment. The Africa Investment Summit will be an important indicator of the UK approach. We want to see a meaningful focus on delivering the SDGs, alongside delivering high levels of corporate accountability, prioritising decent jobs and human rights and alignment with the Paris agreements on Climate Change.

10. Technological advancement, but globally divisive

As mobile supercomputing, gene editing, neurological enhancements, robots and virtual reality converge, we could see massive disruption in the next decade. World Economic Forum technologists expect significant progress across robotics, wearable technology, 3D printing and artificial intelligence. There are unexploited opportunities to be had this year, but also risks. If technology goes unchecked, we can expect breaches of cyber security in major charities, increased personal surveillance and lack of access this year. Development actors need to ensure that every innovation takes us in a more sustainable direction, focussing on a just transition and harnessing technology for good. But they must also engage with how cyber regulation works for the most vulnerable.

11. The year of PACT?

The debate over charities ability to campaign, with particular regards to the lobbying act, will continue. It is coupled with a challenging discussion about the nature of charity, public support for aid and the standards that are expected. Civil Society Futures captured four shifts that are needed in power, accountability, connection and trust (PACT). The power question is going to get serious for international development and humanitarian actors this year, with growing support for movements like #shiftthepower. We need to sustain the progress we are making on safeguarding, and work on our connection to the general public. We aim to be part of the national conversation about who Britain is and how it wants to be seen in the world.

12. Attention to diversity and wellbeing

It doesn’t look like it is going to be an easy year and this will take its toll on us as people. We need to maintain standards and ensure that we are resilient individually and as organisations. Nesta predicts greater eco-anxiety, which is something that can be addressed through action. As leaders we must be put wellbeing at the heart of our workplaces and strengthen our organisations through addressing the diversity gap in the sector.

Whilst this might look like doom and gloom, tipping points are always opportunities to change for the better. We have opportunities to change the system in 2020, so that it works better for the poor and the planet. Let’s make sure that we take them together.