elites, rather than the off-grid poor. For many reasons, large scale, grid-connected projects are seen as more profitable and attractive. This is where the state can come in. Entrepreneurial states can take risks that many businesses can’t, and set research priorities to benefit disadvantaged groups. They also have taxes and subsidies in their toolbox. This means orienting funding towards social justice and long-term thinking – not just to reduce emissions, but to give poorer communities the energy they need to learn, communicate and build their own business and markets. For Least Developed Countries, lack of finance makes this difficult to achieve alone, so outside help is needed – but with priorities set from within. For example, as the Technology Facilitation Mechanism convenes discussions around science, technology and innovation in the SDGs, can it challenge the mindset of ‘tech transfer’ and talk about other ways to support innovation within countries?
Energy providers have a strong incentive to claim success, but might skew the data by counting meters rather than surveying how householders get their energy. Other collection methods might specifically let down marginalized people: for example, when refugees aren’t included in data; or informal and hard-to-reach settlements are left out because they are more difficult to survey. Big data might offer one way out of this, collecting ever larger data sets through automated, electronic means. But with private sector interest in big data, there are ethical questions over what kind of data is collected and what it’s used for – market research, for example. Other forms of learning are needed – such as tacit knowledge, storytelling and qualitative evaluations. Sharing visions, experiences and examples across countries is also crucial for enabling learning.
Telling the story
Do LDCs need a unified narrative to describe the changes they want to achieve? A multiplicity of voices is more Socially just, inclusive development needs political spaces authentic, reflecting the diversity of countries’ needs – but to debate the best ways forward. But such political spaces it may have less immediate impact at a high level, where are shrinking in many LDCs. Human rights violations are even if less powerful voices are brought to the table, they are often ignored. common. And the initial excitement around the SDGs One way to address this might be to focus on some key and COP21 will die down, if it hasn’t already. This means champions of sustainable development aspirations that all countries share – without being so within LDCs have a mountain to climb. One way they can general that the impact is lost. Particular stories and messages can be mobilized do this is to point to existing successes in their own countries – and also share stories between LDCs. This around coalitions and alliances. For example, at COP21 last process points to change coming from within – rather year, the ‘High Ambition Coalition’ convened by the Marshall Islands started as a small and informal group, but than saying ‘we are the poor, please help us’ but ‘we can do this, others can help us’. went on to play an instrumental role in campaigning for a Another crucial area for action is to link up like1.5° C target. minded groups at the grassroots level, who can learn from Although there are great differences between, say, Ethiopia and Haiti, there are also common interests each other and support each other behind the scenes, even when public speech and activism is restricted. But between LDCs. So, even if these countries don’t speak with the fact remains that it will be difficult to have properly one voice, they need to make the most of important forums, alliances and groupings. inclusive debates in some countries about how to achieve the SDGs and climate targets. LDCs connect with international institutions for At an international level, LDCs are an important example, in New York and Geneva, raising awareness of their needs. But they could also share learning between political grouping, recognized and supported by various United Nations programmes. At the same time, the LDC each other and collaborate more – sharing stories within category will change over time, as Asian countries the LDC group, as well as telling them to the wider ‘graduate’ from the group, and African countries become a community. Research partnerships, strong higher proportion of the LDCs. communications and committed journalists The above article is based would play an important role in this. on issues raised during a
Mobilization for change
Data that works
Data and evaluation may be dry subjects for many people, but they are crucial in showing whether countries are achieving their aspirations. But capacities in national statistical agencies in the LDCs are weak. So, how do you really make the invisible visible? There are important pitfalls in data collection that are difficult to see, undermining the accuracy of reports.
debate in June 2016 on LDCs and the SDGs, organized by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), the ESRC STEPS Centre and the IIED’s Least Developed Countries Independent Experts Group. See: www.iied.org/reimaginingdevelopment-ldcs-what-rolefor-sdgs
The way forward There is much hard work ahead. What happens next will depend on fostering learning, ideas and long-term alliances that are driven from within these countries. In this process, rich countries, corporations and donors will also need to look hard at these experiences, and change their vision of what development means and how to support it.