2019 in Review: Looking back at the year in global development

Every week, SRI Executive provides a weekly roundup of the top global development news, sharing the key stories you might have missed. As 2019 ends, we have looked back at our last 50 weeks of news roundups to bring you the top stories, and our insights, into the global development sector as we look ahead to 2020.

Two words: climate emergency

During the final year of the hottest recorded decade in history, with greenhouse gas emissions at their highest-ever levels, the climate emergency dominated global affairs and headlines.

Studies and analyses released this year indicate that climate change threatens the global food and water supply, continues to alter the chemistry of the world’s oceans, cause severe weather patterns, raise sea levels and damage global health. As we look towards 2020, we see non-profits and multilaterals responding to this crisis by incorporating climate change adaptation into their strategic goals and targets, crosscutting all Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) from Poverty to Partnerships.

Sustainable Development Goals

While major CO2-polluting countries rolled back action on reducing their emissions, others stepped up. The UK, France and Germany increased their contributions to the UN’s Green Climate Fund (GCF), and even without pledges from the US and Australia, the GCF’s first replenishment achieved a record USD $9.8 billion in funds.

Multilateral Finance Institutions (MFIs) including the World Bank, African Development Bank and Asian Development Bank earmarked billions to combat the effects of climate change. The European Investment Bank proposed to end funding for fossil fuel projects within the next two years, while the European Green Deal portfolio was assigned to one of the three European Commission’ Executive-Vice Presidents in order to advance the Commission’s strategy to make the bloc carbon neutral by 2050.

As development projects funded by MFIs become increasingly sensitive to climate issues, we are already observing institutional changes to address these challenges. 2019 has seen a rise in MFIs building and strengthening their environmental safeguarding and compliance arms to ensure that infrastructure projects are environmentally sustainable. In 2020, we will watch with interest as MFIs continue to build environmental protection into their projects.

This year also saw private banks, corporations and economists sounding the alarm on the damage unchecked climate change will have on the global economy, which is predicted to impact the US financial system by the billions. As a result, many power companies in the US have pledged to replace coal plants with wind and solar energy sources leading to projections that by 2021 renewable energy could surpass coal.

Given the increased buy-in from the private sector, we expect to see global non-profits engage in more public-private partnerships (PPPs) in the coming years, with a focus on climate change adaptation and mitigation.

Several reports published this year have shown us that swift, strong action may still make a difference for the Earth’s future. Scientists determined that if forests were planted on unused parcels of land across the planet— amounting to 2.5 billion acres—200 gigatons of carbon could be removed from the atmosphere. Another study determined a drastic, immediate phaseout of fossil fuels could stop climate change in its tracks. The scientists behind the study emphasised that we could curb warming and meet the 1.5C target if global society acts fast to implement radical change on all levels.

But following two weeks of discussions in Madrid, COP25 failed to reult in any urgent action. At a time when they were most needed, negotiation outcomes were scant.

Non-profits and multilaterals in the environment, climate and conservation sectors will need to enhance their existing focus on advocacy and education as political powers drag their heels. A shift to mobilise and empower communities at the grassroots level may be what it takes to demand action from governments and corporations.

Indeed, this year showed us it might be persistent action from the global population that changes the story on climate change. Millions of citizens—in particular children and young people—participated in climate strikes demanding action from their governments.

Greta Thunberg emerged as the catalyst for global climate protests after leading weekly school walk-outs in Sweden. Named as TIME’s Person of the Year, Thunberg is the youngest person to receive the accolade.

The development community does some soul-searching

The global philanthropic system faced serious questions this year about who really benefits from big philanthropies. Critics argued the super-wealthy use philanthropy as another means of exercising their power to influence democracy, while perpetuating the very inequality that enabled them to accumulate their vast wealth in the first place. Non-profit and foundation leaders were also forced to examine the ethics of where their funding comes from.

Just as philanthropic organisations faced an ethical crisis based on the receipt of external donations, the development community reckoned with harassment within their ranks.

#MeToo evolved into #AidToo within the global development community as a UN survey found staff at multilateral organisations were vulnerable to sexual harassment. Some critics said the survey did not address the “whole spectrum” of abuse of power—including other forms of harassment and discrimination.  Meanwhile, damning reviews of individual organisations found instances of sexual misconduct, abuse of power, harassment, discrimination and a failure at the top to effectively address complaints.

Looking ahead to the next decade, we will follow development organisations closely as they examine their internal policies and recruitment practices. There will be question of how to ensure integrity and accountability at all levels of the organisation.

SRI Executive focus areas include Development Finance

Impact investing reaches new heights, with a race for viable metrics

Impact investing reached unprecedented scale this year with the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN) estimating USD $502 billion in assets under management within the global industry.

As impact investing grows in popularity, GIIN, the Impact Management Project and the IFC, among other groups, are developing standards for measuring impact, as well as operating principles.

Many highlight impact investing as a key source of innovative funding for the SDGs. During this uptake, we will watch as investors build their capacity to understand and communicate with the technical experts implementing funded programmes, and organisations build robust Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) systems to demonstrate impact and attract investments.

If the world’s outlook looks gloomy, here’s the medicine

Ebola claimed over 11,000 lives in West Africa in just two years in the middle of this decade. It was the deadliest outbreak of the virus in history. An outbreak continues in the DRC, the second deadliest in history. But in 2019, the news emerged that Ebola can be both prevented and cured. European officials approved an experimental Ebola vaccine, and a clinical trial of two new drugs in the DRC proved effective in improving survival rates.

This year on World Polio Day, the World Health Organization (WHO) made an historic announcement—that two of the three poliovirus types were eradicated worldwide. World leaders pledged USD $2.6 billion to eradicate the virus entirely as part of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative’s Polio Endgame Strategy 2019-2023.

We worked with several global health organisations this year who were tackling the most pressing global health issues—from tuberculosis to disease spread by poor sanitation—by speeding up the development and commercialisation of innovative products. As similar organisation expand their research and development efforts, and ultimately see their solutions brought to market, they will require market access solutions, and the right teams who understand the non-profit space, the production/solution itself, and the markets that need them.