As Global Leadship Shifts, What Does That Mean for Development?

The world is changing rapidly these days. A lot of what we have always assumed about political interaction and outcomes has been undermined recently for any number of reasons – one rather specific one in relation to US domestic politics – and I am sure that I am not the only one who has come to question my capacity to predict what will happen next, between whom, and who will emerge the leader.

But one thing is clear and predictable – global leadership is up for grabs. Right now, so many things need to be dealt with. It is reassuring to see a strong UN Secretary General making peace a priority. With climate change so much at the fore of international political discourse, I initially was taken aback that it didn’t feature as the main priority in his agenda but there may be very practical reasons for this.

The dominant role of the US in global political discourse is waning, and quickly. While I would be hesitant to suggest that we have transitioned properly to a multi-polar world, issue leaders are emerging. In the case of peace, in particular in Syria, no one state can effectively take the lead so UN leadership makes sense. When it comes to climate change, state leadership is seemingly more effective. Who would have thought, right? But here we see China picking up the baton and other countries increasingly looking to China to set the pace and intensity of global climate change mitigation and adaptation. A year ago this was not predictable and this is a testament to how much the world is changing. And it seems we may be lucky in China’s bid to lead – the pace at which China is investing in renewable energy and reducing its emissions is astounding, if I may be candid.

These changes also beg the question of how development discourse and implementation will need to change or adjust in an apparent new world order. I, for one, don’t see China necessarily wishing to rock the boat, but standard western liberal democratic approaches to overarching global development will not necessarily hold precedent to all else in the coming years. Issues such as community rights versus individual rights may become more dominant in our discourse, as will the rights of the state versus the role of the private sector. These can and will have an impact on how we design and implement programmes in the future.
Perhaps a little extra reading to brush up on the many economic development approaches championed by non-western countries might well be in order for many of us. Just so that we’re not walking blind.

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