Supporting or Resisting Global Public Goods? the Policy Dimension of a Contested Concept

Article excerpt

Following the publication of a seminal book by the UN Development Programme in 1999, the concept of global public goods has become a key theme in the debate on international development. Supporters argue that an adequate provision of GPGs can help manage the negative consequences of globalization; moreover, considering that these goods provide benefits to both developed and developing countries, resources should be additional to foreign aid. Resistance has come both from developed countries, which question the issue of additionality, and from developing countries, which raise the issues of diversion of resources and the international decisionmaking process. This article shows how this concept has emerged and has been dealt with by policymakers in the Financing for Development Conference in March 2002 and the World Summit on Sustainable Development in August 2002. It also analyzes the work and final report of the International Task Force on Global Public Goods established by France and Sweden in April 2003. KEYWORDS: global public goods, international organizations, United Nations Development Programme, Financing for Development, World Summit on Sustainable Development, norms.


The concept of global public goods (GPGs) is not new, but in the past few years it has been widely discussed in international development. The driving force behind it was initially the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), but this "discourse" has progressively integrated international organizations (e.g., World Bank, Organization for Economic Coordination and Development), states (e.g., France, Sweden), and foundations and philanthropists (e.g., Gates Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, Soros Foundations). (1) The object of this article is to show how the concept of GPGs has (re)emerged, who has supported and resisted it, and how the international community has addressed it. In the first section, following a brief preamble on the role of international organizations in international development, I examine how the UNDP has built this discourse. I then analyze how the concept has been received by states and by the academic community. In the second part, I focus on the international policymaking process. In particular, I discuss two recent international conferences--the Financing for Development Conference (FfD), held in Monterrey in March 2002, and the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), held in Johannesburg in August/September 2002--and the work of the International Task Force on Global Public Goods, which was established by France and Sweden in April 2003.

International Organizations and International Development

The past ten years have witnessed a constructivist turn in international relations theory, which has also given rise to new interpretations in international politics. Initially, most of the constructivist literature focused on showing that norms--defined as collective understandings that make behavioral claims on actors--matter and in some cases may prevail over powerful states. While one strand of this literature emphasizes how human rights, gender, and environmental norms shape the interests of states, another strand is more skeptical about the autonomy of ideas from power, arguing that certain powerful groups have a privileged role in the process of social construction. (2) However, once the notion that norms matter was established, studies began to investigate how norms arise at a particular time. Some scholars focus on the role of "norm entrepreneurs," others on the role of international organizations. Norm entrepreneurs are committed people who are in the right place at the right time calling attention to issues or even creating them in order to instill their beliefs into larger global social structures. (3) International organizations (IOs) have become central actors in international politics, working in areas that used to be the prerogative of states and acting as agents of global change. …


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