The 4th UN Conference in the Least Developed Countries, Istanbul, Turkey 9-13 May 2011

The Least Developed Countries are home to around 880 million people, or 15% of the world’s population. In terms of income, over half the overall population of LDCs are in absolute poverty and 75% of earn less than US$2 per day. Collectively they are falling furthest behind in MDG targets and they have little voice on the global stage. Since the first LDC conference in 1971, the number of LDCs has increased from 24 countries to 48 countries and only three countries have graduated. Civil society organisations attending the 4th Conference on the LDCs held in Istanbul in May called for a fundamental change in the model of development.

The backdrop for the conference was an expectation that the developed countries would recognise the multiple crises affecting developing countries – financial/economic, food and water, energy and climate change – and provide support for LDCs to be able to cope. The moral force for this support is reinforced by the understanding that LDCs did not cause these crises but are having to deal with the impacts. This was reflected in the framing of the UN General Assembly mandate that called for more support from the international community and a new era of partnership for the next decade (the conferences are held each ten years).

The conference failed to meet these expectations. There were promises made by donors ('development partners') to halve the numbers of LDCs but without the targets, timetables, delivery mechanisms and means for ensuring implementation.

  • No agreement on an 'early harvest' to the Doha trade negotiations to improve rules of origin or to offer full duty free quota free access for LDCs to developed country markets, only a reiteration of the Hong Kong agreement to provide 97% DFQF access;
  • No firm agreement on the delivery of aid to LDCs (LDCs had called for a firm commitment to 0.2% of aid to LDCs), only a best endeavours clause to reach the target of 0.15% set a decade ago and still not achieved by 14 donor countries
  • No commitment to new and additional funding for climate change finance or stronger mitigation by developed countries
  • No new commitments to tackle rising food prices and structural problems in the food system, other than an undertaking to deliver of the commitments previously made under the L'Aquila initiative on food security and other agreements.

Perhaps the only real advance in commitments from the donor community was the inclusion of a paragraph that they will fulfil pledge made in WTO Doha negotiations to eliminate export subsidies by the end of 2013. The good news is that there appears to be some movement in the WTO last week towards an LDC ‘early harvest’ (perhaps a misnomer, given the length of time it has taken to get movement on agricultural trade reform in the developed countries).

There are some useful statements in the Programme of Action of policies that LDCs should implement, focusing particularly on enhancing productive capacity of LDC economies and including useful language on gender rights, inclusion of poor and vulnerable people and the need for inclusive forms of development; see the Programme of Action (PDF).

These can potentially be useful in holding LDC governments to account. It is crucial that there are demands from civil society for action at the national level, and continued pressure for a review mechanism that will be able to create more pressure on donors to deliver on their promises. There was an effective civil society voice in Istanbul and deep disappointment at the outcome. The closing statement is the Istanbul Declaration (PDF).

Barry Coates, ED of Oxfam New Zealand attended representing OI. He was a member of the Civil Society Steering Committee.