Civil society actors have been present at the fourth UN Conference on the LDCs, the participation of civil society actors was enhanced with the organization of an NGO Forum at the conference, the Forum brought together more than 2,000 civil society representatives from all over the world, with a substantial number coming from LDCs. It laid the basis for coherent mechanisms to be established for follow up, and a provisional NGO Forum structure was established at the end of the Forum, which had a base in the Least Developed Countries.
Civil society plays a vital role in representing and giving voice to the needs and aspirations of ordinary people in the Least Developed Countries. With its community-level presence, civil society is able to bring the experiences, concerns and priorities of ordinary citizens to the policy making process. Similarly, it is well placed to sensitize people about government policies and the opportunities they entail. It plays an important role in mobilizing and empowering the population to participate in the development process.
The participation of the civil society in the LDC-IV process will strengthen the bottom-up character of the process. It will bring the rich experiences and lessons from the ground to bear on the process, ensuring a more thorough assessment of the Istanbul Programme of Action.
In addition, well over 400 representatives of civil society participated in the week-long Civil Society Forum (7-13 May, Istanbul), civil society organizations voiced sharp criticism of the LDC-IV outcome. The LDC Civil Society Forum issued its own Istanbul Declaration on 13 May 2011, which expresses deep disappointment, that civil society voices have not been heard and reflected in the conference outcomes.
The most disappointing aspect of the outcomes is that no additional aid was pledged for the LDCs. This fact was recognized and remarked upon by the Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who was also the Chair of the Conference, in his concluding speech.
The outcome of the Conference was heavily criticized by civil society organizations present at LDC-IV in Istanbul for falling far short in assisting the LDCs. In its final statement, the Civil Society Forum said the conference failed to meet its expectations as well as the UN General Assembly mandate for LDC-IV. The Declaration also voices frustration.
"This has not happened. Civil society is frustrated that, having caused massive costs in the LDCs through financial and food speculation, unjust trade rules, illegitimate loans with onerous conditionality, and ecological damage, including climate change, the developed countries have not even committed to provide more aid to LDCs. Even worse, many donors are either reducing their aid or diverting it to pay for climate change damage, despite their commitments in UNFCCC negotiations to provide new and additional funding for climate finance. Current levels of aid are dwarfed by the mounting costs of the damage done to LDC economies and their people."
The civil society declaration states that analysis of the Brussels Programme of Action "showed that development partners failed to deliver their commitments to provide adequate aid, reform unjust trade rules, remove the burden of debt and build the capacity of LDCs... Export-led growth has been inequitable and unsustainable, resulting in LDC commodity dependency, de-industrialization, environmental damage and socioeconomic marginalization. These failures and the flawed paradigm have contributed to the growth in LDCs from 24 to 48, and graduation of only three LDCs over the last three decades."
According to the civil society declaration, LDCs are economically disadvantaged, exploited and marginalized. It states that, "The conference has failed to meet our expectations and the UN General Assembly mandate. The UN General Assembly Resolution A/RES/63/227 calls on governments ‘to mobilize additional international support measures and action in favor of the least developed countries, and, in this regard, to formulate and adopt a renewed partnership between the least developed countries and their development partners'."
While recognizing the strong efforts of the LDC and Turkish governments to ensure tangible commitments are included in the Istanbul Programme of Action, civil society pointed out that this "has been undermined by the developed countries systematically having removed any targets, timetables and delivery mechanisms that may have been used to hold them to account. They have refused to accept commitments beyond those already agreed in other forums like the Millennium Summit, WTO and climate change negotiations."
The civil society declaration notes that the Istanbul Programme of Action "calls for the removal of impediments to the private sector, without recognition that governments need to regulate to protect workers, consumers, the environment and local communities. Civil society accepts that the private sector can play a useful role, but our experience is of companies that have unsustainably exploited minerals, fish and forests; land grabs that have stolen the resources and livelihoods of local people; bio fuel plantations that have destroyed forests and agricultural lands; food dumping that has destroyed farmers' livelihoods; and projects that leave local people with no water and a polluted environment. Intellectuals meeting here have reminded us that the LDCs must not remain the MECs - the most exploited countries."
Its criticism also points out that the Istanbul Programme of Action "calls for public finance to be given to the private sector in the forms of guarantees, investment promotion schemes and incentives. But these subsidies hand over public money to the private sector in the hope that the market will deliver public benefits. International experience with public private partnerships demonstrates the need to avoid the public sector paying for the costs while the companies reap the profits."
"Funds needed to overcome poverty and injustice, including education, health care, water and sanitation, gender equity, social inclusion and community development are being diverted to subsidize companies. There is grossly insufficient funding now to meet the needs of the resource poor, without more being diverted from donors and governments to companies. Expropriation of the public purse is unacceptable... Civil society rejects the privatization of essential services under the guise of public private partnerships or otherwise."
In its declaration, civil society called for "the Istanbul consensus to constitute a clear rejection of the Washington consensus... Diversification of our economies will require government leadership to build a strong domestic economy... States need to have the political space to decide on their own development, and strategies need to be discussed democratically, approved and monitored. In that regard, the primary accountability of governments should be to their own societies and parliaments, not to donors, investors or international agencies like the World Bank, IMF or WTO."
On trade, civil society states that "A decade ago, there were expectations that trade reform would be possible as part of a Doha Development Agenda. But ‘development' has been erased from the agenda, and negotiations are stuck because of the unwillingness of developed countries to agree to reform the major trade distortions in the system, notably due to inequitable rules on agriculture. Civil society is calling for an end to unjust trade agreements and for LDCs to resist efforts by developed countries to negotiate reciprocal trade agreements. Special and Differential Treatment and policy flexibility for LDCs need to be made operational according to a given country's stage of development (rather than limiting it by time) within the WTO and regional and bilateral agreements, so that LDCs can adopt development strategies that reflect their specific needs and opportunities."
On agriculture, the civil society declaration goes on to call "for the promotion of economically viable, socially acceptable and ecologically sustainable farming practices so that food sovereignty of LDC people is strengthened. Agricultural research that builds on seed diversity and socio-cultural farming practices needs to be supported and new and additional financial resources must be mobilized to support adaptation and strengthened resilience to climate change-related impacts. Agrarian reform policies must support the needs, strengths and rights of smallholder farmers, particularly women, and support them to organize into producer associations or cooperatives and to add value to their indigenous production systems."
On debt, civil society, in its declaration, calls "for immediate and unconditional cancellation of all debts of LDCs and a moratorium on debt payments by LDC governments pending debt cancellation. An international process with counterpart national processes should be established, aimed at a rigorous study of illegitimate debt, including case studies, in order to come up with policies that lead to full and unconditional debt cancellation and changes in lending and borrowing policies and practices. Immediate changes must be pursued in the practices of lending and borrowing to move towards sovereign, democratic and responsible financing."
On ODA, the civil society position expressed in its declaration is to "call for more and better ODA which must be directed towards development effectiveness rather than the dominant aid effectiveness approach. ODA must respect sovereignty and support people-owned policies and programmes, rather [than] being undermined by conditionality. Adequate and predictable sources of finance are needed, such as from a Financial Transactions Tax levied on the transactions of the major banks and financial institutions."
In the climate change section, the civil society declaration makes it clear that "Industrialized countries must commit to deep, drastic, unconditional cuts in carbon and GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions through domestic measures, to be expressed in international, legally binding agreements within the Climate Convention that contain targets based on science and equity."
"The pursuit of false solutions must cease. They also need to commit to obligatory, predictable, condition-free, additional, non-debt creating public finance to cover the full costs of adaptation in countries of the South, as well as the costs of shifting to sustainable systems - to be part of international legally binding agreements within the Climate Convention. Action is urgent to avoid catastrophic climate change. The Istanbul targets to reduce the numbers of LDCs’ needs to occur because they graduate not because they burn or drown due to the impacts of climate change."