From New York to Doha, from Doha to Paris. The LDC5 Conference in view of the Paris Summit

After two postponements due to the Covid pandemic, the Fifth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries (LDC 5)- held every ten years- was finally able to take place in Doha in March 2023. However, in March 2022, i.e. ahead of the Doha conference, the UN General Assembly had to adopt the 2021-2030 Agenda. The Doha Conference therefore focused on the implementation of the programme already adopted. Moreover the debates were influenced by the perspective of the Summit on Financing Vulnerable Countries to be held in Paris in June, as well as by that of the definition by the United Nations of a multidimensional vulnerability index, expected to be completed in the same period.

FERDI, the works of which are to a large part focused  on vulnerabilities, the least developed countries and development finance was actively involved in the Conference, in particular through five events, allowing it to present its views.

The first event organised by FERDI at the beginning of the Conference was about the rationale, impact and prospects of the LDC category. Its aim was to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the category, which was created in 1971 - and to question its present meaning and role. It followed an event organised on the same topic in Paris in December 2021 to prepare Doha. It allowed FERDI to argue that the category, which still includes 46 member countries, keeps its rationale, but that its consistency could be strengthened by modernising the criteria used to identify LDCs and enhancing the role that vulnerability could play in these criteria  (Guillaumont P, 2021 :  The Rationale of the Least Developed  Countries Category over Half a  Century). This event also provided an opportunity for the main authors of Out of the Trap to present the main findings of a forthcoming revised edition. 

Second, FERDI organised an event in collaboration with the OECD Development Centre and UNU WIDER to launch an "LDC 5 Monitor", a follow-up to the LDC4 Monitor. Bringing together several think tanks and institutions from the North and South, the purpose of the LDC5 Monitor will be to take an independent look at the implementation of the Doha agenda. As such it would examine the extent to which this implementation addresses the vulnerabilities characteristic of LDCs and contributes to their structural transformation. This initiative has received the support of Finland, France, as well as the endorsement of UN-OHRLLS. The Organisation internationale de la Francophonie (OIF), the Commonwealth Secretariat and various other countries have also expressed interest in participating. Under this initiative, Ferdi would be specifically responsible for monitoring the vulnerability of LDCs.

Third, the call for a universal, multi-dimensional and structural (or exogenous, i.e. independent of current policy) vulnerability index that could justify a higher level of development assistance (ODA) was the subject of an important event “Achieving a fair and complete measurement of vulnerability: perspectives from the Small Islands Developing States (SIDS) on the vulnerability index” organised by the President of the Republic of Seychelles, Wavel Ramkalawan, in his capacity as chair of a group of island countries, together with the Secretary General of the OIF, Louise Mushikiwabo, the Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Patricia Scotland, and with the participation of several ministers including the French Secretary of State Chrysoula Zacharopoulou. I was asked to moderate this event, the theme of which corresponds to a priority for Ferdi, which has produced several works on it (Guillaumont P., Wagner L., 2022 : Three criteria that a multidimensional vulnerability index should meet to be used effectively ; Guillaumont P, 2023: Taking into account vulnerability in the global distribution of concessional flows). As agreed at the end of this panel, another event involving the same partner institutions should be organised before or during the June Summit in order to carry the same message further.

Fourth, the adoption of the Multidimensional Vulnerability Index (MVI) and even a consensus on its use will not have the full effect that is sometimes expected. This is what I argued in another panel entitled "MVI and Graduation" where I was invited. Assuming that there is a consensus on the use of the MVI, one could imagine that it could replace the EVI used by the CDP for the identification of LDCs. This would in itself be a step forward, but would not change (or would have changed very little) the probability of graduation for countries that were found eligible. Indeed, most of the countries that have graduated or are simply eligible for graduation (the only exception is Nepal) have been found so on the basis of the other two criteria than vulnerability, namely per capita income and human capital. For the substitution of the MVI for the EVI to have an impact on the graduation of vulnerable countries, the graduation rules themselves would have to be changed, for instance by aggregating the indicators of low human capital and vulnerability into a structural handicap indicator or these two criteria and the weakness of income per capita into a single indicator. Of course, this result could be achieved, albeit to a lesser extent, without substituting MVI for EVI, if the graduation rules were changed in the direction indicated. But precisely a consensus on the MVI that would lead to its substitution for EVI for the graduation of LDCs could provide the opportunity to change these rules (Guillaumont P. (2023) Towards a Multidimensional Vulnerability Index: Six supporting notes, FERDI, 38 p.).

A fifth event, on the digital challenge in LDCs, was organised by the OIF and in which FERDI participated, with a report by Joël Cariolle. This event was cut short for reasons of scheduling, but the exchanges that took place on this occasion were the starting point for a new phase of cooperation between the OIF and Ferdi in the field of digital vulnerability. 

Perhaps the LDC conference, moved by one year, was more focused on addressing the vulnerability of the least developed countries than it would have been if it had taken place in January 2022. In the meantime, the factors of instability and vulnerability have grown critically and various initiatives have emerged to address them vigorously. This is particularly the case with the Bridgetown Initiative and President Macron's announcement at the end of COP 27 that a Summit on Financing Vulnerable Countries would be held in June 2023, now referred to as the Summit for a Global Financial Compact. FERDI has had to adapt to these current priorities, which are in line with its own long-standing priorities. We will come back to this shortly at the time of the Summit. FERDI has recently produced several documents on how vulnerability can and should be taken in account in development finance. 

Let us hope that the LDCs as well as other vulnerable developing countries, will receive the attention they deserve at the June Summit. 

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