The Addis Ababa Action Agenda: strengths, weaknesses, and the way ahead

On the evening of July 15th negotiators reached agreement on the Addis Ababa Action Agenda. The Action Agenda outlines an ambitious roadmap for the implementation of the sustainable development goals and will influence the work of governments, development experts and other stakeholders for years to come. We would like to share with you a review of strengths and weaknesses of the document and suggested follow-up activities. The key paragraphs for children are listed at the bottom of the email.  The full Addis Action Agenda can be found here.

Strong points

From development finance to sustainable development finance: With the Addis Action Agenda sustainable and inclusive development truly moves to the centre of development finance. Compared to previous Financing for Development agreements the document outlines a more comprehensive and forward-looking development agenda, including goals to end poverty and hunger, protect the environment, and promote inclusive economic growth and social inclusion (para 1). The Agenda also recognizes the importance of aligning climate, humanitarian and development finance (62-66).

Investing in children is identified as an integral part of the sustainable development agenda: The outcome document (paragraph 7), establishes a clear link between investing in children and the Post-2015 agenda’s overall goal of achieving inclusive and sustainable growth (‘we recognize that investing in children and youth is critical to achieving inclusive, equitable and sustainable development for present and future generations’). Contrary to previous agreements of Monterrey and Doha, children are no longer viewed as passive recipients of social support but as agents of future growth and development.

A ‘holistic’ approach to achieving wellbeing for children: The Action Agenda makes progress by recognizing the multidimensionality of poverty. It also outlines an approach to child wellbeing that extends far beyond what would normally be expected of a document primarily concerned with questions of development finance. Several paragraphs make reference to ‘systemic’ issues, such as enforcing respect of children’s rights in the private and business sector (37), rights of child migrants (111) and tackling violence against children (112). These references complement multiple commitments to invest in basic services and social protection ‘floors’ with a specific focus on the needs of children, youth, and other ‘vulnerable’ groups (12, 77, 78, 114).

Improved data and monitoring: Member States agree to ‘increase and use high-quality, timely and reliable data disaggregated by sex, age’, and other socioeconomic categories relevant in national contexts (126). Signatories also pledge to support civil registration and vital statistics systems and to ensure broad access to the tools necessary to turn data into useful, actionable information (128). These commitments will help continue the data revolution for children which –in many countries- effectively started with the systematic collection of administrative data and surveys like MICS, DHS and Living Standard Measurement Surveys. In addition, the Agenda makes progress by shifting the focus to data literacy, better integration of different data sources, and improved use of evidence for policy making.

FfD – Means of Implementation for the SDGs? With negotiations on SDG goals and targets progressing in parallel, FfD was increasingly expected to provide a strong working definition of the Means Of Implementation for the SDG agenda. Does the outcome document deliver on this goal? Yes and no. On the one hand, developing countries managed to inscribe references to international coordination and financial and technical support in areas like fighting corruption and illicit finance, scaling up infrastructure investments, and knowledge and technology transfer. On the other hand developed countries often pushed back firmly against the creation of new and potentially costly institutional mechanisms and partnerships for the SDGs. The result is often vague language to ‘explore’ (rather than ‘implement’) new partnerships.[1] The document is also studded with commitments to address developing country concerns through existing institutions and coordination bodies, such as the IMF, World Bank Group. Whether these commitments will be sufficient to bridge political divides in FfD will depend on the extent to which future reforms move beyond the current status quo to allow developing countries greater participation in the governance mechanisms of these institutions.

Spending commitments: Addis was never meant to be a pledging conference; however, what was agreed remained below expectations of even seasoned negotiators (including in particular the Addis co-chairs). Ambitious numeric targets on domestic spending, tax collection and ODA included in the first (‘zero’) draft were struck down in the early phases of negotiations by a large coalition of developed and developing countries. Most targets are now expressed in non-numeric terms and are thus harder to monitor (e.g. paras on domestic tax reform). Others are formulated as voluntary commitments. For example for ODA, one of the few remaining numeric targets, the document ‘reaffirms the commitment by many developed countries to achieve the target of 0.7 per cent of ODA/GNI’ and ‘welcomes’ the unilateral decision by the European Union to do so within the time frame of the post-2015 agenda. ODA targets to Least Developed Countries further remain below the current share of approximately a third of total ODA allocated to LDCs (the document speaks of allocating 0.15 to 0.20 per cent of ODA/GNI to LDCs).

Illicit finance and tax cooperation: Developing countries fought long and hard to rectify illicit outflows of resources and tax evasion by calling for a new and stronger UN body for tax coordination that would allow for stronger representation of developing countries’ interests than existing mechanisms within the OECD. The deal they got – an increased frequency of meetings of the UN Committee of Experts on International Cooperation in Tax Matters of two meetings a year – falls behind this target. However, it is worth noting that also developing countries resisted new commitments to raise domestic tax to GDP ratios or make the use of public revenues more effective and equitable (for example, a commitment to phase out harmful fuel subsidies was only adopted after long and painful discussions). Looking forward, progress on tax matters will require stronger political commitments from both developed and developing countries.

Lack of concrete information on the interaction between ODA and climate and humanitarian finance: Although environmental and humanitarian concerns are addressed head-on in the Action Agenda, negotiators were often cautious not to forestall debates with more direct mandates on these issues, including the COP 21 in Paris and the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul. This left gaps on important questions, such as whether the international public response to climate change and humanitarian disasters would be financed from ODA or additional resources and the appropriate level of burden sharing between developed and developing countries. As it stands, the Addis document outlines broad principles of climate, development and humanitarian finance, with more concrete agreements and commitments to follow from the climate and humanitarian tracks of Post-2015 negotiations.

What’s next?

Once negotiations have concluded on the parallel track on SDG goals and targets, attention will shift to the country level. UNICEF can make progress here by focusing advocacy and support on nationally appropriate targets and implementation plans. Without claim for completeness, at least four priorities can come to mind:

  • Identify domestic investment plans and spending targets that reach beyond general commitments identified by the Addis action agenda: Through UNICEF’s work with governments, we know that increased investments in children’s development are possible, even in environments with constrained fiscal space. UNICEF country teams can build on these experiences to advocate for strong national commitments to invest in essential services for children. Sharing of experiences and information across countries can also encourage reforms within practical reach of governments.
  • Support child-focused data collection and analysis: The need for improved data and monitoring is now widely acknowledged among relevant actors. Resulting political support should be used to advocate for the closing of remaining data gaps. In countries that are already well into the data revolution the priority is probably not the collection of just more data, but of improved analysis and integration of existing data sets. For example, UNICEF in the context of FfD could engage more in the integrated analysis of administrative and household expenditure data to better understand the distribution of the benefits of public spending across relevant groups and children. Other important aspects include improved disaggregation of poverty data by gender and age at country and global levels. Joint work in these areas is already ongoing in the World Bank and UNICEF.
  • Mainstream work in country offices around FfD and the SDGs objectives: Existing UNICEF country programmes provide several entry points for child-related priorities identified in the Action Agenda. For example, policy advice and budget analysis leverages and fosters equity-focused public investments in children; advocacy for child rights under the CRC relates to FfD commitments for children around private finance and migration; while future work under the planned global Child Protection partnership will address violence against children head-on. All of these actions can be aligned and, where necessary, reinforced to directly support national FfD and SDG implementation plans.
  • Explore new and innovative approaches to raise additional resources for children: The organization already works on several innovative approaches to expand available financing for children. Examples where UNICEF is actively participating include the Bridge Fund of the US Fund for UNICEF to accelerate access to life-saving assistance to children in need around the world, and Power of Nutrition, which is a catalytic fund to scale-up finance from public-private sources for high-impact nutrition programmes in collaboration with the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation as lead and the World Bank. In addition, UNICEF is working with key partners and the World Bank, such as in the country-based Water Finance Facilities (water banks). This instrument aims to pool investment opportunities or “blended funding” (domestic public and private with international public resources, including loans, grants, bonds, tariff and taxes) for WASH programmes.

By Olav Kjorven, Director of Public Partnerships Division; Nalinee Nippita, Senior Adviser, Multilateral & Intergovernmental Partnerships; and Frank-Borge Wietzke, Public Partnership Specialist.

Key paragraphs on children in the Addis Action Agenda
1 – Opening paragraph: sustainable growth and children. “We will promote peaceful and inclusive societies and advance fully towards an equitable global economic system in which no country or person is left behind, enabling decent work and productive livelihoods for all, while preserving the planet for our children and future generations.”

7 – Investing in children. “We recognize that investing in children and youth is critical to achieving inclusive, equitable and sustainable development for present and future generations, and we recognize the need to support countries that face particular challenges to make the requisite investments in this area. We reaffirm the vital importance of promoting and protecting the rights of all children, and ensuring that no child is left behind.”
12 – Social protection and essential public services for all. “To end poverty in all its forms everywhere and finish the unfinished business of the Millennium Development Goals, we commit to a new social compact. In this effort, we will provide fiscally sustainable and nationally appropriate social protection systems and measures for all, including floors, with a focus on those furthest below the poverty line and the vulnerable, persons with disabilities, indigenous persons, children, youth and older persons.”

37 –Child labor issues and Convention on the Rights of the Child. “We will foster a dynamic and well-functioning business sector, while protecting labour rights and environmental and health standards in accordance with relevant international standards and agreements, such as the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the labour standards of the ILO, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and key multilateral environmental agreements, for parties to these agreements.”

77 – Multi-stakeholder partnerships for health, including for women and children. “We welcome innovative approaches to catalyse additional domestic and international private and public resources for women and children, who have been disproportionately affected by many health issues, including the expected contribution of the Global Financing Facility in support of Every Woman, Every Child.”

78 – Education. “We recognize the importance for achieving sustainable development of delivering quality education to all girls and boys. This will require reaching children living in extreme poverty, children with disabilities, migrant and refugee children, and those in conflict and post-conflict situations, and providing safe, non-violent, inclusive and effective learning environments for all. We will scale up investments and international cooperation to allow all children to complete free, equitable, inclusive and quality early childhood, primary and secondary education, including through scaling-up and strengthening initiatives, such as the Global Partnership for Education. We commit to upgrading education facilities that are child, disability and gender sensitive and increasing the percentage of qualified teachers in developing countries, including through international cooperation, especially in least developed countries and Small Island Developing States.”

111 – Migrants. “We reaffirm the need to promote and protect effectively the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all migrants, especially those of women and children, regardless of their migration status.”

112 – Violence. “We will strengthen regional, national and subnational institutions to prevent all forms of violence, combat terrorism and crime, and end human trafficking and exploitation of persons, in particular women and children, in accordance with international human rights law.”

114 – Access to technology and science. “We will promote access to technology and science for women, youth and children. We will further facilitate accessible technology for persons with disabilities.”

126 – Disaggregated data by age. “We will seek to increase and use high-quality, timely and reliable data disaggregated by sex, age, geography, income, race, ethnicity, migratory status, disability, and other characteristics relevant in national contexts.”

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  1. I had no idea about all the new efforts in Addis Ababa, until a friend visited there. I am impressed that Unicef and the young people in Ethiopia are so courageously creating their future.