Washington is at its best in the spring. Green shoots pop out, daffodils and magnolias are in full bloom and the cherry blossoms cast a pink halo over the city. After a long, cold winter, there is hope everywhere.
And so it was with the 2015 Spring Meetings of the IMF and World Bank. Hope was in the air—would the global economy avoid the “new mediocre” from becoming the “new reality?” Would Greece reach agreement with its creditors? Would there be progress on IMF governance reform?
So what else was in the ether? Here’s my quick take on what I heard in the corridors among the 500 or so civil society participants and 200 members of parliament that attended the meetings:
2015! Year of Development. All eyes are on the Financing for Development conference in Addis Ababa in July, the United Nations Heads of State Summit in New York in September and the climate talks in Paris in December. Members of Parliament (MP) of the Parliamentary Network debated their role in the 2015 development agenda: “What can we do at the national level to influence these international talks”? I heard concerns from civil society on whether there will be enough financing available from the international community to meet the needs of the poor. Oxfam urged the World Bank and the IMF to look at how sustainable development goals could be financed by “unlocking the enormous potential resources from an improved international tax system”.
Climate Change: Would citizens, parliaments, and governments take the actions that are needed to reach agreement by December? Amy Larkin of Global Agenda Council on Climate Change told MPs that “pollution can no longer be free and can no longer be subsidized.” At the parliamentary conference, IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde asked MPs for a show of hands as to which of their parliaments are currently working on reforms to reduce energy subsidies (only a quarter raised their hands). She had a simple message on fossil fuels for both parliaments and ministers “Price it Right!”
Ebola: Oxfam welcomed the donor commitments by UK and Germany, and Mexico to the IMF’s Catastrophe, Containment and Relief Trust. Jubilee USA’s Eric LeComte applauded the IMF’s agility in setting up this “global safety net for the world’s poorest countries” and in providing $100 million in debt relief to the three Ebola-affected countries. "We need structures that help the most vulnerable. The IMF's debt relief fund is a good example and a good start,” LeComte said.
Gender: With a large contingent of women MPs and women civil society representatives, it was not surprising that gender issues would surface in the conversations. An MP from Pakistan asked whether women’s housework should be counted towards GDP. IMF research on Women, Work and the Economy and Fair play, resonated with Gulalai Ismail of the NGO Awake Girls, but she wondered whether the Fund could also look at issues surrounding women’s empowerment.
Inequality: A burning issue! Oxfam reminded us that on current trends, the world’s one percent will own more than anyone else in the world. Bretton Woods Project’s Sargon Nissan and the ITUC’s Peter Bakvis repeated his call for the IMF to incorporate the issue of inequality into its operations (which is underway).
And finally, there was a lot of discussion on IMF governance (and the lack of progress on quota reform), the creation of the new Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank and what a “new multilateralism” might look like. The sentiment is getting stronger: emerging markets and developing countries must have greater weight and voice in global economic institutions, such as the IMF—to reflect the new and dynamic centers of political and economic gravity that are emerging.
But the highpoint of the week for me was the Global Citizen Earth Day event on the National Mall attended by over a quarter million people. With zest, vitality, and dreams of making the world a better place, musicians, policy makers, and activists came together and pledged action to solve climate change and end extreme poverty.
Lagarde told the crowd. “At the IMF, 188 Ministers of Finance and Governors of Central Banks heard a big noise, and it was you. I’m here to give you a piece of good news—because they heard you, they are committed to ending poverty and financing development”—and the crowds roared back.