Setting new terms of reference for the global economy

John McArthur on what to expect for development in 2015.
By: /
January 9, 2015
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The coming year frames a roughly once-per-generation opportunity for the global economy to update its terms of reference. In the simplest terms, governments are converging toward agreements to eliminate extreme poverty, end social exclusion, and protect the Earth’s crucial natural assets over the coming generation. More formally, 2015 marks the culmination of two multi-year intergovernmental processes whereby all 193 UN member states are set to establish quantitative sustainable development goals for 2030 alongside a long-term climate accord.

Any outdated mindset of a world defined by rich versus poor countries needs to be replaced with a more complex notion of diverse countries tackling a spectrum of development challenges. Of the more than seven billion people alive today, only around 18 percent live in high-income economies like Canada’s. Most of the rich countries are themselves still grappling to find a firm path out of the 2008 global financial crisis. The vast majority of the world, nearly six billion people, lives in low- and middle-income countries whose fast-growing economic footprints will be equally if not more decisive for determining humanity’s future.

2015 offers a unique chance to set shared priorities. Three major global political events can galvanize respective pieces of the overarching policy puzzle.


  • The third is in Paris from Nov. 30 to Dec. 11, the deadline for a new global climate deal. The closest analogue here is the Kyoto conference in 1997, but in reality there is no precedent, since the core of Kyoto only applied to advanced economies, while Paris is set to establish a more comprehensive agreement among all countries.

These three events will be affected by decisions taken in a variety of other forums, including regional summits, the June G7 summit in Germany and the working groups leading up to the November G20 summit in Turkey. Bilateral negotiations among highly influential countries can also have game-changing effects on the entire multilateral system, as exemplified by the landmark China-U.S. climate agreement announced in November.

The 2015 agenda applies to Canadians as much as anyone else. Most prominently, Canada has a leadership role to play in eliminating extreme poverty globally; in tackling exclusion among its own marginalized groups, most notably aboriginal people; and in setting a sustainable course for natural resources both domestically and around the world, with clear accountability standards across both public and private sectors. This year, our politicians, CEOs, academics, and citizens face an uncommonly specific opportunity to jointly deliver global success.

Also in the series

The number of questions guiding our coverage this year is far larger than we were able to explore in the features below. For instance, will Canada live up to its recent promise to help resettle 10,000 new Syrian refugees? What will result from Palestine’s membership into the International Criminal Court? 

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More peace on earth than ever before?

Scott Gilmore on what to expect for violence in 2015.
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A soft or crash landing for Canada?

Madelaine Drohan on what to expect from finance in 2015.
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In praise of the emerging debate around energy

Tzeporah Berman on what to expect for climate change action in 2015.
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An emergent zone of ambiguous rules and actors

Saskia Sassen on what to expect for global order in 2015.