Measuring aid to global public goods (GPGs)

by Duncan Knox


This discussion paper focuses on global public goods (GPGs), and the role of official development assistance (ODA) in providing them. It also outlines an approach to estimating funding for GPGs from providers of ODA.

GPGs are commonly defined as goods that are non-rival (consumption by one person does not diminish consumption by another), non-excludable (no one can be excluded from their benefits) and which cover more than one group of countries. Examples of GPGs include climate change mitigation, communicable disease prevention and global peace and security.

ODA is well positioned to play a role as a funding source for certain GPGs; its main objective is to promote the economic development and welfare of developing countries, enabling it to be targeted towards funding specific GPGs. However, ODA is increasingly recognised as a scarce and precious resource with competing demands, attention is therefore turning to questioning the role development cooperation should play in providing GPGs.

This discussion paper takes a first step, outlining an analytical approach to assessing ODA for GPGs. It profiles ODA’s role in providing GPGs and highlights the difficulties of measurement. It finds that better defining GPG investments and better understanding of how ODA currently supports these investments are essential first tasks in informing the debate around appropriate uses of ODA.

This paper identifies eight broad themes under which ODA can be directed to GPGs: environment, global public health, research, trade policy and transport policy, conflict peace and security, communications, humanitarian international non-governmental organisations and other. Each broad theme contains one or more sub-themes, and the sub-themes are why any particular activity is included as a GPG (for example, communicable disease prevention is categorised as a sub-theme, is the basis for selection as a GPG, and sits under the global public health theme).

Key findings on ODA to GPGs in 2014

  • ODA disbursements directed to GPGs stood at US$12.9 billion in 2014. This is 8% of total ODA.
  • The largest three broad GPG themes were environment (US$8.0 billion), global public health (US$2.1 billion) and other (ie non-health/non-environment) research (US$1.1 billion).
  • Disbursements to the environment theme made up 62% (US$8.0 billion) of total ODA to GPGs in 2014. A significant proportion of this (over 80%) comprises activities marked to have a principal policy focus on climate change mitigation. These figures are likely to be an underestimate because they do not capture mitigation financing activities in the form of disbursements from a number of multilateral development banks. Total GPG ODA marked as research activities stood at US$2 billion in 2014, with US$516 million in global public health and US$315 million in environment. A quarter of estimated global public health GPG spending relates to research that is non-country specific.
  • The largest channel of delivery for GPGs in 2014 was public sector institutions (US$5.7 billion in total). Multilateral organisations were the second largest channel of delivery at US$2.8 billion, of which US$1.2 billion was channelled through the UN and US$1.0 billion through the World Bank.

Download the full discussion paper here

Hompage image © 2008, Getty Images for International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI)