Reviewing the International Development White Paper

This week marked the highly anticipated release of the FCDO's International Development White Paper, the first in 14 years. It serves as a comprehensive guide outlining the UK's international development agenda until 2030. The central themes, as evident from the title "Ending Extreme Poverty and Tackling Climate Change," underscore the paper's significance. This document stands as a significant declaration by both Foreign Secretary David Cameron and Minister Andrew Mitchell, who have joined forces once again, acknowledging development as a pivotal component of the UK's global priorities.  

The 149-page "light reading" outlines the proposed direction for allocating UK aid, contending that international development is not only a part of the UK's "moral mission" but also "essential for our own security and prosperity." Given the paper's broad coverage of various themes, we have chosen to concentrate on a few that hold particular importance for our members.  


As someone with a background in social development, I view this as perhaps one of the most crucial focal points. While the White Paper emphasises the necessity for 'long-term reliable and equitable relationships' in international development, localisation ensures that interventions respect and align with the cultural norms of recipients, fostering a sense of ownership and collaboration.  

A few weeks ago, we had the privilege of hosting Alicia Herbert, (FCDO’s Director of Education, Gender and Equalities) at one of our events, to discuss the significance of women-led organisations in delivering one of the flagship FCDO programmes, the Girls' Education Challenge (GEC). The success of GEC was notably attributed to its localisation agenda, which resulted in interventions that were not only more effective but also embraced by local communities.  

The localisation focus of the White Paper also aligns with the focus of Shadow International Development Minister Lisa Nandy on 'respect' and 'partnership,' with nations across the world.  

While there is a clear direction outlined, there is not too much detail on how localisation will be approached. However, a strategy detailing how the UK will support local leadership in development, climate, nature, and humanitarian action is set to follow.  

Women and Girls  

The International Development White Paper further emphasises the UK’s commitment to promoting the rights and safety of women and girls internationally, which are described as “universal and should be non-negotiable” by Minister Mitchell. They re-embed commitments made to women and girls in recent years, in both of the Integrated Reviews and in the International Women and Girls Strategy. Lisa Nandy is also a big advocate for the prioritisation of women and girls and so it looks like whoever wins the next election, women and girls will be an integral part of the UK’s international development offer moving forwards.  

With the GEC programme coming to an end, we are looking forward to see FCDO's new frameworks and programmes with a specific focus on women and girls. BEI remains committed to collaborating closely with our members to disseminate and share best practices in this domain. Additionally, we will contribute technical expertise and insights on 'what works' to support FCDO initiatives.  

Climate Finance  

Climate change is positioned at the forefront of the paper. It is not surprising that climate finance has emerged as a central pillar in the new White Papers, considering the UK’s commitment to spend £11.6bn on International Climate Finance over the next five years.  

The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) has a number of mechanisms in place to ensure climate considerations are central to all programming – including the Programme Operating Framework (PrOF) and its specific rule, PrOF Rule 5, which is designed to ensure all programming, whether bilateral or regional, is compliant with the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement (in line with and delivering countries’ Nationally Determined Contributions).  

The FCDO is actively exploring avenues to unlock non-governmental funding for development. Recent commitments from BII and UKEF signal additional support for these initiatives. The relaunch of the British Investment Partnerships (BIP) is particularly noteworthy, playing a pivotal role in the Green Cities and Infrastructure Programme, announced by Minister Mitchell in October.  

A couple of weeks ago, our working group on Climate Finance published a new paper discussing the role of Climate Finance in supporting mitigation and adaptation actions to address anthropocentric climate change. It explains Climate Finance as a concept and showcases the unique capabilities of BEI members who offer consultancy services to governments and private sector clients across various modes and instruments of Climate Finance. The paper is designed to meet the needs of a range of agencies seeking rapid insights and technical support in implementing Climate Finance mechanisms, and throughout 2024, BEI will continue engaging with some of the key stakeholders in this space, including the FCDO and other parts of HMG (DBT, DEFRA, DESNZ, Innovate UK, BII), Bilateral and Multilateral Development Agencies, and private sector organisations.  


Throughout the White Paper, there is a strong focus on reaching the SDGs, necessitating a significant boost in international finance and private sector capital directed towards low- and middle-income countries. An estimated annual additional fund of $3.9 trillion is deemed necessary for achieving the SDGs.  

At the heart of the UK's commitment is a focus on restructuring International Financial Institutions (IFIs) and augmenting the mobilisation of private capital. The UK has already indicated conditional support for capital increases in institutions such as the World Bank's IBRD, the private sector investment arm of the Inter-American Development Bank Group, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.  

Whether in the realm of climate financing or collaboration with multilateral organisations, the UK is dedicated to exploring innovative financial instruments to generate additional funds beyond ODA. This includes considering the use of further guarantees and exploring the provision of hybrid capital.  

BEI is committed to providing opportunities for our members to meet and engage with key stakeholders across IFIs, such as Bob Saum (World Bank’s Chief Financial Management Offices) who visited us just two weeks ago at Grafton street. Looking ahead, our programme for the upcoming year features engagements with EBRD, ADB, CDB, and bilateral donors including USAID, DFAT, and GIZ.  

Public Support  

While the document is carefully written to garner cross-party support, there is little focus on building public support for the strategy or for international development in general in the White Paper. Research from our sister organisation, the British Foreign Policy Group, shows that while Britons support the moral case for international development, 61% believe that development spending takes away money that should be spent domestically. The importance of building public support for international development was recognised by Andrew Mitchell when he took up his Ministerial role and heading towards an election it’ll be more important than ever to build public support to protect the UK’s international development activities.  


This White Paper is an important document which sets out the case for international development, its priorities and how the UK can work with partners to deliver on that ambition. However, with no new financial commitments made and with the White Paper being very long, it can be difficult to discern exactly what all the priorities of the White Paper are and how they will be achieved. Hopefully clarity of that will follow in the implementation stage.  

Evie Aspinall, Director, British Foreign Policy Group

Luisa Edves, Director of Education, Skills & International Development, British Expertise International

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