Two challenges face the UN system in responding to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development:
To deliver on both counts, development cooperation will need to find new methods and new tools for delivery. A new series of nine papers commissioned by the UN University Centre for Policy Research show how development cooperation is rapidly evolving. New actors play a growing role in defining the structure of development cooperation,3 despite the fact that the volume of their cooperation still accounts for a relatively small percentage of recorded aid.4
These forms of cooperation are not new.5 What is new is their emergence on a larger scale. The growing involvement in particular of the BRICS group as well as Indonesia, Turkey, and Mexico – to name but a few – has brought increasing attention to these countries’ own priorities, focus, and methods of development cooperation. Their actions are challenging the model of development embodied by the OECD-Development Assistance Committee (DAC). They are also challenging the idea of a homogeneous ‘South-South’ model.
The papers explore different aspects of this expanding field. They cover national approaches to cooperation (China, India, Turkey, Mexico, and South Africa), regional forms (the Gulf states), and newer models – such as ‘Fragile-to-Fragile’ and decentralized cooperation – that are likely to have a key role to play in the 2030 Agenda, particularly when it comes to Sustainable Development Goal #16. One paper also touches upon the impact that the establishment of the BRICS New Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank is likely to have on global development norms.
Together, these papers do not tell a single story, but they highlight a number of emerging trends:
The UN has a potentially significant role to play in sharing of best practices and expertise, in order to maximize the positive trends emerging from such models of development cooperation and address their challenges. Southern development partners are, understandably, not interested in creating a ‘watchdog’ for cooperation. However, given its universal reach and membership, the UN has unique legitimacy to adopt an enabling role and to facilitate greater dialogue without coopting countries into a particular agenda.
In particular, we feel that the UN could take on such an enabling role with the view to supporting:
One of the most commonly cited lacunae in the debate around alternative development models is the absence of a common vision. Here, the SDGs and the 2030 Agenda provide a natural pathway to a shared vision. This does not limit the potential of what countries choose to do. Rather, it provides a common language to build links where appropriate. This common language must include as many different voices as possible, however, in order to create genuinely collective ownership of the 2030 Agenda.
The UN – and indeed the international development community at large – currently lack the means by which to fully engage with alternative models of development cooperation. To achieve the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs it is essential that the best of what exists in development cooperation is first understood, in order to imagine what might be. To do so, Member States will need to clearly articulate how they want the United Nations to engage with their efforts, and then be genuinely willing to open themselves to such engagement.
Lastly, the series editors would like to thank Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, Karin Costa Vazquez, Sarah Hearn, Cheryl Hendricks, Tim Kehoe, and Luz Maria De La Mora Sanchez for their valuable inputs and comments on the papers.
The full list of papers is as follows: