Helen Clark: Remarks at the UN Conference on South-South Co-operation

01 Dec 2009

Remarks of Helen Clark, Secretary-General of High-level United Nations Conference on South-South Co-operation and the UNDP Administrator
On the occasion of High-level United Nations Conference on South-South Co-operation,
Tuesday, 1 December 2009, Nairobi

It is a privilege for me to address this opening session of the High-level United Nations Conference on South-South Co-operation.

I would like to thank the Government of Kenya for hosting this important event, and for their warm hospitality to us.

Three decades ago, the Conference on Technical Co-operation Among Developing Countries highlighted the importance of South-South co-operation in addressing challenges confronting the developing world. 

From that conference came the Buenos Aires Plan of Action, which was endorsed by the General Assembly in December 1978. It provided a blueprint for developing countries to promote solidarity and socio-economic co-operation as a complement to North-South co-operation.

Since that time, the South-South portfolio of co-operation for development has expanded enormously. It is playing, and will continue to play, a very significant role in supporting developing countries to meet their own development goals and the internationally agreed development goals too.

The role which South-South co-operation plays has been greatly enhanced by the growing economic weight of the South. In the early 1960s, the share of global GDP accounted for by low and middle income countries stood at around fifteen per cent. Now it is estimated at around 25 per cent.

That growing economic weight is then reflected in the scale and breadth of South-South co-operation. We are talking here not only of substantial government to government transfers of funding and technical assistance, but also of very large flows of private sector investment and trade within the South.

It is well recognised that the knowledge, skills, and technical expertise which can be exchanged through South-South co-operation are in many cases those most suitable to meeting the development challenges faced by others in the South.

This is a time of major challenges to development. The 21st century has been characterised by multiple crises – including the current global recession, food and fuel price volatility, climate-related disasters, and now an influenza pandemic.

The nations of the South need ready access to the most relevant knowledge and best practice for devising their own responses to these challenges.

For example, in the context of the economic crisis, many have looked elsewhere in the South for relevant models of social protection which could be adapted to their own circumstances.

And the policy instruments and measures adopted in Asia and Latin America to tackle the economic and financial crises in the 1990s provide insights into dealing with the current crises.

South-South co-operation will also help tackle the climate challenge. Developing the capacity of countries in the South to adapt to, and mitigate, the effects of climate change, and providing access to the appropriate technologies which support lower carbon routes to development, are critical.

I have no doubt that low cost, low carbon technologies developed within the South itself will play a big part in the global mitigation effort.

Over the next ten months leading up to the high level event on the Millennium Development Goals at the UN General Assembly in New York, much world attention will be focused on the progress made towards the goals, and on where we collectively need to do better.

Deepening partnerships within the South, including with the support of Northern partners, will be vital for accelerating efforts to achieve the MDGs – especially at a time when the multiple crises affecting developing countries threaten to stall or even reverse progress on some of the Goals.

And, as today is World AIDS Day, it is worth reminding ourselves how important South-South co-operation is in fighting the spread of that deadly disease, and making affordable treatment available to those living with HIV and AIDS.

The United Nations development system has enhanced its support for South-South and triangular co-operation since the Buenos Aires conference, including through the Special Unit for South-South co-operation housed in UNDP. 

It is a priority for me as Chair of the UN Development Group that we strengthen our assistance even further, focusing more on areas such as agricultural development for food security, education, health, and tackling climate change. The UN’s convening power can also help bring stakeholders together to tackle development challenges.

At UNDP we aim to support and facilitate the exchange of knowledge and experience across the South to help accelerate development.

We can partner with the development co-operation initiatives of the South, including through triangular co-operation. Some nations of the South are now explicitly seeking our support in developing their co-operation programmes.

We also want to support regional and sub-regional development initiatives, which can be so important in the expansion of South-South flows of investment, technology and trade.

Later this month, UNDP and some of its partners will be organising the 2009 Global South-South Development Expo and the Sixth UN Day for South-South Co-operation. Both events present excellent opportunities to promote the many benefits and showcase the many successes of South-South co-operation.

I hope that the outcome of this conference will enable us all to contribute to strengthening and building upon the framework for South-South co-operation established three decades ago in Buenos Aires.

Let us work together at this time to generate even stronger mechanisms for the effective sharing of information, technologies, and experiences across the South to achieve the MDGs, meet other internationally agreed development goals, and tackle climate change.