【2023TCF】 Leveraging Multilateral Mechanisms to Deepen the Impact of South-South Cooperation in Energy, by Wang Xiaojun
15 September , 2023
Distinguished participants, ladies and gentlemen. Today, I am deeply honored to attend the Taiyuan Forum, speaking at the Taihe Subforum on Energy Multilateralism.
This topic is significant and timely, as energy forms the bedrock of our aspirations, anchoring the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. The SDG 7 urges us to secure "affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all". It surpasses environmental implications and resonates profoundly with poverty reduction, food security, education and health, women empowerment and the resilience of our communities. Yet, already at the midpoint of the journey towards achieving SDGs, the world’s overall progress on energy remains a patchwork of accomplishments. A landscape of concerns unfolds amidst the complex food, climate, and energy crises worldwide. Over 675 million people still lived without electricity and 2.3 billion deprived of clean cooking facilities in 2021. The increase in renewable energy adoption paints promise, yet it yearns for a much stronger momentum. Energy efficiency's annual growth stands at 1.8%, falling short of the requisite 2.6%. International funding for clean energy in developing countries has decreased since 2020, casting a shadow on vulnerable regions. The UN is calling for urgent and high-impact actions by governments, businesses, and all stakeholders. In the pursuit of the ambition of achieving SDG 7, our collective strength is indispensable. As a representative of the UN Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC), I believe cooperation is the only way forward.
UNOSSC, mandated by the UN General Assembly, promotes development cooperation among developing nations, coordinates UN system wide support to South-South cooperation. We also work with partners from developed countries to advance triangular cooperation. It is through these lenses that I contemplate the far-reaching potential of multilateral mechanisms in bolstering the impact of South-South cooperation within the energy sector. The essence of South-South Cooperation lies in its solidarity and mutual support, among developing countries. In recent years, this collaboration has made substantial contribution towards SDGs. Developing countries share common energy challenges, from limited access to modern energy services to the grip of fossil fuel dependence. However, they also possess rich renewable energy resources and expertise and champion technologies and innovations waiting to be harnessed. In the realm of South-South cooperation, countries come together to exchange knowledge, lessons learnt, and good practices, birthing innovation and fast-tracking their transition toward sustainable energy systems. While bilateral relations remain central and most direct engagement channel to SSC, there's a strong growing trend of developing countries leveraging multilateral mechanisms for impact at scale. This is particularly relevant for the energy sector - a domain necessitating regional, sub-regional, and global efforts. It's imperative that countries cultivate partnerships and harness the power of multilateralism to create public goods and overcome global barriers, especially for the Global South.
The United Nations lies at the heart of multilateralism, offering frameworks such as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). These platforms promote collaboration, resource mobilization, and cooperation on a global scale. They also provide crucial spaces for developing countries to leverage their collective strengths, deepen their involvement in global governance, and advance energy justice while creating sustainable paths for development. South-South cooperation empowers these nations to voice their needs collectively, strengthen their negotiation positions, influence policies, and shape global energy agendas. The unified stance of the Global South can challenge existing power dynamics, transforming the energy landscape for the greater good for all. This journey is not lacking challenges, and a journey this profound seldom is. However, signs of progress are evident.
In November 2022, at COP27, governments reached agreement to establish a Loss and Damage Fund. After three decades of anticipation, this historic accord underscores the inequity faced by many in the Global South, shouldering the disproportionate impact of a crisis of which they bear minimal responsibility. The unwavering stance of the G77 and China, a coalition of 134 developing countries, and the tireless advocacy of civil society organizations from the Global South, have propelled this initiative.
Beyond advancing global policy agenda, multilateral mechanisms also give birth to pragmatic and scalable solutions within developing countries, through South-South and triangular cooperation. A testament to this is China's Belt and Road Initiative, and its series of guidance on the development of “Green Silkroad” investment principles, Green Technology Bank, standards, and cooperation networks. Through strengthening infrastructure investment, trade, and capacity development, it enabled sustainable energy cooperation among over 90 countries and with over 30 international organizations.
It is also important to recognize that South-South cooperation often thrives in the initiatives of neighboring countries, supported by regional and subregional mechanisms. For instance, the Southern African Power Pool (SAPP) unites Southern African nations to coordinate power generation and distribution, taming power shortages. The Mekong River Commission, a consortium of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam, orchestrates joint projects in addressing water-energy-food nexus for local livelihoods.
Recognizing the crucial role of these multilateral, regional, and sub-regional mechanisms that guide nations toward energy security and sustainability, China's proposal of a Global Clean Energy Partnership Framework shines beams of hope on the horizon. It calls for strategic engagement of ASEAN countries, African Union nations, Arab League members, Shanghai Cooperation Organization partners, and BRICS allies, to harmonize their strides toward a low-carbon economy, and advance international coordination of bilateral and multilateral cooperation, exchanging climate information, policies, connecting the dots of climate-related market mechanisms. This is a very promising multilateral approach.
Moreover, multilateral mechanisms also facilitate financial resource mobilization, propelling the force of South-South cooperation within the energy sector. The New Development Bank (NDB), a multilateral development powerhouse kindled by Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa and BRICS+ countries, invested substantially into infrastructure and sustainable development ventures across emerging markets and developing countries. Armed with transformative technologies, the NDB champions projects that embody the deployment of clean and renewable energy. Its endeavors translate into the evasion of over 13 million tons of CO2 emissions annually and the installation of a formidable 2,800 megawatts of renewable energy capacity. Similar success stories can be told from another multilateral development bank - the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), headquartered in Beijing China. From its 57 founding members to its global scale of 106 members today, it has injected strong financial booster for sustainable energy development in the Global South. Yet such institutions cannot work alone to address the energy challenges at today’s scale. Coordination and collaboration are mission critical. Just as the AIIB President called upon recently, an institutionalized forum should be established for multilateral development banks (MDBs) and other international financial institutions to discuss these issues, to progress and to collaboratively take actions on climate finance.
UNOSSC, among others, has also been entrusted by member states with financial resources. We manage four trust funds devoted to SSC, supporting demand-driven projects, including those addressing SDG 7. With modest financial resources, these funds leverage partnership with international organizations, multilateral institutions to achieve impact at scale. For example, through the Perez-Guerrero Trust Fund, not only two off-grid hydropower plants were built in Nepal and Pakistan, but also a database was set up to support hydropower development planning and cooperation in South Asia region through leveraging expertise in the International Small Hydro Power Organization’s regional center based in Hangzhou, China. The India-Brazil-South Africa (IBSA) Fund supported installing of solar water pumps in 10 African and Pacific countries in partnership with the International Solar Alliance (ISA) to disseminate experiences even further. These are examples that have shown us how “small and beautiful” projects can be “smart and impactful” leveraging multilateral organizations’ support.
In closing, from collective positioning at policy forums, strategic engagement of regional and subregional cooperation frameworks, to partnering with multilateral organizations, and leveraging multilateral financial institutions, harnessing the power of multilateral mechanisms systematically can offer unique advantage in enhancing outreach and deepen the impact of South-South cooperation in the energy sector. However, regardless of its format or scale, whether mini-lateral or multilateral, global, regional, or sub-regional, the foundation of such collaborations must be mutual respect, shared responsibility, and equitable benefits. Transparent and inclusive frameworks that foster trust, accountability, and long-term commitment are vital. All stakeholders, including governments, international organizations, civil society, and the private sector, must have their places in the multilateral symphony. Through such genuine multilateralism, we can create South-South and triangular cooperation partnerships that catalyze transformative change in the energy sector.
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