Facilitating constructive cooperation in a multilateral world




Germany's Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) was established in 1961. By then, many allied countries had become independent, while others were fighting for it. Since then, the bipolar sequence from 1960 to 1989 has led to a more complex and dynamic world. Apart from historical powers such as the United States, Russia and the European Union, leading economies such as China and India and regional powers such as Brazil, Indonesia or South Africa shape economic and political dependencies.

The possibilities for what the future could look like – in economic, social, environmental and cultural terms – are vastly different. It is the interplay and combination of a variety of 'sustainable futures', each a contextualized version of the foundations necessary for human life on Earth and within our planetary ecological, social, political and economic boundaries. These different future imaginaries guide actors in their decisions and actions taken towards them.

A democratically organized market economy contrasts itself with various political regimes. Wars are disrupting regions of the world. Russia's war of aggression in Ukraine continues. The Gaza war could still spread across the Middle East. Violent conflicts in Ethiopia, Yemen or the Sahel region are disrupting entire societies.

At the same time, debt crises and the climate and biodiversity crisis in many low- and middle-income countries are leading to social security deficits. The people's frustration makes them prone to authoritarian rebellion. Recently, the collapse of the political order in Haiti is threatening.

In this difficult context, it is worth reconsidering: What is 'development'? How and who can bring? What institutional landscape is required for multipolar cooperation?

1. Meaning of 'development'

Development is understood as sustainable development and the promotion and protection of the global common good as defined in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the UN 2030 Agenda in 2015. It centers on the right of self-determination of every human being, for example, the emancipatory freedom to act. This is a challenge in countries with low per capita incomes, while the duty to protect the health of our planet lies especially with high-achieving countries.

READ  BIMP-EAGA will greatly benefit ASEAN people: Secretary-General




Germany's international cooperation organization for a sustainable future was founded on providing support and shaping mutual partnerships between equals with equal rights and common but differentiated responsibilities. These are partnerships with countries of all income groups, including the OECD, and are not characterized by an attitude of aid, nor do they lend themselves to the logic of 'othering' and border-drawing. Instead, they focus on forging and sustaining a sustainable future within our planetary boundaries. Partnerships and collaborations are based on human rights and ideally shared democratic and liberal values.

Development does not automatically follow from economic growth or fighting poverty. It emerges from processes that create sustainable futures. In other words, development is not possible until absolute poverty is eradicated and social, political, economic and cultural participation is possible.

While futures vary by context, they are only possible if human life is ensured on Earth and within our planetary boundaries. So growth should be sustainable. This global challenge has implications for global cooperation and global governance. Both should be designed to improve opportunities at the local level and facilitate sustainability at the global level – in a socially just way.

2. How to create a sustainable future

As outlined in the United Nations 2030 Agenda and the German Sustainable Development Strategy, making this future sustainable is a cross-scale, multi-sectoral mandate involving domestic and foreign policy sectors, civil societies, and public and private sector actors. This can only be achieved through close collaboration between different ministries and decision-making levels (local, regional, national, global) and policy-making, economic and social.

Sustainable development in the 21st century and policy-making for the future must adopt a global and collective perspective and foster dialogue with local communities at the regional level. For example, its aim is to protect universal commons.

  • Social equity and poverty alleviation,
  • Peace and Political Participation,
  • A healthy environment and stable climate,
  • Pluralism and cultural diversity.
READ  Facing China's Red Dragon in the South China Sea

Key policy levers include: a stable framework for financial markets; strong social security, food and health systems; Education, science, research and innovation development, including institutions for global social integration; international rules-based order; and promoting regional and multilateral cooperation and peace.

Development policy and international cooperation cannot operate these levers alone, but rather leverage them and contribute to their effectiveness. Ideally, the focus here is on creating transformative structural policies for sustainable development, as well as creating institutional, technological and infrastructural preconditions for medium- and long-term change.

The focus of the international cooperation at hand is usually determined by governmental negotiations. Agencies specializing in international cooperation accordingly implement activities that rely on a wide range of formats and tools.

Current policy examples include the „Just Energy Transition Partnerships” that Germany and other donor governments have concluded with South Africa and Indonesia, among others, providing support for „the transition away from fossil fuels” as agreed at climate talks in Dubai in 2023. Germany is also involved in seeking political solutions to the conflicts in Ukraine, Gaza and the Sahel region. This is obviously very difficult, yet results in agency mandates for action – whether providing humanitarian relief or supporting civil-society organizations – especially as state-based cooperation becomes increasingly difficult.

3. Global governance and multilateralism

Our world is characterized by global crises ranging from climate and biodiversity crises to debt crises, war, social polarization and processes of political authoritarianism in countries of all income groups and on all continents. The international order is changing.




Today's policymaking will determine whether constructive cooperation is possible in a multilateral world. A dangerous alternative is fragmentation, with the international community fragmenting into multiple, competing orders.

READ  El Nino weather impact affects coffee supply in Vietnam, Indonesia, Brazil

However, we only have one planet. Its health determines our future. We therefore need a multilateral system that can voice differences, compromise and build consensus, so the international community can find collective responses to our most pressing global challenges. Germany, the EU and the world are advised to invest politically, financially and intellectually – in multilateral institutions, from the UN to multilateral development banks and from the WTO to the G20 as geographically diverse platforms of representation.

At the same time, the existing multilateral structures were mostly set up after World War II. Reforms are needed to suit today's needs. Their governance structures generally do not reflect the reality of our multipolar world. This must change in order for the frameworks to be fully accepted by all and to ensure the ability to stand united where global challenges strike. The only alternative is a world that is losing the race against climate change and biodiversity loss, social polarization and political autocracy, a world fragmented into multiple and competing orders.

In addition, non-governmental forms of international cooperation are becoming increasingly important in a world where democratic governance systems guaranteeing freedom of expression and speech are at risk. This includes international collaboration between civil-society organizations and scientific organizations. Examples include the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Think Tanks on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), the Belmont Forum and the Future Earth or Think20 group.

Development policy and international cooperation are actually cooperation in a world that divides rather than unites the forces at hand. It is about multi-local and realized sustainable futures for human life on Earth and the much-needed transition paths towards a common future – united in diversity.

Anna-Katharina Hornidge Director of the German Institute of Development and Sustainability (IDOS) and Professor of Global Sustainable Development at the University of Bonn.
[email protected]

Dodaj komentarz

Twój adres e-mail nie zostanie opublikowany. Wymagane pola są oznaczone *