Blog: World Cities Day 2020: South-South Cooperation among Cities to Co-create a More Sustainable Future

October 31, 2020

On the occasion of World Cities Day 2020, Xiaojun Grace Wang, Deputy Director, UNOSSC, highlights the critical role of South-South and triangular cooperation among cities in building better for a sustainable global urban community.

With 55% population of the world living in cities today, urban communities bear the hard impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and have been responding to it from the front lines.

Cities are not acting alone. As the world is being challenged by a shared crisis, mutual learning and support among cities across countries, in the spirit of South-South and Triangular Cooperation, is even more important and meaningful.

South-South cooperation is the cooperation that occurs horizontally among developing countries that share the same aspiration and common features due to their geographical proximity, income levels, culture, and other aspects. Achieving the sustainable development goals demands an inclusive global partnership that takes place at all levels — national and subnational — engaging governments, communities, and individuals. South-South and triangular cooperation see the same trend.

During the second United Nations High-level Conference on South-South and Triangular Cooperation in 2019, also known as the BAPA+40, world leaders recognized that the local authorities play a growingly indispensable role in South-South and triangular cooperation for achieving sustainable development.

To support cities working with each other, the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC) initiated the “South-South and Triangular Cooperation among Maritime-Continental Silk Road Cities for Sustainable Development Project (Cities Project)”, in partnership with the Government of China. The project engages local authorities and city partners globally, to identify common challenges, share knowledge, and create partnerships in advancing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Since the onset of the pandemic, UNOSSC under the framework of its Cities Project has mobilized city partners to donate over 682,000 masks and other medical supplies for other cities in developing countries severely impacted by the pandemic.

The project has also rolled out knowledge sharing, mutual learning and capacity development initiatives jointly with 17 UN specialized agencies and development partners, in the areas of disaster risk reduction, public health emergency response, climate change, food security, e-commerce development, digital innovation, sustainable tourism recovery, to accelerate the city-to-city cooperation towards urban resilience. These webinars and training programmes have reached more than 350,000 people through advocacy and outreach efforts and attracted over 1 million viewers from more than 140 countries.

Many public health measures are applied and socio-economic policy experiments are tested in cities, that will hopefully inspire transformations for the future. Banjul, The Gambia has set up handwashing stations around the city and established a food bank to help the poor and needy during the lockdown. Chandigarh, India deployed buses to deliver essentials to all households, set up decentralized kitchens with support of the private sector and religious groups, and created shelter homes in community centers for migrants who stuck en route to their homes; Medellín, Colombia launched a “health caravans” delivering health information and service to the doorsteps of the most affected communities. Beijing, China developed and shared its step-by-step approach in managing the pandemic in city communities, from the first diagnosis of infection case, collecting samples, contract tracing, testing and quarantine measures.  ‘

Future-oriented cities in the Global South are embracing opportunities offered to build back better and more sustainable. Digital innovations, green and low-carbon production, and sustainable urban lifestyles, are central to the cities’ exchanges and dialogues. Khiva, Uzbekistan has developed its digital infrastructure to promote cloud tourism for world heritage sites; Santiago, Chile is committed to promoting electro-mobility at both public and private transportation systems; The China Association of Trade in Services (CATIS) is offering virtual learning workshops on boosting e-commerce and service sector for cities in other developing countries.

UNOSSC Cities Project, with support from UNDRR and PAHO/WHO, has launched an initiative, to collect cities’ good practices and lessons learned in their COVID-19 responses for municipal and local policymakers and city-related practitioners.

Despite devastating costs, COVID-19 can spur urban leaders and city partners around the world to reflect, reset and reimagine the future. On this World Cities Day designated by the UN General Assembly, let us push forward cooperation among countries and cities in the Global South and co-create our sustainable cities for all.