The value of strong multilateral cooperation in a broken world


  • Opinion by Ulrika Modeer, Tsegaye Lemma (United Nations)
  • Inter Press Service

Without coordinated and timely collective global action in recent years to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, the global suffering would have been far greater.

Initiatives such as COVAX and the UN socio-economic response to COVID-19 not only helped mitigate the public health emergency, but also helped decision-makers look beyond recovery to 2030, by managing complexity and uncertainty.

The devastating war in Ukraine has been a huge blow to the international community’s multilateral efforts to keep peace and prevent major wars. However, multilateral cooperation cannot be declared obsolete – putting human dignity and the health of the planet at the center of cross-border cooperation is crucial.

The recent agreement on the Black Sea Grain Initiative is an important proof of the value of multilateral cooperation that works even in the most difficult circumstances and ensures the protection of those most vulnerable to global shocks.

Without this agreement, world food prices would have risen even further and vulnerable countries would have been driven further into hunger and political unrest.

The multilateral system is confronted with the apparent imbalance in matching humanitarian and development needs with Official Development Assistance (ODA) commitments. Despite efforts by some donors to maintain – and even increase – their ODA pledges, others are facing increasing politicization of aid – and it is part of the political analysis.

With the war in Ukraine still raging, there is a real possibility that various donors will tap into the ODA budget to cover all or part of the costs of hosting Ukrainian refugees and rebuilding the devastated Ukrainian infrastructure and economy.

The UN system, a core component of the rules-based international order, is funded primarily through voluntary earmarked contributions. Ultimately, this gives donor countries influence over the goals of creating global public goods.

Funding patterns are often unpredictable, making it difficult to create long-term strategies and plans. While earmarked funding enables the system to provide solutions to specific problems at scale, the lack of quality funding support threatens to erode the system’s multilateral nature, strategic independence, universal presence and development effectiveness.

The recently published report by the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation and the UN Multi-Partner Trust Fund Office found that more than 70 percent of funding is earmarked for the UN development system, compared to 24 percent for the World Bank Group and the IMF, and only 3 percent for the EU.

As the world faces daunting prospects for development finance in 2022-2023, investment should be focused on safeguarding a strong and effective multilateral system; the system that countries and partners continue to rely on because of the reliable delivery of services.

It has also proven to complement bilateral, south-south and other forms of cooperation – beyond the traditional development narrative. An ODI study found that, compared to the bilateral channel, the multilateral channel is less politicized, more demand-driven, more selective in terms of poverty criteria and remains a good conduit for global public goods.

Despite the institutional and bureaucratic challenges facing the multilateral system, which must be tackled head-on, a withdrawal from a shared system of rules and norms that has served the world for seven decades is the wrong response.

Those of us in the multilateral system, especially in the UN development system, must recognize the difficult work ahead. We must continue to demonstrate that every tax dollar is spent judiciously and show trackable results while upholding the highest standards enshrined in the UN Charter.

Improved transparency on how and where we spend the funds entrusted to us by our key partners and the IATI standard have long been adopted as key requirements outlined in the financing pact.

The Multilateral Organization Performance Assessment Network and other donor assessments have recognized the value for money of the systems and confirmed that partnerships with other UN entities enhance programs and effectively integrate multiple sources of expertise.

Of course, the system must build on successes and lessons to prove to our partners that we remain worthy of their trust and drive our collective agenda.

However, the true value of multilateral cooperation can only be fully realized with a strong political commitment from partners coupled with the necessary financial investments.

Ulrika Moder is UN Deputy Secretary-General and Director of the Bureau of External Relations and Advocacy, UNDP; Tsegaye Lemma is Team Leader, Strategic Analysis and Business Engagement, Office of External Relations and Advocacy, UNDP.

Source: UNDP

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© Inter Press Service (2023) — All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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