The contribution of South-South and Triangular Cooperation to the Sustainable Development Goals

South-South and Triangular Cooperation in which Ibero-American countries participated in 2019 contributed to advance the achievement of SDG 3 and 16, related to health and well-being and to the generation of strong institutions, both crucial aspects to face and overcome the crisis caused by COVID-19.

In March 2019, in the framework of the Second United Nations High-level Conference on South-South Cooperation – also known as BAPA+40 – Ibero-American countries endorsed an outcome document which recognized South-South and Triangular Cooperation as a means for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (article 6).

Two years later, countries’ commitment to the Agenda is still firm but the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has put its achievement at risk. In fact, the United Nations itself [2] recognizes this crisis is taking the world further away from the 2030 Agenda objectives, although it is also committed to a solidarity that has proven to be essential to leave no one behind.

In this scenario, it is relevant to review the progress of South-South and Triangular Cooperation promoted by Ibero-American countries in terms of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). This is crucial to learn from the past experience and to dedicate cooperation efforts to overcome the crisis in an inclusive and sustainable manner.

Thus, the analysis estimates the potential alignment of each of the projects and programs executed during 2019 with the SDGs, identifying a main and a second SDG to which they can potentially contribute, as the following graph shows:


Potential alignment of South-South and Triangular Cooperation initiatives with the SDGs, main and second. 2019

As the graph suggests and as has been the case in the past, SDG 3, related to Health and well-being, was the main goal with which SS and Triangular Cooperation in Ibero-America could be aligned in 2019, corresponding to 20% of the programs and projects. These 193 initiatives, most of them Bilateral, have an enormous relevance in the context of the health crisis caused by COVID-19.
SDG 16, related to Peace, justice and strong institutions followed, linked, in almost one half of the cases, with the Legal and judicial development and Human Rights sector. This SDG, with which 10 and 16% of Bilateral and Triangular exchanges are respectively aligned, especially stands out in terms of these modalities.

SDG 2 (Zero hunger) and SDG 4 (Quality education) are also worthy of mention. The former is mainly associated with Bilateral and Triangular initiatives that strengthened capacities in the Agriculture and livestock sector. The latter, on the other hand, stands out, as expected, in Bilateral initiatives in the Education sector. In fact, about 10% of 2019’s programs and projects were potentially aligned with each of these three Goals (16, 2 and 4).

Due to its own characteristics, Regional SSC shows a distinctive pattern as it aims to protect and promote regional public goods. Thus, it is potentially mainly aligned with SDG 11 (Sustainable cities and communities), predominantly associated with Culture, SDG 13 (Climate action), and SDG 9 (Industry, innovation and infrastructure), which includes initiatives to strengthen capacities in the Transportation and storage sector.

On the other hand, in about 70% of the cases, initiatives simultaneously contributed to a second SDG. As the graph shows, SDG 10 (Reduced inequalities), identified as a second SDG in almost 15% of the initiatives, SDG 4 (14%) and SDG 16 (8%), stood out in this sense.


The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015. It sets the international community’s blueprint, for the 2016-2030 period, in five areas of action: planet, people, prosperity, peace and partnerships. In addition to cross-cutting principles such as leaving no one behind, the Agenda defines 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 associated targets.

April 2021