BRICS+ setting a collective path towards democratic multilateralism and co-operation

Published Jul 2, 2024


Gideon Chitanga

As the BRICS ministers of foreign affairs/international relations met in Nizhny Novgorod, Russian Federation, on June 10, 2024, the triple challenges of unprecedented wars threatening to implode into global conflict, climate change and the structural systemic economic challenges emanating from historical marginalisation and hegemonic domination of the Global South weighed heavily on their thinking.

Although analysts have tended to view the potential influence of BRICS+ in purely economic terms, the discussions at the meeting suggest that BRICS+ is focussed on wider crucial matters of concern to emerging economies which require the collective attention, co-operation and energy of all its members and interested parties.

Crucially, such issues as commitments to fighting climate change, democratising multilateralism and calls for a fairer global economic system would be more realistically achievable when confronted collectively. More importantly, and despite growing interest in the expansion of BRICS+, intra BRICS+ progress towards the realisation of its goals will, undoubtedly, firmly assert its multilateral influence among its members and critics.

Critics of BRICS+ are quick to acknowledge its expansion and growing voice, however, they reason that there is not much intra BRICS+ economic and political activity or influence, not that key BRICS+ countries interact predominantly pursue their key interests individually and or bilaterally.

However, the BRICS+ meeting in Russia discussed important global issues which have a huge bearing on sustainable development in the Global South and the world at large. The ministers emphasised the importance of the G20 in tackling contemporary multilateral challenges.

South Africa will succeed Brazil as the presidency of the G20. The G20 has allowed emerging countries a relatively more vocal voice, and could be crucial for the BRICS+ countries to champion challenges related to climate change commitments, the quest for global peace, multilateral financial reforms and accessibility and pushing the developed countries to meet their climate change commitments.

BRICS+ has been growing into a major multilateral space for emerging economies to tackle crucial global issues. BRIC was formed in 2009 with Brazil, Russia, India and China, while South Africa joined the group of top emerging economies in 2010.

Leaders of BRICS took the decision to invite Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saud Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to join BRICS as full members during the XV BRICS Summit in Johannesburg on August 23, 2023. Twenty-two countries participated at the BRICS ministerial meeting, including representatives from Bangladesh, Bahrain, Belarus, Cuba, Kazakhstan, Laos, Mauritania, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Turkey, Venezuela and Vietnam.

The expanded BRICS+ membership accounts for more than 40% of the world’s population and has surpassed the G-7 nations in terms of gross domestic product and its expansion has grown its economic clout to 37.3 % of the world’s GDP.

As expressed by South Africa’s Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Naledi Pandor, the expansion of BRICS to include further members of the Global South amplifies the voice and influence of the emerging economies as they strive to shape a more fair, just and representative multipolar world order.

The intergovernmental organisation’s decision to open the door to new members demonstrates a desire to galvanise wider equal participation of emerging economies and growing international influence to democratise multilateral participation and representation in international affairs.

The BRICS+ approach to reach key decisions through consensus and extensive consultations marks a major shift from characteristic historical hegemonic influence and marginalisation associated with the unipolar global order associated with exclusionary dominant Western influence.

Crucially, consultations and consensus processes will ensure that the interests of smaller nations are not dominated by economically and politically bigger, more powerful countries, to the detriment of emerging nations, mostly in the Global South.

The agenda of the BRICS+ Ministers of Foreign Affairs meetings focussed on the most important multilateral challenges of our time. The ministers tackled issues ranging from the important role of the G20 in global affairs and the need to ensure that the G20 remains sensitive to the needs of developing economies in Africa and the Global South, commitment to international financing of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, the climate and energy crisis, the debt crisis facing Africa and other developing countries, and the need to curb illicit financial flows in an effort to afford developing countries a fair opportunity at sustainable development.

For African countries, the inclusion of the AU as a member of the G20 during India’s presidency provides an opportunity for African countries, BRICS+, all members of the G20 and important individual partners, such as China, to jointly champion the AU’s Agenda 2063.

By focussing on climate change, among other issues, the ministers highlighted probably the biggest challenge of our time. In January 2024, UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres appealed to world leaders to act on climate threats and ensure a just and equitable transition to renewable energy.

In a special address at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting of 2024, Guterres urged leaders to tackle the existential threats posed by climate change, among other issues, noting that geopolitical polarisation and a lack of effective global strategy to deal with contemporary challenges aggravated global risks.

He pointed out that 2023 had been the hottest year on record, with droughts, storms, fires and floods wreaking havoc on countries and communities, and that the planet was heading for a scorching 3°C increase in global temperatures.

The BRICS+ ministers called the international community to fully implement the Convention and the Agreements related to climate change. They reiterated that the objectives and provisions of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and its Paris Agreement, including its principles of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances, must be honoured.

While BRICS+ would need intense political clout to push other parties to meet their commitments towards climate change, the nations could leverage their internal relations and resources to address intra-BRICS+ capacity and technological needs to allow their peers to grow their capabilities to respond to climate change-induced challenges.

Most countries in the Global South need adaptable faster transfer of low-cost climate technologies that are affordable, accessible and sustainable to combat challenges of climate change. Enhanced capacity building, affordable, adequate, predictable and timely new additional financial resources within BRICS+ would enable crucial climate action in member countries.

Member countries such as China topping global technological innovation and pace towards addressing climate change could play an important role in stimulating technological uptake, with countries like South Africa and others positioned for possible rapid tech-take off.

While there is momentum in the intra-BRICS+ collective engagement and despite its expansion, its members engage with other major economic blocs and countries individually or bilaterally, diminishing its collective influence.

However, emboldened discussions point to major progress towards collective influence for the group and for developing countries within international organisations such as the UN, the World Trade Organization and the Bretton Woods institutions. A collective approach in the multilateral institutions is crucial in leveraging growing influence to realise a level playing field in international economic and political participation, fostering a more stable and peaceful global community.

BRICS+ has increasingly become an important global forum rooted in the spirit of solidarity, openness, mutual respect and understanding in full consultation and consensus.

Intra-BRICS+ collaboration, collective engagement and socio-economic and political co-operation is crucial to enhanced effective action towards its key pillars, that is financial and economic co-operation, political and security co-operation and cultural and people-to-people co-operation. Such co-operation could enhance its stride towards the quest to realise mutually beneficial and inclusive economic growth and sustainable development for its members and the Global South at large.

A consensus-driven collective approach would be crucial to BRICS+ initiatives towards peace beyond zero-sum conflicts, as ending pervasive instability is crucial in creating conducive conditions for inclusive multilateralism informed by the UN Charter.

The meeting in Nizhny Novgorod drew attention to major global and regional trends and issues that are of urgent concern to emerging economies. The ministers significantly reaffirmed their commitment to the BRICS spirit centred on the principles of mutual respect and understanding, equality, solidarity, openness, inclusiveness and consensus.

They committed themselves to strengthening the framework of BRICS Strategic Partnership under the three pillars of co-operation – politics and security, economy, finance and cultural and people-to-people exchanges. Combined with consolidated intra-group co-operation, such norms will set BRICS+ as a game-changer in a deeply polarised international environment.

Gideon Chitanga is a Post-Doc Researcher at the Centre for Africa-China Studies, University of Johannesburg

The Star