The history of the South-South cooperation starts in 1949 with the establishment of the first UN technical aid programme by the Economic and Social Council and the creation of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in 1969. In 1978 the conference of the Global South on TCDC is held in Buenos Aires, resulting in the adoption of the Buenos Aires Plan of Action for Promoting and Implementing Technical Cooperation among Developing Countries, one of the main pillars for the South-South cooperation.

Another milestone was set during the Third United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries was held in 2001 in Brussels, which stressed the importance of South-South cooperation in capacity-building and setting best practices, particularly in the areas of health, education, training, environment, science and technology, trade, investment and transit transport cooperation.

The International Conference on Financing for Development, held in Monterrey, Mexico in March 2002, specifically encouraged South-South cooperation, including through triangular cooperation, to facilitate exchange of views on successful strategies, practices and experience and replication of projects. Further, it urged the strengthening of South-South cooperation in the delivery of assistance. Following that, major recent frameworks, including among others the 2011 Istanbul Programme of Action for the LDCs, the 2014 Vienna Programme of Action for the LLDCs, the 2015 Addis Ababa Action Agenda on Financing for Development, the 2015 Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, and the 2016 Paris Agreement on Climate Change have also given new impetus to South-South and triangular cooperation.

The world has undergone a major economic and political transformation in the last two decades. The changes, particularly in the South, have been more rapid than at any time during a similar span in world history. Relationships within the South and between the South and the North have taken on entirely new dimensions. Key current issues such as the environment and climate change, energy and food security, global poverty, the linkage between growth and equity, and migration are today more global than North-South in nature.

Many countries in the South have built up significant financial and technical capacities. They have begun to transfer some of these resources, on concessional and non-concessional terms, to other countries in the South in the context of an inclusive approach to the management of global problems, spreading the benefits of globalization more widely, creating new markets, and building a broader foundation for sustainable economic growth. In recent years, building on a long history of assistance and other cooperation among developing countries, several Southern countries have become significant partners for development cooperation. A new dimension is clearly being added to development cooperation, particularly for Africa and the Southern countries that remain specially disadvantaged, particularly the least developed countries (LDCs), the landlocked developing countries (LLDCs) and the small island developing States (SIDS).

All these efforts were reaffirmed and extended in with the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development by the UN General Assembly.

At the 2019 Second High-level United Nations Conference on South-South Cooperation world leaders adopted an outcome document urging even greater South-South cooperation toward achieving sustainable development.