Sharing lessons from Asia and the Pacific on reducing inequality

Policymakers around the world are faced with calls to better measure and contain rising inequality, a threat to economic growth, social cohesion and even environmental sustainability. To better prepare them for their role as stewards of economic prosperity, equity and sustainability, ESCAP joined the Professional Training Course on Inequality, which took place in Brussels from 24 to 28 June 2019, to present trends and policy lessons from Asia and the Pacific.

The course was organized by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), together with the United Nations University (UNU-Merit) and Maastricht University. The aim of the Training Course was to bring together an influential group of policymakers and exchange knowledge on action-oriented and impactful policies for addressing national and international drivers of inequality. Sixteen policymakers from Asia, Africa and Latin America, who share a commitment to reducing inequalities, joined this training. Participants from the Asia-Pacific region came from Bangladesh, Cambodia and Indonesia.

During the training, ESCAP presented how inequality in Asia and the Pacific was on the rise. The region’s income inequality, as measured by the Gini coefficient, has soared over the past two decades, to reach to 38.4 in the mid-2010s, a trend that goes against all other world’s regions. The ESCAP intervention highlighted the close link between income inequality and the distribution of opportunities and basic services. Indeed, in most countries of the Asia-Pacific region, socioeconomic growth has brought about an average increase in access to education, health care, clean water and sanitation and other key opportunities. Yet not everyone has benefited. In many countries, basic services are a privilege for those who can afford them.

The ESCAP session engaged participants to think about the importance of understanding and measuring inequality of opportunity, a necessary process for any society that values cohesion and aims to address injustice. Participants were also introduced to methods that ESCAP has used to measure inequality of opportunity and identify the furthest behind, including the dissimilarity index (D-index) and classification tree analysis (read more about these methods in the Inequality of Opportunity paper series here). ESCAP also emphasized that reducing inequality was at the heart of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, with its commitment to leaving no one behind. In the 2030 Agenda, reducing inequality is emphasized in the stand-alone Sustainable Development Goal 10 but is also a fundamental component to reach almost all other Goals.