Opening Remarks at Fifth Session of the Asia-Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development

Delivered at Fifth Session of the Asia-Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development in Bangkok, Thailand.

Distinguished Participants,

Welcome to the fifth Asia-Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development, the APFSD. In its 5th Year, this is a mature platform; fully institutionalized and integrated across policy areas. To feed effectively into the High Level Political Forum, HLPF, this year’s APFSD will consider regional progress towards the 2030 Agenda, the Voluntary National Reviews, and opportunities to learn from our peers as work to achieve the SDGs gathers momentum. In line with HLPF, this platform is structured to encourage deliberation on how to support the transformation towards sustainable and resilient societies.

Asia and the Pacific has a record of strong economic growth, out of which far reaching social change has been achieved. The region’s resilience has been tested time and again and it has withstood numerous shocks caused by unsustainable economic policies, excesses in the financial sector and overexploitation of natural resources. Most pronounced were the 1997 regional and 2008 global financial crises through which the region managed to navigate well. It withstood financial, growth and trade disruptions, while supporting global growth.

The region has jump started the implementation of the Regional Roadmap. Statistical baselines have been developed and work is underway to improve methodologies and new measurements in sync with the requirements of SDGs data and statistical systems. Some progress has been achieved to install sustainable development policy frameworks. Technical advice offered by ESCAP is helping enhance capacities and the understanding needed to foster integrated approaches to economic, social and environmental sustainable development, resource mobilization strategies at both federal and subnational levels, and the unhindered movement of goods and capital flows.

Yet as we intensify our work for ESCAP member states, we must recognize progress towards the 2018 HLPF target goals is uneven.

First, under Goal 6 it is notable that around 6 per cent of our population remains without access to clean water and a third of the region’s population lacks access to safe sanitation, particularly in rural areas. Over 80 percent of the waste water from the region’s developing countries is not treated before being reused or discharged into rivers or the sea. The current rate of freshwater withdrawal is unsustainable in many countries.

Second, for Goal 7, over 400 million people remain without electricity and billions exposed to health hazards from dirty cooking fuels and air pollution resulting from energy supply and network deficiencies. The energy transition is critical and hinges on a wider adoption of cost effective, clean renewable technologies, the development of power grids and greater energy efficiency. Yet progress towards changing the energy mix is slow, despite China, Japan and India being among the world’s top five countries for wind and solar energy generation.

Third, despite moves to develop new and smart cities and communities (focus of Goal 11), about a quarter of the region’s population lives in informal settlements. Living conditions in many urban areas is deplorable given poor solid waste management practices.

Fourth, sustainable consumption and production (focus of Goal 12) practices must be stepped up as rising incomes, urbanization and resources intensive growth patterns are exacerbating resource depletion and ecosystem degradation. Forest areas continue to shrink. A third of the world’s endangered species are in our region.

Fifth, we continue to work to strengthen Partnerships (SDG 17), as I will come to in a moment.

As the region pursues sustainable development, we must examine innovative options to bridge SDG gaps faster. Besides sectoral action, analysis is needed of effective transmission mechanisms and safeguards built through integrated approaches to policy challenges and supported by tighter regulatory architectures. The Asia-Pacific region’s resilience needs to be strengthened to mitigate longstanding and emerging vulnerabilities.

To secure our region’s future and reinforce sustainable development reforms, our analytical work has been deepened. To unpack complexities of how to “leave no one behind,” we are tracking and analyzing inequalities, gender and other social parities, and providing policy solutions to address cross cutting challenges. A platform for science and technology is now supporting the design of cutting edge technologies, innovative practices and the promotion of impact investment and social enterprises to generate jobs, enhance productivity and overcome environmental challenges. The financing for development platform has evolved resource mobilization strategies, and generated tax policy advice to deal with inequalities and disparities, while sharing the emerging experience of fintech for financial inclusion. At the same time, work is underway to improve governments’ capacity to structure public private partnerships, and develop climate friendly and resilient infrastructure.

The regional cooperation and integration platform has advocated mainstreaming sustainability to deal with transboundary challenges for trade, finance and infrastructure, and to tackle shared vulnerabilities. Mega trends such as an ageing population, urbanization, the degradation of agricultural land and frequent natural disasters are significant challenges. Global warming and the resulting sea level rise mean our vast region is exposed to transboundary climatic and environmental risks. In 2017, monsoon rains in South Asia claimed 1,200 lives, affected 40 million people and cost $1.2 billion. The average annual loss due to flooding in South Asia stands at $12.4 billion. By 2030, floods could cost the subregion as much as US $215 billion each year. Pollution of air, water and land is severe and can result in premature deaths. Commodity price movements in the oil markets, as occurred in 2014, brought their own complications as commodity exporters faced a severe economic contraction.

This year our analytical work has been extended to strengthen resilience frameworks to deal with multiple diverse risks with social and macroeconomic consequences. Our work advocates the adoption of a coherent and systems thinking approach to promote resilience focused on the sustainable transformation of economies backed by effective resource management, effective institutions and enforced regulations. Building effective resilience frameworks for the future requires the identification of drivers and sources of risk, and how those risks and vulnerabilities interact across sectors.

Complementary and interrelated capacities are critical for establishing prevention and mitigation mechanisms backed by

  • Anticipatory capacities to strengthen planning and preparedness to anticipate and reduce impact of shocks;
  • Absorptive capacities to nurture coping mechanisms;
  • Adaptive capacities to facilitate swift and smooth post shock adjustment; and
  • Transformative capacities to deal with system risks, vulnerabilities and inequalities.

This strategic approach, if effectively implemented, will strengthen prevention mechanisms, develop mitigation solutions and offer an opportunity for human systems to bounce back.

This new architecture to foster the exchange of knowledge is required to support the means of implementation including technologies, data and access to information, finance, trade and investment. Strengthened governance, legal and institutional mandates, stronger civic education, upholding human rights, allowing social enterprises to innovate and promote sustainability and resilience: together these elements create the right conditions for inclusive change.

Regional partnerships and cooperation are a prerequisite for our endeavors to succeed. I am delighted we have been able to work with the ADB and UNDP to produce a report on the Transformation towards Sustainable and Resilient Societies in Asia and the Pacific, but also with the UN University to develop guidelines for multi-stakeholder partnerships.

To support progress towards the regional roadmap for sustainable development, ESCAP’s regional response facility is being tapped by member States to promote resilience by

  • Enhancing the Regional Integrated Multi-Hazard Early Warning System for Asia, established in 2009 with the support from ESCAP Multi-donor Trust Fund on Tsunami, Disaster and Climate Preparedness in anticipation of emerging risks.
  • Deploying the ESCAP trade network to encourage resilience of critical commodity trade networks.
  • Integrating management of ecosystems and river basin management.
  • Promoting cross-border electricity power trade to improve energy accessibility and affordability.
  • Tapping Regional city-twinning and south-south cooperation to assist urban waste water and solid waste management, reuse and recycle with social, environmental and economic benefits, while effectively tackling growing pollution.

ESCAP is grateful to member States for their contributions to the rapid response facility.

More work remains to be done to improve human and institutional capacity, reduce institutional rigidity and galvanize the required social momentum for change. I look forward to working with all of you to deliver across the board.