Statement at High Level Political Forum on Regional Dimension of the Implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

Delivered at High Level Political Forum on Regional Dimension of the Implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

2030 Agenda: progress to date

Expectations on progress towards the 2030 Agenda need to be realistic as we are only in its second year. That said, Asia-Pacific has comprehensively embarked on 2030 Agenda. Countries have adopted national sustainable strategies and institutionalized them. Parliaments have passed legislation and are mainstreaming the Sustainable Development Agenda. States and provinces are gradually promoting the localization of SDGs. SDG frameworks, priorities, pace and sequence of implementation differs significantly across our diverse region.

The availability and quality of data impacts the SDG frameworks and regional coherence and comparability. ESCAP’s Statistical Baseline released today shows the SDG baseline data varies considerably - ranging from 80 indicators being available for Turkey, 42 for Samoa, 50 Afghanistan and 43 in Timor Leste. Small Island Developing States and Least Developed Countries have the least available data. Subregional level data availability is good for most East and Northeast Asia with Pacific’s at the bottom. Across 17 SDGs, data availability for goals 1-9 (revolving around MDGs) is better, but substantive work is needed to prepare data for goals 10-17 which cover environment, governance and the means of implementation.

A snapshot of the Goals under review at this HLPF reveals steady progress, falling short of what is needed in several areas.

  1. Poverty rates fell from 30 to 10 per cent between 2010 to 2013. But 400 million suffer from income poverty and over half the global poor remain in Asia and the Pacific. A majority live in South Asia, 86 percent in rural areas. Subregional variation is significant. Poverty afflicts 2 per cent of the population in East and Northeast Asia to nearly 40 percent in the Pacific.
  2. For Goal 2, undernourishment has halved from 23% to 12% since 1990 but 300 million people remained hungry in 2016. Stunting from malnutrition affected 96 million children and with the fast rise of obesity among children, non-communicable diseases are now major cause of death.
  3. Our ability to meet food needs may be declining. 90 million hectares of agricultural land have been lost since 2000. How land is used for agriculture continues to pose an unsustainable burden on our planet. Climate change is likely to impact on crop harvests, affecting the availability of food for all, but the poorest will suffer most.
  4. Efforts to meet Goal 9 - industry, innovation and infrastructure – are gathering pace and population access to the internet is expected to increase from 45 to 70 per cent by 2020.
  5. For a third of SDGs there has been insufficient progress since 2000. For instance, progress towards Goal 5 on gender equality has been impacted by low and now declining women’s participation in the labour market: a lost opportunity as gender equality could add at least $4.4 trillion to Asia-Pacific region’s GDP by 2025.
  6. For another third of the SDGs, current trends are moving in the wrong direction and need to be reversed. Inequality is increasing and large segments of population continue to be denied basic services. High inequality stifles economic growth and shortens the length of growth spells; it increases the propensity for unrest, crime and social instability; and it undermines sustainable environmental governance.
  7. There are also SDGs for which the region does not have sufficient data to monitor progress. Goal 14 - Life under water – is a good example. Success depends on the conservation and sustainability of marine and coastal ecosystems, while maintaining the economic and food security benefits of marine resources. However, climate change, overfishing, habitat change, invasive species introduction and pollution arising from poor management and market failures are threatening ocean health, with deleterious consequences.
  8. Although not under review this year, I must also mention also mention Climate Change – Goal 13. Asia Pacific is the most disaster-prone region in the world. Yet only 18 countries have clear rules for reducing disaster risk. Fossil fuels stubbornly remain a major part of the regional energy mix, making up three-quarters of electricity generation. Work is underway to support the energy transition vital for our region.

Drivers of change in the Asia-Pacific

The SDG agenda and its accompanying tracks on the means of implementation and climate change need to recognise key drivers of change. Most critical among these for Asia and Pacific will be the following.

  1. Restoring global governance will be key driver for implementation of the sustainable development agenda. Asia is emerging as the driver of global governance not only through its rising share in output and trade, but also in promoting South-South collaboration, new funding avenues such as AIIB and dealing with the trade distortions through promotion of RCEP. These are all critical elements of regional cooperation and integration anticipated to be enhanced by the BRI which will not only spur further growth, but by enhancing sustainable and resilient connectivity and reinforcing the SDGs. Intraregional trade captures more than a half of regional trade, 56% for exports and 58% for imports in 2016. It tends to centre around China, with that economy taking close to a quarter of intraregional exports and supplies 29% of intraregional imports. This results in this North and East Asia’s regional production, trade and investment links being the strongest and economies within the subregion trading among themselves more than with the rest of the region. Initiatives such as BRI and investment in trade and productive infrastructure coupled with FDI is crucial to increase South-South trade, investment and prosperity.
  2. Robust, sustainable and quality growth, supported by structural transformation and enhanced productivity can only be achieved by a combination of innovation and enhanced competitiveness by exploiting science, technology and innovation. Asia-Pacific’s high and steady economic growth will help drive down region’s poverty levels. Recently, it’s been an anchor of global stability and is critical for the global progress towards sustainable development goals.
  3. Redistribution of income and wealth is critical. The majority of Asian population is not yet “middle class” but rather “transitional class” and therefore vulnerable to falling back into poverty. Reducing income inequality would foster social cohesion, and enhance growth prospects by addressing inequality of opportunities.
  4. The role of governance in effective mobilization and efficient allocation of fiscal resources provides for productive investments in infrastructure, social protection and resource efficiency. The quality of governance affects the composition and efficiency of public expenditure and the tax morale. Moreover, effective governance can reduce intra-regional development gaps by enabling poorer countries to benefit from regional economic cooperation and integration.
  5. Effective fiscal management will be key to shoulder the bulk of the financing needed to achieve the 2030 Agenda’s Sustainable Development Goals. Across the region there is need to raise domestic taxes by building more effective, efficient and accountable tax systems through widening of tax base and fighting tax avoidance and evasion. Public finance is key to developing sustainable and resilient infrastructure.
  6. Proper management of energy transition will be critical for a range of SDGs. Our theme study on Enhancing Sustainable Energy Cooperation, forecast that demand for energy in Asia and Pacific is to grow by 60 per cent between 2010 and 2035. Today, 55 percent of electricity is generated from traditional coal-fired power stations. We need regional electricity and natural gas networks, and more integrated energy markets backed by power grids to accommodate variable energy supplies and underpin our region’s transition to sustainable energy. These could help respond to increased demand and improve energy security. Reducing the negative environmental and health impacts created by natural resource extraction, as well as their impacts on rural livelihoods is also a major challenge the Asia-Pacific is grappling with.

Strengthening the means of implementation

The Asia Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development as an umbrella intergovernmental platform to review 2030 Agenda is helping define policy responses being also shaped by HLPF priorities and of all sub-programmes of ESCAP along with the means of implementation. ESCAP has ensured APFSD precedes dedicated discussion on Regional Cooperation and Integration in Asia and Pacific to ensure regional connectivity supports sustainability across infrastructure, while promoting regional harmonization and facilitation of trade and investment agreements and deepening regional financial cooperation. Based on these inputs, the 2017 APFSD approved the first Regional Roadmap for implementing, and reviewing progress towards the 2030 Agenda. Moreover, APFSD was informed by few analytical reports including on the theme of the HLPF, an SDG Outlook, an SDG statistical Baseline the Goals Data Portal which offers country profiles of targets and indicators of the Goals. The APFSD platform has helped peer learning on inter-sectoral integration and SDG frameworks and progress.

Against this background, practical work is underway on the means of implementation.
First, on Statistics: Our Statistical Committee and subregional consultations, helped agreement on a collective vision and framework for action for strengthening statistical methods and statistics, business processes and innovative data. ESCAP has developed Asia and the Pacific SDG Base line based on an innovative measurement framework to capture how far the region has come since the MDGs era, how much progress is expected by the end of 2030 and how much acceleration is needed to achieve each goal. Going forward, we will be working on consistency and coherence of regional data by addressing data gaps and quality and developing measurements for missing statistics such as for disaster and oceans.

Second, our new Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) Committee is advising member states on best practice STI policies and programs. A regional mechanism is being developed to support the global Technology Facilitation Mechanism and our Asian and Pacific Training Centre for Information and Communication Technology for Development (APCICT) is serving as a technology-knowledge hub. Countries are also benefiting from new work on e-resilience, the use of geospatial technologies and information systems.

Third, after four annual consultations, and drawing on expert group on tax policy and public expenditure managements work, we will convene an intergovernmental committee on financing for development later this year. It’s important to recognize that financing demands for sustainable development are large and growing. For instance: financing requirement for infrastructure adjusted for climate and rapid urbanization is now estimated to be close to $1.7 trillion annual which implies total requirement through 2030 of $26 trillion for Asia and the Pacific. Currently, the region has 25 countries which account for 96% of population investing $881 billion in infrastructure. If effectively steered, public finance reforms could generate 2% of GDP to bridge around 40% of the gap, while MDBs are found to finance 2.5% of infrastructure investments in developing countries. Leveraging private finance has to be the highest priority. While remittances are also important to meeting the financing gaps, developing countries witnessed a decline in remittances received for the second consecutive year in 2016. In case of our region the decline has been around 6.7% (a fall of $110 billion) for South Asia and 4.6% for central Asian republics. Recognizing this bulk of ESCAP analytical and capacity work is to facilitate PPPs, domestic tax reforms covering federal and municipal finance and regulatory and institutional frameworks and in this context some strategic partnerships are being structured with International Organizations.

ES Closing remarks

We cannot underestimate the challenges our region faces and yet we recognize that progress on Agenda 2030 will define the global progress. Our member states have to work collectively to ensure multilateral resources and solutions deliver. Quantifying progress against the SDGs reveals new grounds have to be broken to define rules of governance and catalyze means of implementation. This, however, has to be accompanied by inclusive and quality growth which delivers on “leaving no one behind.” Asia and the Pacific has more than half of global poor, 60 per cent of globally stunted children and constitutes 40 per cent of those with no energy access. 36 per cent of the population in our region still lacks access to sanitation. Illustrating the large digital divide in our region, twenty countries have only 2 per cent of fixed broadband subscription per 100 inhabitants.

Given regional disparities in resources, greater economic integration through ICT, energy and transport infrastructure along with enhanced cross border cooperation in disaster risk reduction and resilience along setting on course countries on low carbon pathways are some of the mega initiatives that will help in achieving SDGs. We have enhanced our work in these areas, while not losing sight of needs inclusive and balanced growth and promoting trade and investment to spur low carbon, resilient and inclusive economies which leaves no one behind. Targeting more our advice and support for countries with special needs - including those in conflict and post conflict areas – will key to meeting the ambitions of eradicating extreme and multidimensional poverty.

Global uncertainty risks chipping off our regional growth by almost 1.2 per cent. With a supportive global and multilateral environment, we have the potential to raise our region’s contribution from current level of one third to half of the global GDP over the next two decades and drive global trade with new alliances to harness global and regional value chains supported by technology and innovation.

To enhance ownership of their national agenda’s action on public finances cannot be deferred anymore as tax/GDP ratios are below 15% for a number of countries and developing countries at best raise 20%. Narrow base and lack of progressiveness in public finance has kept personal income tax collection in developing countries below 2 per cent of GDP compared to nearly 9 per cent in developed countries, while property taxes collect less than half a percentage of GDP against around 2 per cent in more well-off nations. Cross cutting approach that offers new social contract befitting demands of Agenda 2030 and institutes a combination of effective and equitable tax regime and reallocates public expenditures to address the region’s widening income and wealth gaps with supportive social protections will be critical for addressing fairness and inequality concerns including gender inequalities.

I am looking forward to working with to you take this integrated agenda a step further and to support growth, sustainable development and poverty eradication across our regions.