Transformation for SDG Implementation in Asia and the Pacific

Delivered at the session on 'Post-2015 Sustainable Development Agenda, Sustainable Development Goals & Environmental Sustainability in Asia-Pacific' during the First Forum of Ministers and Environmental Authorities of Asia Pacific in Bangkok, Thailand.

Session Chair, Mr. Achim Steiner,
Executive Director of UNEP

Your Excellency, Ms. Oyun Sanjaasuren, President of the UN Environment Assembly,
Minister of Environment and Green Development of Mongolia and Chair of the Forum

Dr. Mukhisa Kituyi,
Secretary-General of UNCTAD

Excellencies
Distinguished Delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Introduction

Welcome to the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP). The leadership and partnership of ministers from across the region and United Nations agencies will hopefully further enrich our regional consultations. As mandated by both the United Nations General Assembly and by the Secretary-General, ESCAP has, among others, recently held three key consultations on sustainable development, financing for development and on follow-up and review mechanisms for development implementation.

I will focus my remarks this morning on:

  • Elements of the post-2015 sustainable development agenda and associated Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs);
  • Opportunities for mainstreaming environmental stewardship and climate change action in the post-2015 agenda through financing and technology;
  • National priorities for sustainable development; and
  • Regional follow-up and review for sustainable development.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Post-2015 Agenda & SDGs

To quote the United Nations Secretary-General: “Ours is the first generation that can end poverty and the last that may be able to do so”. This requires a truly transformational development agenda.

Global negotiations and regional consultations on the post-2015 development agenda with sustainability at its core are well underway.

The United Nations General Assembly will host a summit in September to agree on the elements of the post-2015 development agenda, specifically adopting a set of universal sustainable development goals (SDGs).

The 17 proposed SDGs are aspirational, comprehensive and holistic – formulated to “leave no one behind.” Most of the proposed goals are therefore people-centered, aimed to, for example: end poverty in all its forms, and promote healthy lives and well being for all; end hunger for all; and ensure availability and sustainable management of water and energy for all.

These features of the SDGs are accompanied by proposals to reduce inequalities within countries by uplifting the income of the bottom 40% of the population, along with promotion of equality of opportunity and recognition of the importance of special and preferential treatment for least developed counties (LDCs) and other countries with special needs.

The SDGs also represent a planet-sensitive agenda. The proposed goals address the need for urgent action to combat climate change and its impact, to conserve and responsibly use oceans and marine resources for sustainable development, to protect ecosystems and combat desertification, land degradation and biodiversity loss.

This agenda recognizes that we cannot achieve sustainable development without giving due consideration to the priorities of both people and the planet. Implementing a people-centered and planet-sensitive agenda calls for transformational changes to development strategies and plans, which need to balance and integrate social, economic and environmental considerations.

The need for integration of the three dimensions of sustainability has been agreed for some time, but debates continue about what balanced integration should entail and how best to achieve it in light of difficult trade-offs and binding resource constraints. To address this gap, ESCAP will launch its new theme study during the Asia Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development (APFSD) later this week, laying out a conceptual framework for why and how to integrate the three dimensions of sustainable development.

Our work underscores that the foundation of a framework for sustainable development must be region-wide acceptance of social justice and ecological sustainability as fundamental policy objectives. It further advocates that environmental protection and the sustainable use of natural resources must be informed by the best-available science, implemented by the right technologies, and must fully engage all stakeholders. A shared understanding of sustainable development, social consensus and a new social contract must be forged.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Financing & Technology for Development

Successful implementation of the SDGs hinges on sourcing adequate and alternative financing for development (FfD). In a recent joint session of the post-2015 and FfD consultations, there has been broad recognition of the merits of ensuring that the two tracks are synergistic and complementary.

In this context, there is a call for the outcomes of the Third International Conference on Financing for Development, in Addis Ababa in July, to match the level of aspiration of the proposed SDGs and their associated targets, and to offer credible means of implementation inclusive of finance, trade, technology facilitation etc.

With regard to mainstreaming environmental priorities in the post-2015 agenda, the FfD framework outcome document offers several opportunities:

  • Fund mobilization and appropriate modalities for climate finance, one of the most important deliverables for implementation of the SDGs. These are being discussed in both the FfD and the UNFCCC processes. Climate change, one of the greatest global threats, will push millions of people in developing countries back into poverty, and lack of supportive finance will pose a major challenge to achievement of the SDGs.
  • Proper pricing of carbon and energy use, as well as removal of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies, and making a strong case for natural capital accounting for greater transparency of the environmental externalities of policy decisions. Savings from fuel subsidies not only offer fiscal scope for social protection and related areas, but also generate opportunities for carbon-neutral investments.
  • Incentives for low-carbon alternatives to promote investment in energy infrastructure and clean energy technology.
  • Greater mobilization of financial sources to conserve and sustainably use biodiversity and ecosystems.

The availability of clean technology is another key element for the successful implementation of the SDGs. The transfer of clean and environmentally sound technologies has been identified as a priority area to support the protection of the environment and to promote sustainability, for example in low carbon technologies, air pollution and environmental monitoring and assessment systems.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

National Priorities for Sustainable Development

To make this transformational new agenda happen, Governments should:

  1. Not lose sight of the poverty eradication imperative and the emphasis being placed on how to anchor the post-2015 development agenda in a human rights based approach;
  2. Recognize that SDGs will need to be met globally and implemented locally, and that this calls for institutionalizing an effective national prioritization process keeping in view difficult policy tradeoffs within financing constraints;
  3. Consider adopting inclusive and green and blue growth strategies, which offer effective approaches and policy instruments to integrate the economic, social and environmental dimensions for balanced and sustainable growth and development;
  4. Mainstream inclusivity in development plans and fiscal frameworks to examine options for financing sustainable development either through the reorientation of public expenditure; more effective domestic resource mobilization efforts; or by leveraging private and international public finances;
  5. Develop better understanding of the core set of sustainable technologies, systems, and actors. For example, application of advances such as emission trading systems; fair trade networks; microfinance and financial inclusion solutions; resource substitution programs; and technological innovations in key areas such as recycling and energy efficiency; and
  6. Draw on transition management approaches to shape thinking, policies and instruments to leverage work on transitional dynamics and change both mindsets and behaviors.

Nationally-driven coherent and fully integrated conceptual frameworks, with the proper prioritization of development plans and financing arrangements, are critical for the sustainability of our region’s future. To support this work, ESCAP, given its intergovernmental mandate, will continue with our partners, especially UNEP, to deliberate on issues and priorities for Asia-Pacific SDG implementation. These will, among others, feed into the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development.

In consultations with the ESCAP Committee on Statistics, work is underway to also build national capacities for data and statistics, including in environmental accounting. In partnership with other United Nations partners, ESCAP will be coordinating a regional framework for follow-up and review, backed by support for better statistical development.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Regional Follow-up and Review for Sustainable Development

In recent rounds of intergovernmental consultations, much-needed discussion took place on the role and responsibilities of regional commissions in the development agenda beyond 2015.

ESCAP will intensify collaboration with UNEP and our development partners, to support the fostering of synergies between economic, social and environmental priorities, strengthening governance for long-term policy planning, and entrenching institutional frameworks for sustainability at different levels in diverse functional areas.

For follow-up and review mechanisms, Member States recognize that the regional commissions must play a central role in regional follow-up and review processes, especially in relation to countries sharing information, knowledge and experiences, as well as strengthening capacities and defining coherent regional policies and approaches to transboundary challenges.

Regional support can also help countries translate the global goals into policies, guidelines, recommendations and standards for national implementation, and to mobilise partnerships and South-South cooperation.

Member States have also agreed that each region should use its own existing mechanisms to achieve these goals, which is why, since last year, the Asia-Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development (APFSD) has been institutionalized to promote sustainable development and strengthen follow-up and review.

The ESCAP secretariat has made proposals about the future form and function of the APFSD beyond 2015 for the consideration of member States.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Conclusion

In conclusion, your guidance on issues of environmental sustainability, climate action and green economy will be especially valuable as we work together to advance the post-2015 development agenda.

Our shared challenge however is to recognize that transformation for sustainable development requires us to advocate beyond traditional functional areas, to collaborate across sectors and to act in concert to implement all of the SDGs to be agreed in September.

We are called upon now to initiate and implement normative shifts, from a predominantly short-term policy horizon to one that seeks long-term benefits for all, with equivalent shifts and strengthening of the institutional frameworks, their coordination functions and to lead sustainable development with balanced integration of the economic, social and environment.

We must change our thinking, change the way we plan and manage economies and change our relationship with our one and only planet.

I thank you.