An ESCAP Preface to the Tale of the Asian Century

Official portrait of Dr. Noeleen Heyzer, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific. Photo Credit: UN ESCAP

Delivered during 352nd Session of the Advisory Committee of Permanent Representatives (ACPR) in Bangkok, Thailand

Download: Inspiring Leadership: An Asia-Pacific Journey Towards Sustainable and Shared Prosperity

Mr. Chair,
Excellencies,
Distinguished ACPR Members,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Introduction

Allow me to begin today by sharing the words of His Excellency Mr. Kay Rala Xanana Gusmao, Chair of the sixty-ninth session of the Commission and Prime Minister of Timor-Leste, who said: “ESCAP has become one of the most important and valuable shared assets for the countries and people of our region […] In the era of climate change, financial contagion, natural disasters, and transnational crime, the intergovernmental platform provided by ESCAP has truly come into its own.”

For six and a half years I have had the great honour of serving as your Executive Secretary, and I have learned, repeatedly, that the secret of ESCAP’s success lies both in the unwavering support and commitment of you – our member States, and in the quality of our people.

Your decisions have helped to make ESCAP the preeminent and most inclusive intergovernmental platform for our region. Your guidance has helped to steer our course through turbulence and volatility. Your efforts have seen us grow – in impact and influence – into what many now regard as the strongest of the United Nations regional commissions. For this I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

If one aspect of ESCAP best embodies the spirit of these shared achievements, it is the ACPR. Here Asia-Pacific countries of widely divergent views, capacities, and priorities, have forged consensus, and a single voice for the people of our region on the difficult issues of inclusive and sustainable development.

No longer do we view our shared challenges from national perspectives alone, but increasingly also as issues that require regional action and solutions to be tackled together. In this chamber we have proven, time and again, that when we join together as a more integrated whole, not just as big countries or small countries, advanced economies or emerging ones, not just as LDCs, LLDCs, or SIDs, but as a combined force – then we build the future we want: a resilient Asia-Pacific, rooted in shared prosperity, social equity and sustainability, but always empowered by the creativity of our people, valuing the gifts of the Earth.

So today I want to thank you, our member States, for what has been, for me, an amazing and transformative journey of collective leadership – in which we have inspired one another to leverage the power of partnerships, regionalism, and collective action.

On a more personal note, I want to say how much I have appreciated your advice, assistance, support, and friendship, over the past six and a half years – you have helped us to build a community of commitment. Although there are no ACPR members today who were present for my first address in 2007, it is you and your predecessors who have been our strongest partners and greatest advocates for the wellbeing of our people and for sustaining the dynamism to this region.

Excellencies, Members of the ACPR,

ESCAP Leadership for Shared Prosperity

As part of my last address to the ACPR, I am pleased to share with you our new publication: Inspiring Leadership: An Asia-Pacific Journey Towards Sustainable and Shared Prosperity.

It traces the growing-together of our member States and the evolution of ESCAP, through your advice and assistance, into a modern, dynamic, and effective institution, and provides insights into the changes in mindsets and action, across the region, which we have accomplished together. It explores our new development paradigm, and the need for us to rebalance Asia-Pacific economies.

You will notice the motif of the flying geese on the cover – and I wanted to take a moment to say that, for me, this reflects the power of collective leadership of our member States in ESCAP. We too have flown in formation, united towards a shared goal of a more inclusive, sustainable, and resilient Asia-Pacific – benefiting from each other’s energies, efforts, and expertise. There has been no single leader alone, but rather a range of countries who have taken turns to lead on a variety of important development issues for the region that affect all of us.

It is impossible for me to cover all of the highlights of what we have achieved together – which is another reason I am pleased to launch this publication, but there are five broad areas of accomplishment and transformative change which I believe must be mentioned.

The first area is regional integration and connectivity as engines of regional dynamism: From trade facilitation to connectivity in transport, energy, and ICT; from developing our regional financial architecture, to better coordinating regional responses to shared vulnerabilities – ESCAP’s four-pillared approach to accelerating regional economic cooperation and integration is a key part of ensuring the growth and shared prosperity we need, for the future we want. I thank the ACPR for all its efforts on the constituent parts of this approach – including the vital intergovernmental agreements on the Asian Highway, Trans-Asian Railway, and Dry Ports – as well as on the 2013 Bangkok Declaration, which has laid the foundations for our possible future – an economic community of Asia and the Pacific. You have been visionary and we support your vision.

The second broad area is building resilience for human security: Since 2008 we have articulated a clear agenda for regional responses in addressing disasters and shocks – both natural and man-made. This culminated in ESCAP’s 2013 theme study for the sixty-ninth session of the Commission, and ESCAP resolution 69/12, using our convening power and norm-setting mandate to enhance options and opportunities for building resilience in our region. Whether strengthening our space application programme, mobilizing political and financial resources for disaster preparedness and response, or advocating for resilience in the post-2015 development agenda, ESCAP member States and the ACPR have been at the forefront of our work to establish these issues amongst the highest regional priorities, so that our development gains are not lost.

The third area is rebalancing the stewardship of our natural resources: When the history of ESCAP is written, the United Nations Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development will mark a turning-point at which the mandate and responsibilities of the Commission were refocused on the real challenges of the 21st century. Working with our member States, through the ACPR, ESCAP has led on new policy road maps and paradigms for greener low-carbon economies which are high on poverty reduction and high on decent, productive jobs for our people. These are common agendas for collective sustainability. From proposals for an Asian Energy Highway, to Pacific initiatives for greener growth in ocean economies; from regional and national campaigns for Zero Hunger, to changing business mindsets for responsible conduct as smart economics and corporate sustainability. Ultimately this agenda must mean the integration of the economic, social, and environmental dimensions of development.

The fourth area is equality and social inclusion: I am very proud that, together, we have greatly increased ESCAP’s focus on social justice and equality – making our work as much about people as it is about economic growth. Towards this end, we have advanced an agenda for change which includes: forward-looking macroeconomics; social protection; achieving the MDGs; eliminating discrimination; achieving gender equality; and expanding accessibility to jobs and productive capacities, especially in our least developed and landlocked developing countries. This is the new social contract which is demanded by our people. We need to address inequality between and within countries. Rising Asia needs to take care of all countries with special needs, to reduce inequality and exclusion, and to provide a sense of shared destiny based on the values and principles of the United Nations Charter.

The fifth broad area is a data revolution for Asia and the Pacific: Using datasets to change mindsets is a strategy which has built on the competitive advantage of ESCAP – providing cutting-edge evidence and analysis to underpin regional efforts for sustainability, resilience, and inclusion – especially as we negotiate the shape of the post-2015 development agenda. The ACPR has played a key role in this work as we have revitalized the Committee on Statistics, passed major resolutions on improving our capacity across the region, and provided training for hundreds of officials in member States to strengthen Civil Registration and Vital Statistics everywhere.

Excellencies, Members of the ACPR,

Conclusion

In conclusion, on 24 September 2007, I made my first address to the ACPR. In it, I said that our review of the Conference structure would be a key priority, and although we have made great progress in this regard, creating a much more efficient and effective Commission, it is an unfinished agenda with much work that still remains. I know that the ACPR will continue to advise the secretariat on the completion of this process, so that we will be the Commission you would like us to be to serve this region.

Another area in which we have made great progress together has been the improved cooperation and coordination with all parts of the United Nations family, working seamlessly to ‘deliver as one’ for our member States and the people of Asia and the Pacific, from the global to the regional, and even at the country level, as a seamless United Nations system.

A very good recent example of this has been the Zero Hunger Challenge, launched globally in 2012 by the Secretary-General; then regionally at our ESCAP Commission session last year, in close cooperation with the FAO; then this month at the country level by the Government of Timor-Leste, with the support of ESCAP, the FAO, and the UN Country Team. This is a powerful illustration of the expanded mandate which has been given by the QCPR, for ESCAP and the RCM to work more closely with the United Nations Development Group (UNDG), and to deliver more effectively at the country level.

At my first ACPR meeting, I also said that ESCAP is your organization – and that our success would depend on your shared commitment to the values of the United Nations and what the Commission stands for. For six and a half years, you have proven the truth of this statement, and I thank you for that.

I am very grateful to the Secretary-General for having entrusted me with this wonderful opportunity to serve you, to serve our region, particularly during times of turmoil, and I want to thank you for your unwavering support for ESCAP, for me in my role as Executive Secretary, and for helping the Commission to live up to the potential first identified by regional leaders more than six decades ago – a place where the region can meet together, hold together, and advance together to build a more sustainable, inclusive, and resilient future.

Your appreciation for and advocacy on behalf of ESCAP, both within the region and in global forums, is what ensures that even in this time of deepening austerity, the Commission has never been stronger, more relevant, or more important to the people of Asia and the Pacific, and I am very pleased that our Regular Budget has increased by almost 30 per cent since I took office.

From the bottom of my heart I thank you, and wish you and the Commission every success for the future. I know that you will offer the next Executive Secretary, Ms. Shamshad Akhtar, the same exceptional support which you have provided to me during my tenure. Be assured that I will continue to work with ESCAP and all of you in my new role as the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Timor-Leste and also for the g7+ countries.

The Persian poet, Jalaluddin Rumi, once wrote: “Do not be satisfied with the stories that come before you. Unfold your own myth”. Together we have rewritten the recent story of ESCAP, creating a new narrative of people- and planet-centered development, with the past six and a half years as the preface to the tale of the Asia-Pacific century.

I thank you all.