Follow-Up to Rio+20: Actions & Considerations at the Regional Level

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Excellencies, Distinguished Participants, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The United Nations Secretary-General, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, expressed the challenge of Rio+20 as the creation of a new, better model for 21st century economies. In his words: “With smart public policies, governments can grow their economies, alleviate poverty, create decent jobs & accelerate social progress in a way that respects the earth’s finite resources”. Nowhere is this challenge more apparent than at the level of our Regional Commissions, and nowhere is it more immediate than in Asia and the Pacific.

With more than half of the world’s population; more than a third of global economic output; the highest average regional growth; and more than 40% of global energy demands, the Asia-Pacific context is always one of scale. Asia-Pacific economic growth has anchored the world economy during the current financial crisis, and lifted tens of millions of people out of poverty over the past few decades, but it remains home to roughly two-thirds of the world’s poor. Although resilient, it has been impacted by the global financial crises and the high prices of fuel, food and other commodities, further compounded by devastating natural disasters and climate change. The poorest, most vulnerable communities have been hardest hit.

We are in a time of great transition, with major challenges. Asia-Pacific faces the persistent problems of poverty, hunger, growing inequalities, energy, water, health and vulnerable jobs. But in addition it also faces multiple emerging threats to development and an ever-growing number of transboundary issues, such as financial crises, commodity price volatility, natural disasters and climate change.

In the face of this “New Normal” of global turbulence, uncertainty, and volatility, the Asia-Pacific experience is showing that we cannot continue to grow first and distribute later, nor can we grow first and clean up later. We cannot hope to burn and consume our way to future prosperity. The resource- and carbon-intensive, environmentally damaging, and socially inequitable development path, which was followed by so many, including Western industrialized countries, is a dead end. To live up to challenge of Rio+20 and to build shared prosperity and the future we want, requires new models of greener, smarter, more inclusive and more efficient growth for Asia and the Pacific.

Together with our member States, ESCAP is driving an inclusive, sustainable, and resilient development agenda for our region. One of the greatest challenges we face is that almost 60% of Asians still live in rural areas, and that informal and vulnerable employment remains the norm. In South Asia, for instance, almost 78% of jobs are vulnerable, and almost 62% in South-East Asia and the Pacific, with women far more likely than men to be in vulnerable employment.

At the same time, the majority of Asia-Pacific countries have only limited social protection systems, so people cannot afford to be without jobs. No country can fulfill its potential if it ignores the energy and talents of its poor, which is why decent sustainable jobs, social protection and equal citizenship rights for all are so important.

To address these challenges, ESCAP has worked with our member States, focusing on issues like financing for inclusive and sustainable development – the topic of our annual Theme Study in 2010. Even in the midst of the financial crisis, there are potential sources of development funding at the national, regional and international levels, including changing spending priorities, ensuring fairness, and more accountable global economic governance. Governments and financial institutions must also work together to devise new financial models reaching out to the millions of “unbanked” – providing them with the opportunities and security of a well functioning financial system.

As important as these efforts have been, Rio+20 has challenged us to go even further.

Lack of integration is one of the key reasons for the slow progress on sustainable development more than twenty years after the concept was first adopted. We need to move from a paradigm of trade-offs, to one of synergy. This is why our new challenge is the rebalancing and integration of the economic, social and environmental pillars of sustainable development.

Asia and the Pacific isn’t waiting for the conclusion of the global negotiations on the frameworks to begin this rebalancing. Our region has already moved forward, leading on the green growth agenda, for instance, with ESCAP’s Low Carbon Green Growth Roadmap, which explores five tracks to drive the system changes needed, including: maximizing and improving the quality of growth; changing both the visible (e.g. physical infrastructure) and invisible (e.g. regulations & standards) structures of economies; turning green into business opportunities; as well as formulating and implementing low-carbon development strategies.

Our region is rethinking itself and developing regional solutions. This “new regionalism” is key to addressing the growing transboundary challenges – and is a force which Asia and the Pacific can use to upscale best practices and sustainable development experience. This is also why the Rio+20 Outcome Document specifically mandates the UN Regional Commissions to support developing countries to achieve sustainable development (Para 68); to prioritize capacity-building, regional agreements and best practices in helping Member States to implement sustainable development (Para 100); to encourage regional actions to further the implementation of sustainable development (Para 185); and to support the collection of national inputs to inform the global effort (Para 251).

In my role as Coordinator of the UN Regional Commissions, I believe that it will be similarly important for all five Regional Commissions to work to further strengthen South-South and interregional cooperation. We need to look at what we already have, identify gaps and what remains to be done. We need to understand the challenges, dilemmas, and strategies of Member States in their different development contexts.

You will hear from the other Executive Secretaries today about their regions, so let me begin by sharing with you a selection of ESCAP’s initiatives to drive the post-Rio+20 inclusive and sustainable development agenda in Asia and the Pacific. I will do so by covering our efforts in three broad categories: intergovernmental, institutional and substantive.

To successfully harness the power and dynamism of “New Regionalism”, sustainable development has to be championed by our Member States. Part of our efforts to strengthen the role of ESCAP, as the most inclusive intergovernmental platform for Asia and the Pacific, is a series of subregional consultations with Member States on issues of the big final push to 2015 on achieving the Millennium Development Goals, and the shape of the post-2015 sustainable development agenda in our region. These consultations have already taken place in Central Asia and the Pacific, and will continue into early 2013.

The results will then feed into our next annual Commission Session, which will in turn be refocused to become the Asia-Pacific voice on issues of sustainable development and development goals in the global dialogue.

This refocusing of the Commission Session is also part of a wider review of our Conference Structure to maximize opportunities for Member State engagement on sustainable development – including through our Committees.

On the institutional level, ESCAP is reorienting our flagship publications to identify specific challenges and opportunities for advancing sustainable development – and to offer pragmatic options for policy-makers in our region. The 2013 Economic and Social Survey of Asia and the Pacific will, for instance, argue for a rethinking of macroeconomics for inclusive, sustainable and resilient development – and will also do exploratory costing of providing basic elements of inclusive and sustainable development – including employment guarantees; social protection systems; and provision of access to energy for all. Our 2013 Theme Study will focus on building resilience to economic and natural shocks, and the annual Asia-Pacific MDG Report (in partnership with ADB and UNDP) will look to the future of development in the region beyond the 2015 MDG deadline.

As convener of the Regional Coordination Mechanism, ESCAP together with 30 UN agencies, is also taking a leading role in mapping Rio+20 and post-2015 development efforts across Asia and the Pacific. We have refocused all of the Thematic Working Groups to align with the Rio+20 agenda, and one Thematic Working Group will be taking the lead in advocating for sustainable development in our region.

Our aim is to also produce a comprehensive State of Sustainable Development Report for Asia and the Pacific, including an Inclusive Sustainable Development Index for the region. We hope to combine this with similar inputs from the other UN regions, into a global report on sustainable development from the regional perspective, led by the Regional Commissions.

Although we don’t have the time in this presentation to discuss all the details of ESCAP’s substantive efforts and initiatives on the sustainable development agenda across our work programme, there are a few good examples which I would like to briefly highlight:

To support our Member States in their efforts to green their economies, ESCAP recently published our Low Carbon Green Growth Roadmap – including examples of best practice woven through more than 100 fact sheets and case studies. The Roadmap provides a comprehensive list of policy options and practical implementation strategies;

In response to a Resolution at our Commission session earlier this year, ESCAP is also exploring options for a more integrated regional power smart-grid – in effect an Asian Energy Highway, to provide a regional framework to expand the transmission system to promote energy efficiency and renewable energy through market mechanisms that would further promote regional integration. Options will be presented to Member States at the Asian and Pacific Energy Forum, which will be held in Vladivostok, in the Russian Federation, in May next year;

ESCAP is also working with Member States to promote the creation of water systems that are resilient to natural disasters and is undertaking research on the economics of water supply to help Member States in water-poor parts of our region;

In the critical area of food security, our Centre for the Alleviation of Poverty through Sustainable Agriculture (CAPSA) in Indonesia is now focusing specifically on building capacity in Member States, the importance of small farmers, and facilitating South-South cooperation on food security, poverty reduction and sustainable agriculture;

Deepening regional cooperation on sustainable transport and connectivity, and building on ESCAP successes with the Asian Highway & Trans-Asian Railway, we are now facilitating an Intergovernmental Agreement on Dry Ports – linking landlocked countries to our more prosperous coastal regions – to help to spread the fruits of regional growth;

ESCAP also worked closely with our Pacific Island Developing States in the build-up to Rio+20 to promote the Special Case of the Pacific Islands. Green economy tools and policies, in the context of the ocean economies and ecosystems, can address many of the structural issues at the heart of the Pacific challenges – helping to inform and advise island nations as the curators of our largest natural global assets – the oceans on which human life itself depends; and finally

ESCAP is prioritizing support for our least developed countries and countries with special needs. In disaster risk reduction and planning for resilience, for example. We are also working with the G7+ group of fragile states and plan to hold a special consultation in February next year on sustainable development issues in fragile states.

Excellencies, Distinguished Participants, Ladies and Gentlemen, Sustainable development is a truly generational opportunity for change. Our ability to shape and contribute to this change has never been greater.

For Asia and the Pacific, Rio+20 was a key milestone in our journey to a more inclusive, sustainable and resilient future. ESCAP and the countries of Asia and the Pacific intend to make the most of this opportunity – and to meet the challenge set by our Member States to build new, better models for 21st century economies.

We look forward to working very closely with the General Assembly’s Open Working Group on the Sustainable Development Goals, but beyond that we would also like to invite all our Member States, both on the HLCP and in the Open Working Group, to use our Commission as the platform to link these two agendas together – especially at the regional level – in preparation for the General Assembly discussion.

I thank you.