Opening of the Third Session of the Asia-Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development

Delivered at the opening of the Third Session of the Asia-Pacific Forum for Sustainable Development in Bangkok, Thailand.

Your Excellency, Mr. Siaosi 'Ofa ki Vahafola Sovaleni,
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Environment, Government of the Kingdom of Tonga and Co-Chair of APFSD 2015

Your Excellency, Mr. Don Pramudwinai,
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Royal Thai Government

Prof. Hironori Hamanaka, Chair of the Board of Directors,
Institute for Global Environmental Strategies

Excellencies,
Distinguished Participants,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Introduction

Welcome to the third session of the Asia-Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development (APFSD).

This meeting of the APFSD is critical because, in 2016, we are collectively laying the foundations for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which involves implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), reinforced by the Addis Ababa Action Agenda on Financing for Development, the Paris Agreement on climate change and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.

Implementation of the 2030 Agenda will be challenging, given that it is the broadest, most inclusive and transformative framework ever for charting our regional development future.

Asia and the Pacific has the need, commitment, potential, track record and leadership to drive implementation of the SDGs. Our endeavours are aimed to support the dialogue of the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) to be convened during the ECOSOC session in New York in July under the theme “Ensuring that no one is left behind.”

This theme is pertinent for our region because, its exceptional achievements in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) notwithstanding, more than 1.4 billion people still live in poverty. Inequalities, whether measured in terms of income, access to capital or social disparities, continue to aggravate these challenges, while economic growth remains insufficient, inefficient and often wasteful.

Ironically, countries experiencing rapid economic growth are not necessarily the most successful in lifting the poor out of extreme poverty, and their transformation to sustainable development will be critical to driving the new agenda.

Our region has a shared responsibility to lead, which is why mainstreaming the 2030 Agenda in national development plans and budgets, as well as backing them with strong monitoring and review, will be critical for successful implementation.

Priority tasks for APFSD 2016

With a view to supporting implementation of the 2030 Agenda, the ESCAP secretariat, in consultation with a wide range of member States and stakeholders, has four priorities to suggest for your reflection:

Agreeing the way forward on a regional road map for sustainable development

First, we have started the process for the development of a draft regional road map for sustainable development. This road map has the potential to serve as a dynamic modality that identifies approaches and instruments for implementation of the SDGs. In line with the mandate from the APFSD last year, a collective position on an effective cooperation mechanism will facilitate implementation of the integrated 2030 Agenda. Through rapid action on regional priorities, the roadmap will be an important step towards coordinating and mobilizing action to successfully deliver the 2030 Agenda within its 15-year timeframe. Prioritization of national plans and programs should be accompanied by prioritization of how all development agencies, and the United Nations development system, will leverage sustainable development and conduct business differently.

Establishing APFSD as an annual intergovernmental platform

Second, forging consensus on the future of the APFSD will facilitate alignment with the global follow-up and review processes and structures. During the fourth session of the ESCAP Committee on Environment and Development, member States recognized the APFSD as an appropriate and effective regional platform, including for follow-up and review. The Report of the Secretary-General on “Critical milestones towards coherent, efficient and inclusive follow-up and review at the global level” also recognizes that regional commissions are strategically placed to directly engage development policymakers and practitioners, calling on the regional commissions to support Member States’ advocacy and to offer advice on SDG implementation. ESCAP member States’ agreement on a way forward for the APFSD will, therefore, offer an opportunity to strengthen regional follow-up and review, and to contribute to peer learning and experience-sharing on how best to achieve the SDGs across the whole region.

Effective follow-up and review

Third, effective follow-up and review requires drawing on different processes and tracks. Regular dialogue will be critical with stakeholders at all levels during the implementation of the SDGs, so it will benefit the region to regularly assess where it stands. Key regional processes and different tracks will feed into the APFSD, such as such as ESCAP’s coordinated dialogues on financing for development and statistics (particularly in the areas of civil registration and vital statistics). Effective sectoral engagement, aligned more and more to service the SDGs at all levels, will strengthen implementation and ensure that we are able to bring all social groups on board, particularly those who have been most marginalized. This was evident at the recently-concluded fourth session of the Committee on Social Development, where member States underscored the importance of integrating the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development, and targeting implementation of the 2030 Agenda.

ESCAP’s research on transformations for sustainable development underscores the need to complement initiatives driven from the ‘top’ by strategic policy leadership, with action from ‘below’ through civil society and social movements.

Strengthening the means of implementation

Fourth, we must harness all the means of implementation, in sync with that has been decided at the global level, and strengthen capabilities at all levels of government, to support the success of the 2030 Agenda.

Getting public finance and financial markets right, and ensuring economic growth remains on track, along with sound macroeconomic and financial stability, was identified as critical by our member States in the First Asia-Pacific High-level Follow-up Dialogue on Financing for Development concluded only last week in Incheon, Republic of Korea.

Rigorous, evidence-based follow-up and review will also require availability of quality data to develop national indicators aligned to the global indicators. Regionally harmonized and quality data are especially important to identify achievements, challenges, gaps and critical success factors across the region, in order to make better-informed policy choices. This is why our region urgently needs dialogue between data users and producers, to identify priority areas for action to address the data needs for follow-up and review, at both the national and regional levels.

Central to achieving concrete results in implementation of the 2030 Agenda is steering science, technology and innovation (STI) to meet the requirements of sustainable development. While our region is home to some of the most innovative countries in the world, it is also home to some of the most technologically deprived. This is why it will be important to agree on priority regional action to spread the benefits of STI – especially to countries with special needs.

The broader means of implementation also cover systemic issues, such as policy and institutional coherence. Local government is especially important to ensure cross-sectoral integration and to address the complex challenges of policymaking in support of the new agenda.

I therefore invite you to deliberate how we can align one of most powerful megatrends in our region – urbanization – with the needs of sustainable development, by strengthening the capability of local governments, which are responsible for the bulk of service delivery. We know that local governments are often challenged by limited human, financial and organizational resources, which is why we have also invited city leaders to this regional dialogue, to highlight the important role of subnational actors in implementing the SDGs.

Conclusion

In conclusion, there is great value in regional consultations such as the APFSD – to ensure that regional priorities are fully articulated in the global deliberations. As was the case in the first two sessions, the perspectives which you offer today and tomorrow will be shared with the HLPF in July.

Collective regional action is vital to achieve the promise of the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs. ESCAP is committed to supporting member States in their implementation efforts, by helping to translate global commitments into transformative regional strategies.

With your collective participation and leadership, we will forge and strengthen partnerships for a regional road map that embodies our shared aspirations in building the future we want.

I look forward to your deliberations and to strengthening the APFSD as a vital annual intergovernmental meeting for the people of Asia and the Pacific.

I thank you.