Regional cooperation is a critical factor in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Its value transcends ease and efficiency of resource mobilization, spanning diverse and powerful ways through which collective efforts can strengthen achievement of the SDGs. Cooperative approaches promise to deliver faster results with greater efficiency. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development encourages all member states to engage in regional forums in various stages of its implementation. Countries belonging to specific geographic regions are often found to have similar development trajectories, owing to a mix of historical, cultural and locational factors, and hence have many common sustainable development policy challenges. Moreover, due to proximity, they are also often bound by transboundary issues such as climate change and natural disasters, energy security, transport and ICT connectivity, which needs collectively developed and owned policy solutions and transboundary infrastructure networks. Such networks can enhance access to goods and services which are critical for improving living conditions, especially for vulnerable groups.
The need for collective regional actions is immense in the South Asia subregion to enhance effectiveness and efficiency of SDG interventions. South Asia’s progress towards the SDGs has been uneven, marked by some notable improvements in certain targets related to poverty reduction, food security and health, but is lagging behind in terms of overall progress. At the current pace of progress, the subregion is not on track for meeting any of the SDGs by 2030 and requires accelerated efforts to stay on stay on course. Alarmingly, South Asia is found to be regressing on key goals related to environmental sustainability (Goals 13 on Climate Action and Goal 14 on Life Below Water), which may in turn have negative impacts on policy programmes for other goals. The subregion needs to utilize the full potential of regional cooperation in this regard, especially as the COVID-19 outbreak is causing unexpected socio-economic disruptions across the subregional countries. As the negative impacts of the crisis threatens to exacerbate pre-existing vulnerabilities across South Asian countries, they must work together to hasten recovery.
Recognizing the importance of regional cooperation in ensuring resilient recovery from the pandemic, the Resolution adopted by UNESCAP member states at the 77th Commission Session of 2021 (ESCAP/RES/77/1-Building back better from crises through regional cooperation) calls for, among other areas, enhanced ‘cooperation in closing connectivity gaps, strengthening digital connectivity, and promoting the digital economy, sustainable and disaster resilient infrastructure and investment, and to enhance regional supply chain connectivity and diversification”.
As part of its support programmes for fostering development cooperation within South Asia, UNESCAP has been organizing a series of Policy Dialogues through its Subregional Office for South and South-West Asia (UNESCAP-SSWA) on various of sustainable development topics covering regional trade, transport and energy connectivity, food security etc. These efforts have resulted in the formation of the South Asia Network for SDGs (SANS), a network of think-tanks from South Asian countries mandated to explore the scope of regional cooperation, including through multi-stakeholder partnerships and collaborative research, for achievement of SDGs in the subregion.