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Delivered by Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana

28 October 2022


Professor  Bundhit Eua-arporn, President of Chulalongkorn University,

Professor Emma Porio, President of the Asia Pacific Sociological Association,

Dear Colleagues,

I would like to thank Chulalongkorn University and the Asia-Pacific Sociological Association for inviting me to address this conference.

The discussion on “development futures in Anthropocene and climate crisis” is critical to future policy consideration especially when the world is facing increasing uncertainties and challenges.

In just a few years, we have seen waves of shocks coming one upon another.

First, the COVID-19 pandemic caused severe socioeconomic disruptions, leading to increased poverty, widened inequality, and widespread job and output losses worldwide.

As countries recover from the pandemic, we now contend with another major setback caused by the war in Ukraine and its repercussions, which further derail macroeconomic stability and cause another humanitarian crisis.

The surges in food and energy prices worldwide, together with supply chain disruptions, gave rise to global inflation, which has triggered the cost-of-living crisis and amplified social tensions in many Asian and Pacific developing countries.

As countries responded to curb those socioeconomic fallouts, many of them, especially the developing ones, have little space to address new shocks.

This results in climate and environmental priorities being left further aside with less attention and limited resources in implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Over time, climate change and environmental issues worsen rapidly, posing cascading development challenges and threatening human lives.

Global greenhouse gas emission continues to rise, although more countries have pledged more climate actions and commitments.

Our goal to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees will not be achieved if we do not pursue considerable and sustained reductions in emissions in the near future.

Earlier this year, the assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) indicated that, for every additional 0.5 degrees of global warming, the risk and damage to economies and people increase exponentially, with greater magnitude and frequency of climate extremes and disasters.

Climate change not only increases temperature, precipitation and heatwaves, floods and drought, but it also shifts the patterns of disease vectors and contributes to the emergence and re-emergence of infectious diseases and pathogens.

Amid these challenges, the progress in the region to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) has slowed down and, in many cases, even has reversed.

With every passing year, the 2030 targets are further out of reach. Goal 13 on climate action has regressed the most for the region and presents greater risks that adversely affect progress in achieving the other Goals.

Going forward, we need to focus more on building inclusion, resilience and sustainability in our development priorities.

First, we need much more spending and investment in people to ensure that no one or country is left behind and the poor and marginalized groups are better protected. Specifically, greater investment is necessary in:

  • Education, which will help our children grow with higher productivity, better jobs and a brighter future,
  • Universal healthcare, which will shield people from falling into poverty due to out-of-pocket healthcare expenditures,
  • Social protection, which will help vulnerable groups cope better with future shocks and crises, and
  • Empowerment of women and girls, to leverage a large pool of labor that remains largely untapped.

Second, we must push forward global climate actions with more ambitions and resources.

Each country has a role in putting the region on track to limit global warming and preserve the planet's finite resources. This can be done by achieving their nationally determined contributions to reduce emissions and adapt to the effects of climate change.

We see so far, 39  ESCAP member States have already pledged to net-zero carbon emissions by or around the mid-century. However, the commitments are far from sufficient. We need concrete and forceful implementation and enforcement.

We need speedy development of long-term, low-carbon growth strategies and plans, and climate change needs to be mainstreamed into legal frameworks.

Governments need to divest from coal and fossil fuels, phase out fossil fuel subsidies, and make use of carbon pricing, either through taxes or schemes for emissions trading.

Carbon pricing can encourage markets to switch to more efficient approaches or cleaner fuels. This would relieve some fiscal pressure and enable the governments to spend more on promoting sustainable consumption and production as well as a greener economy.

Countries need to invest more in the energy transition, including having more renewable energy in the overall energy mix, such as in the power generation sector. This requires investment, transfer of technology and financial support.

Investing in sustainable agricultural practices can also improve climate resilience, agrobiodiversity and food safety.

The private and financial sectors also play a catalyzing role in scaling up green investment and green finance, and driving new innovations and creative solutions that can support climate actions.

On my third point, let me briefly highlight the role that the digital transformation has played, helping us navigate our lives through the pandemic and offering new development opportunities in several ways.

Not only do we see more digital technologies in our everyday life, but we also see advancement in digital applications for the environment, climate change and air pollution. For example, the use of satellites and drones, together with frontier technologies, including GIS, GPS and CCTV cameras and smartphone applications, can trace potential risks from forest fires, flooding, air pollution and any other climate-based disasters and therefore save billions of lives with early warning capability.

However, as the world becomes increasingly digital, the advancement of digital technologies poses a risk of widening the digital divide and exacerbating inequalities between gender, rural and urban, and generations.

We need to bridge this chasm. To do so, we need more investment in digital infrastructure, more training for digital skills, and a robust policy and regulatory framework with adequate safety measures to minimize the risks of data breaches, violations of privacy and cybercrimes.

Last but not least, we need to foster stronger multilateral cooperation and partnerships.

We have seen over the past several decades that regional cooperation and integration on trade and finance have deepened, providing opportunities in regional and global markets and spurring innovation through knowledge sharing and technology transfer.

However, the pandemic and climate crisis have brought an urgent need to focus much stronger cooperation on a wider range of regional public goods, especially environmental and social public goods such as ecosystems, oceans and clean air, human and social development, peace and security, and connectivity.

Partnership with the private sector, civil society organizations and other stakeholders is also critical, as their growing engagements can bring greater innovative approaches and solutions to accelerate positive social and environmental outcomes.

Earlier this year in May, member States adopted the Bangkok Declaration to demonstrate a stronger commitment to joining forces in overcoming current complexities and to further advance sustainable development in the Asia-Pacific region.

With the declaration in place, ESCAP will continue to work closely with member States, development partners and other stakeholders to further advance cooperation and partnership in support of inclusive, resilient and sustainable recovery and development in the region.

Thank you very much!

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