CS72: ESCAP’s 15-Year Focus - Support to Member States’ Implementation of the 2030 Agenda

Delivered at the Opening of the Ministerial Segment of the 72nd Session of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific in Bangkok, Thailand.

Your Excellency, Mr. Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama, Prime Minister of Fiji
and Chair of the 71st session of the Commission

Your Excellency, Mr. Qohir Rasulzoda, Prime Minister of Tajikistan

Your Excellency General Anantaporn Kanjanarat, Minister of Energy of Thailand

Your Excellency Mr. Maatia Toafa, Deputy Prime Minister
and Minister for Finance of Tuvalu

Distinguished Delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Welcome to the 72nd session of the Commission – the first after the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and agreements on finance, disaster risk reduction, climate action and the SAMOA Pathway, which together define the contours of the development agenda for our region. Strong political commitment, action and well-functioning coordination mechanisms, fully supported by the countries of Asia and the Pacific, will be critical to ensure that “no one is left behind.”

Our region is widely recognized for its economic and development success. The rich traditions, business acumen and growing integration in Asia and the Pacific, as well as our determination to translate global commitments into national action, will drive implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals and lead the global shifts to more sustainable growth and development.

As we forge development progress, global recovery and trade remain slow, which has impacted regional growth. Our region needs to offer better opportunities for the 1.5 billion people who remain trapped in poverty , with particular effort required in countries with special needs, where the incidence of poverty ranges from 15% to 76% . 490 million people in our region still go hungry , 455 million still have no access to electricity and nearly 1.7 billion lack access to improved drinking water and sanitation . These inequalities worsen social tensions.

Addressing inequalities – a cross cutting element of the Goals – is essential for successful implementation of the 2030 Agenda because inequalities stifle economic growth, undermine social cohesion and threaten environmental sustainability. Our region has both an ageing population and 60% of world’s youth, which calls for demographic change to be managed. Advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment, improving social protection and supporting the 650 million people in Asia and the Pacific with disabilities, poses additional challenges.

Inefficiencies in resource use are pervasive: our developing countries use, on average, five times more material to produce one unit of GDP than industrialized countries. The region’s CO2 emissions are increasing as fossil fuels dominate the regional energy mix, high water stress is intensified by climate change, while consumption and production patterns are destabilizing ecosystems and depleting natural resources.

Over the next fifteen years, these baselines will continue to shift in the wake of regional megatrends, such as the demographic transition; migration; rapid urbanization; increasing resource-intensity and use; falling productivity and growing infrastructure deficits. If properly guided, an integrated sustainable development approach can convert these challenges into opportunities to help deliver on the ambitious 2030 Agenda.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Coordinated Regional Policy and Action Critical to the 2030 Agenda

Comprehensive implementation of the 2030 Agenda requires partnerships and deployment of new solutions between countries and across subregions. With your guidance, the Asia-Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development now serves as the anchor intergovernmental mechanism for sharing regional experiences, forging regional consensus and ensuring policy consistency, coherence and coordination in implementation of the 2030 Agenda.

Asia and the Pacific will lead this implementation. Some member States have already committed to voluntary national reviews, having: integrated sustainable development into national strategies, plans and budgets; rebalanced growth paths through policy adjustments; strengthened national statistical capacities; and established coordinating institutions or inter-ministerial mechanisms to steer implementation. Some governments are also restructuring their development aid to ensure that South-South cooperation supports the new Agenda. Smart development demands that we move from silo-bound to cross-sectoral approaches and solutions, deploy the right mix of policies and incentives and address cross-cutting and thematic areas such as tackling all types and sources of inequality.

The secretariat’s new Social Outlook, to be launched in early 2017, will offer a regional analysis of progress on the social elements of the Goals, including the strengthening of social protection; giving more active roles to youth in the development process; developing rights-based disability policies; and building national capacity to support gender-responsive planning and budgeting, women’s economic empowerment, as well as participation and leadership.

ESCAP is committed to tracking regional trends, advocating best practices, sharing knowledge and lessons-learned, as well as building capacities, especially of the countries with special needs. Our 2016 flagship Economic and Social Survey underscores the need to reverse the decline in productivity. Boosting agricultural productivity alone could lift 110 million more people out of extreme poverty by 2030, but this would need to be supported by rural industrialization, improved urban-rural linkages and better quality infrastructure.

To support the 2030 Agenda at the subregional level, ESCAP, with its cross-disciplinary structure and expertise, is also working with all parts of the United Nations system. Under the ESCAP-led Regional Coordination Mechanism (RCM), with 30 United Nations agencies, we are supporting the ASEAN Community Vision 2025 and the SAMOA Pathway to implement the 2030 Agenda.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Better Data for Sustainable Development

Arrangements are now in place to support regional follow-up and review, which will offer thematic assessments and peer-review of progress on the Goals. Availability of comparable cross-country statistics will underpin the success of the review process. Establishing baselines and defining priorities for implementation calls for enhancement of quality statistics and data.

ESCAP’s Statistical Yearbook, and our regional online statistical database, have already been aligned to the Goals and targets, incorporating indicators of the global monitoring framework. We are enhancing usability of our web-based platform to effectively share new knowledge products, including indicator dashboards, country profiles and trend analyses, while also supporting subregional initiatives. Our Committee on Statistics will review a new Roadmap for Transforming Official Statistics in Asia and the Pacific in early December, which will then serve as a framework for collective action.

Our stocktaking will serve as a valuable guide because the region has, on average, only half of the global indicators for the Goals readily available, with the Pacific subregion well below this average. The data we do have is often 3 to 4 years old, disaggregation is limited, while differences in measurement methods hamper regional comparability. Getting baseline statistical indicators right and tapping new data sources calls for stronger collaboration between governments and private data providers, to build innovation and the capacity of national statistical systems, promoting the use of Big Data for sustainable development. ESCAP has joined the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data and other platforms to foster exchanges and accelerate adoption by our member States of advanced systems for data collection and dissemination.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Unlocking Finance, STI, Trade and Capacity

Finance: For three consecutive years, with your stewardship, the Asia-Pacific Financing for Development Forum has played an important role in recognizing that as much as $2.5 trillion may be required annually to successfully implement the Goals in our region. The bulk of this requirement stems from the need to create green infrastructure, although climate finance also remains greatly underserved.

These challenges can be partially met through enhanced domestic resource mobilization, given the exceptional tax potential of the region. Unlocking this potential will require countries to abolish tax holidays and exemptions that are distorting investment regimes. Similarly, tax collection must be enhanced to also reach the millions of individuals and the significant number of businesses outside the tax net. Progressivity of taxation systems will help to tackle inequalities and direct flows to more sustainable investments. Deepening financial inclusion will also bring billions of people and a range of businesses to support sustainable development.

Our region has good potential to strengthen enabling environments to tap private capital for sustainability, with global liquidity close to $100 trillion and sovereign wealth funds worth about $3 trillion . It will also be important to leverage the enhanced capital base of the multilateral development banks, new investment vehicles and capital markets to identify and implement policy and financing options, including credit-enhancement mechanisms for sustainable infrastructure investment.

Science, Technology and Innovation (STI): To drive growth and productivity, there is a need to uplift the countries of our region ranked in the bottom 10% of the Global Innovation Index. This can be achieved by harnessing South-South cooperation within Asia and the Pacific, where a number of our member States are at the leading-edge of innovation, accounting for almost 43% of global research and development activity. There is an over-concentration however, with 95% of our region’s researchers located in just five countries. The challenge is to bridge these gaps and address the digital divide, to enable member States, particularly countries with special needs, to take advantage of technologies and to develop a robust culture of innovation.

The 2016 ESCAP Theme Study proposes shifting STI policy to focus on more than just economic competitiveness, proposing deployment of STI to promote social justice and environmental protection; resource efficiency; integrating openness and inclusivity into innovation strategies; and the promotion of technology to support quality jobs and reduce environmental impact.

The secretariat is expanding its STI support for, among others: space-derived data products and services; disaster risk modeling; as well as improved monitoring, early warning and impact assessment of disasters. Regional collaboration on STI is being promoted through the Regional Space Applications Programme for Sustainable Development. The reconstituted ESCAP Committee on ICT will meet in October 2016 to advance both far-reaching and practical recommendations for STI development.

Boosting Regional Trade Dynamics: With trade growth faltering, reviving Asia-Pacific trade dynamism to promote sustainable development calls for us to address creeping protectionism by reducing non-tariff barriers, and tackling restrictiveness in services trade. New work is being undertaken by ESCAP to promote trade in services, environmental goods, and technology; as well as to improve understanding of the role of preferential trade agreements and the landscape of international investment agreements. ESCAP is developing a new green trade index to help measure the scale of environmental trade and the potential for further agreements. More than 30 member States have also collectively finalized our Framework Agreement on Cross-Border Paperless Trade Facilitation.

Capacity Development (Goal 17 Includes a Specific Capacity Development Target): The secretariat’s new capacity development strategy better aligns capacity development with our normative and analytical work. Some examples include: a new analytical framework to assist LDCs, LLDCS and SIDS to conceptualise the Goals as a network of indicators, to better simulate the benefits of alternative policies; an analytical framework to support prioritization of policies for implementing the 2030 Agenda; a regional resource facility and help desk to offer technical advice on the Goals; a Social Protection Toolbox to strengthen national social protection systems; a Gender Portal to catalyse gender equality; and a new toolkit on flood forecasting as well as improved early warning systems in transboundary river-basins.

Capacity development needs will be further met by the Asian and Pacific Training Centre for Information and Communication Technology for Development (APCICT) as it launches programmes such as our ‘Women and ICT Frontier Initiative’ to support women entrepreneurs; the Asian and Pacific Centre for Transfer of Technology (APCTT), which is pioneering an STI policy mapping initiative for the Goals; and the Statistical Institute for Asia and the Pacific (SIAP) which is improving the readiness of national statistical systems to support the data requirements of the 2030 Agenda.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Regional Cooperation and Connectivity for Sustainable Development

Appropriate pacing and sequencing of regional cooperation holds the potential to reinvigorate growth and shared prosperity through diversification, inclusiveness and sustainable development.

ESCAP has been a longstanding catalyst for closer economic cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region. At the first Ministerial Conference on Regional Economic Cooperation and Integration in Asia and the Pacific, in December 2013, member States adopted the Bangkok Declaration, which set the agenda for regional cooperation.

Our stocktaking reveals that next generation of regional cooperation is focusing on:

  1. Better-integrating our region with other continents;
  2. Enhancing integration at the subregional level;
  3. Leveraging Asia’s market-driven regional cooperation models through greater political commitment;
  4. Deepening financial integration, which has lagged behind trade integration;
  5. Harnessing seamless connectivity through multimodal transportation, as well as enhanced energy and ICT connectivity along development corridors; and
  6. Ensuring that regional cooperation and sustainable development mutually reinforce one another.

The countries of our region need to better position themselves to benefit from the mega-regional trade deals; new investment platforms and visionary initiatives such as China’s Belt and Road; as well as the development of innovative risk-coping strategies.

Suggesting a forward-looking agenda, the secretariat’s Note to this session on Enhancing Regional Cooperation and Integration seeks your guidance to move from fragmented to holistic approaches, and incorporates the next generation of development priorities:

  1. Fostering market integration by enhancing agreements for services and digital trade, streamlining and harmonizing, where appropriate, trade and investment liberalization provisions; operationalization of cross-border paperless trade facilitation; and improving the absorptive capacity of the LDCs for trade, technology and investment, through the regional Aid for Trade initiative.
  2. Inter-sectoral coordination is critical to promote seamless connectivity backed by competitive, climate-smart; time- and cost-efficient physical networks. Integral to connectivity is a predictable and harmonized legal, policy and regulatory environments, in addition to well-prepared projects. Our region, with the support of the secretariat, is working on: multimodal corridors; promoting power grid connectivity to integrate more clean and renewable energy; expanding broadband connectivity through the Asia-Pacific Information Superhighway initiative; identifying and sequencing crucial linkages; as well as advocating climate-smart infrastructure choices.
  3. Financial cooperation is critical for channeling development finance: The region would benefit from enhancing confidence in cross-border markets through effective investor protection, contract enforcement and the establishment of, inter alia: transparent rule of law and bankruptcy regimes; easing barriers to financial flows and institutions into Asian markets; and fostering stronger macro-financial prudential policy frameworks to manage risks. Extending a region-wide arrangement for liquidity support will help if the region’s vulnerabilities compound. Ultimately, financial stability will be reinforced by a push to diversify the financial system, credit portfolios and finance requirements of sustainable development.
  4. Regional cooperation mechanisms to deal with the risks and shared vulnerabilities: Given the transboundary nature of disasters, cross-border cooperation on best practices, sharing of scientific innovations, especially space technology applications, and ‘last-mile’ community engagement are critical for effective monitoring and early warning. The regional cooperation agenda must emphasize the development of disaster-resilient and climate-friendly regional infrastructure. Regional climate cooperation is still at a formative stage, but scope exists to explore collaborative approaches in strengthening resilience and improving capacities, while reducing climate and disaster risks. There is also good potential for our region’s largest emitters to undertake collaborative emissions reduction partnerships through technology, finance and policy approaches, targeting areas such as low-carbon cities, linking carbon markets, climate-proofing infrastructure investments, carbon sinks, clean energy and resource efficiency. ESCAP is already addressing a number of these challenges through our substantive programmes.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,


To conclude, regional political resolve is critical to institutionalize quality growth by promoting inclusiveness, sustainability and climate-friendly approaches for implementation of the Goals. This will also benefit from our resolve to deal with cross-border challenges through enhanced regional economic cooperation and integration.

The 2030 Agenda calls for fundamental policy rethinking and shifts in action, for which pacing and sequencing of national initiatives will be critical. In this context, advance planning and mainstreaming of implementation is key, as is proper calibration of priorities and resource allocation.

Your guidance, engagement and even greater support to the Commission will determine the extent of our success in aiding your implementation of the new development priorities.

Thank you again for your partnership and leadership in the journey thus far. The secretariat stands ready to support your continued leadership and to enable your sustainable development success for the next fifteen years and beyond.

I thank you.