Fourth Session of the ESCAP Committee on Social Development

Delivered at the Fourth Session of the ESCAP Committee on Social Development in Bangkok, Thailand.

Your Excellency, Police General Adul Saengsingkaew,
Minister of Social Development and Human Security of the Royal Thai Government

Distinguished Delegates,
Colleagues,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Introduction

Welcome to the fourth session of the Committee on Social Development. The high level of representation today is encouraging and reflects the extent of member State engagement with ESCAP. It also demonstrates the strong ownership member States have of all aspects of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

I would like to thank His Excellency, the Minister of Social Development and Human Security of Thailand, for joining us today, and also extend our thanks to Dr. Santosh Mehrotra for agreeing to share his insights.

This is the first intergovernmental meeting on social development in Asia and the Pacific since the adoption last year of the transformative and multidimensional 2030 Agenda.

The new agenda places social development front and centre, with 11 of the 17 SDGs focused on social dimensions, these include: SDGs 1 through 8, 10, 11, 16 and 17. Achieving the remaining economic and environmental SDGs will further reinforce social development.

Poverty eradication is at the core of sustainable development and cannot be achieved without addressing all forms of rising inequalities. The challenges of social development are multidimensional and require multidimensional solutions. Social development is therefore a necessary condition for “ensuring that no one is left behind” , but to do so, we must harness the powerful nexus between poverty reduction, equality and social stability.

In this fourth session, we count on the Committee to provide guidance on, among others, key priorities for progress towards 2030. Some of the most urgent elements include:

  1. Forging agreement on baselines for SDG implementation.
  2. Advancing integration of the social, economic and environmental dimensions of the SDGs.
  3. The policy, legal and regulatory changes needed for effective implementation of the social dimension of the SDGs.
  4. Institutional coordination, both national and regional, required for this implementation.
  5. Modalities and social innovation for progress and scalability.
  6. Adopting focused approaches to address the challenges and opportunities of key populations - in this round of deliberations we are focusing on youth as key enablers of the SDGs in our region.

Baselines for SDG Implementation

The Millennium Development Goals offered valuable lessons and experiences for implementation of the SDGs. For instance, we know that economic gains alone will not lead to a region free of poverty, want and hunger. Without effective redistribution, economic gains are inequitably shared, which is one reason why more than 2.6 billion people in Asia and the Pacific still live on less than $2 per day, while the richest 10 per cent have increased their share of total income, and now have almost twice that of the poorest 40 per cent. Building social resilience through redistribution of income and services, as well taking care of vulnerable groups, will be critical.

Economic growth alone is also insufficient to deal with the challenges posed by ageing populations, environmental degradation, climate change and the increasing frequency of natural disasters, which all have consequences for wellbeing. Similarly, growth alone cannot address inequality of outcomes, which is a result of inequality of opportunities.

When looking at baselines for SDG implementation, we must acknowledge that nearly 80 per cent of Asia-Pacific people cannot access affordable health care, and as many as 18 million children remain out of school. We also have yet to evolve a just and inclusive social compact, addressing the exclusion from real opportunities of youth, women and girls, older persons, persons with disabilities, international migrants and ethnic minorities – who together constitute about three billion people in the region. A number of subregions lag particularly far behind on social goals and indicators: For example, in South and South-West Asia, female labor force participation averages about 50 per cent, and in 2013 about 30 percent of women were employed, compared to more than 70 per cent of men.

We have yet to deploy our youth effectively to enhance productivity, while fostering social stability and cohesion. There are more than 700 million young people in Asia and the Pacific, and they are not only our future, but an integral and dynamic part of our present. In South Asia, South-West Asia and South-East Asia, where youth constitute up to almost 19 per cent of the population, investing in young people is fundamental to the success of the 2030 Agenda. Similarly, we need to care about our ageing population which accounts for almost 13 per cent of the population in North and East Asia.

Developing understanding of the interdependence of the three dimensions of sustainability and cross-cutting issues is critical for our region. For instance: inequality heightens environmental degradation. Highly unequal societies are more likely to have worse environmental track records, since collective action is undermined by the pursuit of individual or group interests. Inevitably, the costs of this pollution, and the negative impacts of climate change, are disproportionately borne by the poor.

These complex relationships between inequality and sustainable development are analysed in ESCAP’s new report, which we are launching today, “Time for Equality: The Role of Social Protection in Reducing Inequalities in Asia and the Pacific”. It provides evidence that social protection is an effective instrument to reduce inequalities, and in so doing, contributes to sustainable development by strengthening the integration of the economic, social and environmental dimensions.

Persistent and rising inequalities mean that without social justice, equal opportunities, participation and respect for human rights, the Asia-Pacific region will struggle to achieve its full potential. Conflicts in the region also lead to forced displacement, depriving countries of human capital and creating additional burdens for neighbouring countries. Many of these issues will be addressed this year at the World Humanitarian Summit in May. Given their importance to our region, I hope that ESCAP member States will participate at the highest level.

However, these challenges also occur in countries which are not in conflict. Take for example the 59 million migrants in the Asia-Pacific region, many of whom face barriers to accessing decent work and social protection. As our recent Asia-Pacific Migration Report shows, without a fair deal for migrants, they will never be able to make their full contribution to development.

Modalities for Integrating Sustainable Development

The transformative 2030 Agenda calls for exploiting the interlinkages and synergies between the economic, social and environmental dimensions of development and leveraging thematic areas to reinforce them. We cannot advance the 2030 Agenda without first understanding these linkages and how to address them. Inclusive economic growth, for instance, requires significant investment in human capital. In Japan, high social protection spending, accounting for almost 70 per cent of total Government expenditure, is closely correlated to high labour productivity. By contrast, the lack of social protection in other countries stifles economic growth, slows poverty eradication and transmits ill-health and poor education across generations.

Key elements in promoting integrated development include:

  1. Demonstrating ownership and political commitment by placing the 2030 Agenda at the centre of national development plans and strategies.
  2. Strengthening institutional capacity at both national and local level to ensure policy coherence, consistency and coordination in implementing the 2030 Agenda.
  3. Mobilizing financial resources through tax reforms as well as diverse financing mechanisms, including public-private partnerships and impact investing, to support social progress along with economic growth.
  4. Harnessing technology and innovation to reduce inequalities and reach the most marginalized people, as well as those who are left behind.
  5. Developing partnerships through multi-stakeholder platforms to enhance accountability in the monitoring and review of progress towards the SDGs.
  6. Developing effective youth strategies. If youth are enabled to successfully transition from education into decent jobs, which enables them to earn a living wage, upgrade their skills and contribute to wider society – they are also well-placed to lead the building of a prosperous, peaceful and sustainable future. Unfortunately, the mismatch between what is taught in school and the demands of the labour market, along with the lack of decent jobs and the absence of universal social protection, leaves millions of young people struggling to survive. In some countries of our region, youth are up to 10 times more likely to be unemployed than adults, while many of those who do find work figure disproportionately among the working poor, vulnerable and underemployed.

Distinguished participants,

We must overcome these obstacles facing young people to lay the groundwork for a more equitable future for our region. We must ensure that education is accessible and provide high-quality curricula that are relevant to the world of work. We must also ensure that macroeconomic policies are coordinated with employment policies to support the channelling of young people into productive jobs.

In this regard, I am pleased that we are also launching today a new publication by the UN Regional Thematic Working Group on Youth, which examines the challenges and opportunities for the youth of Asia-Pacific in the context of the “five Ps” of the 2030 Agenda – people, planet, prosperity, peace and partnership, and suggests concrete opportunities to engage young people more closely in implementation of the 2030 Agenda.

Conclusion

In conclusion, ESCAP will step up efforts to support member States in achieving the SDGs, especially those related to social development.

To realize the 2030 Agenda, ESCAP will continue to offer member States cutting-edge research, advanced analytical tools, as well as a Regional Road Map for Implementation of 2030 Agenda in Asia and Pacific, which will be discussed next week at the Asia-Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development. In order to strengthen the measurement of progress and ensure effective implementation of the social SDGs, there may also be value for ESCAP to convene, on a regular basis, a regional ministerial conference on social development with UN partners under the broad umbrella of the Regional Coordination Mechanism. ESCAP’s social division is also being further strategized to deliver to member States support for their implementation of the social SDGs.

For the deliberations today, we seek your guidance on a number of important outcomes. These include, among others:

  • Recommendations to advance the integration of the social, economic and environmental dimensions of the SDGs, and the value of a regular ministerial conference on social development.
  • Recommendations on policy, legal and regulatory changes needed to address existing challenges.
  • Innovative ways to effectively implement the social dimension of the SDGs, including modalities for strengthening institutions and cross-sectoral coordination.
  • Good practices for enhancing the school-to-work transition.
  • Endorsement of the secretariat’s programme of work in social development for the 2018-2019 biennium.

Thank you again for your participation today.