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Delivered by Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana

20 May 2020

Executive Secretary giving opening remarks at APFSD 7

ESCAP

Excellencies,

Distinguished participants, Ladies and gentlemen,

Welcome to the seventh Asia-Pacific Forum for Sustainable Development.

The theme of this Forum is “Accelerating action for and delivery of the 2030 Agenda in Asia and the Pacific”.

Our collective efforts to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development now face significant headwinds. The unprecedented severity of the COVID-19 pandemic could slow, if not retard the progress made to date toward sustainable development.

It is, therefore, very timely to engage with governments and our multi-stakeholders to review our progress and to discuss some of our successful policy responses.

Excellencies, distinguished delegates,

Since the adoption of the 2030 Agenda in 2015, the Asia-Pacific region’s progress, based on the latest available data as of 2019, towards attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals has been uneven.

  • Income poverty has continued to fall, with the percentage of people below international poverty line in 2017 at 6.4 per cent;
  • We have witnessed a reduction in the prevalence of undernourishment-- from 16.4 per cent in 2000 to less than 11 per cent today;
  • Provision of quality education has improved, while the proportion of people with access to basic sanitation has increased from less than half to almost three-fourth; and
  • Access to affordable and clean energy has significantly improved since 2000.

These are good results to build on.

On the other hand, several challenges remain.

  • Inequality is widening within and among countries; and
  • Gender equality and women’s empowerment still need to be attained in many countries.

And the achievements in the social and economic dimensions mask the limited progress made in the environmental ones across the five Asia-Pacific subregions.

  • The region is experiencing rising marine pollution which causes irreversible damage to ecosystems, as highlighted in theme study for the 76th Commission Session on Oceans;
  • Increasing frequency and intensity of natural disasters has affected at least 70 million people last year in Asia and the Pacific; and
  • Our region is neither sustainably managing its natural resources nor taking adequate action to combat climate change.

The overall lack of progress towards the environmental goals is a matter of concern.

Excellencies, distinguished delegates,

The spread of COVID-19 pandemic now risks reversing many of these hard-won development gains and could jeopardize our attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals by the end of this decade.

  • According to our latest estimates, most of our economies have already experienced contraction during the first four months of 2020;
  • The outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic could push millions of people into extreme poverty this year in our region;
  • The widespread imposition of lockdown measures exposed the vulnerability of the informal sector, small and medium enterprises and migrant workers, who have no recourse to social protection; and
  • Lack of universal digital connectivity prevents many children in developing countries from being home-schooled virtually, thereby perpetuating inequality.

Over the past few months, however, our environment has shown some early signs of recovery.  Carbon dioxide emissions and air pollution, especially in our big cities, have been reduced as the decline in industrial production and travel lowered emissions and pollutants.  This has given us the needed breathing space.

As we work towards recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, we should focus on the preservation of these environmental gains.

Excellencies, distinguished delegates,

Our future policy responses should strongly safeguard the environment, including from climate change, as we pursue economic and social development.

Let us consider how we can turn these challenges into opportunities as we implement the 2030 Agenda.  I would therefore like to highlight three possible entry points, developed in consultations with our member States and stakeholders:

  • Strengthening human well-being and capabilities to address the poverty, education, health care system and social protection;
  • Investing in energy decarbonization and access to affordable and clean energy; and
  • Securing the environmental sustainability as well as climate and disaster resilience.

First, let us focus on re-building societies that provides equal opportunities.  Re-orienting fiscal policies and stimulus packages to strengthen health care and human resources, especially for youths, could reduce income poverty and improve functioning of labour markets.  Leveraging on innovation in the region, technology-based solutions could advance this end.

Second, we must shift ways we source, consume and distribute energy as our economies recover.  Our low carbon future depends on deployment of smart technologies; developments in renewable energy and electricity sectors; as well as investment in green public transport systems and smart urban planning initiatives.

Third, resilience to recover, not only natural disasters, but also climate change, is essential.  Policy measures should take climate mitigation and adaptation as well as disaster resilience into consideration.  Risk analytics for real time hotspot mapping and monitoring, as well as early warning systems are critical steps toward preparedness.

   

Going forward, governments will need both the strategic as well as institutional framework to make recovery from external shocks as swift as possible. 

Excellencies, distinguished delegates,

Multi-stakeholder partnerships as well as collaboration with the United Nations development system at regional, subregional and national levels are essential for building back better. 

Fast-Tracking the Sustainable Development Goals: Driving Asia-Pacific Transformations, which will be launched later today, with Bambang Susantono, Vice-President of the Asian Development Bank and Valerie Cliff, Deputy Regional Director for Asia & the Pacific and Director of the Bangkok Regional Hub of UNDP, is a regional initiative to provide policy support to our member States. 

The report highlights ways to mobilize people, align systems, promote innovation in institutions and integrate resilience into policymaking.

As in the previous years, we will convey your policy priorities and key messages from this Forum to the 2020 High-level Political Forum. 

I look forward to listening to your views on the future course of action towards attainment of our Sustainable Development Goals and count on your commitment. 

Thank you.

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