Bangkok: The 8th Asia-Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development (APFSD) hosted by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) opened today with a resounding call for countries to build resilience to the COVID-19 pandemic and the climate emergency – the twin crises that threaten our future the most.
More than 1000 delegates representing governments, civil society, businesses, and international organizations are gathered online at the Forum this week from 23 to 26 March to discuss sustainable recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The COVID-19 pandemic has erased years of social-economic progress in Asia and the Pacific. ESCAP estimates that 89 million more people in the region have been pushed back into extreme poverty at the $1.90 per day threshold, erasing years of development gains. The economic and educational shutdowns are likely to have severely harmed human capital formation and productivity, exacerbating poverty and inequality.
“The 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals [SDGs] show the way to inclusive, resilient and sustainable economies and societies that respect people and planet,” said United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Ms. Amina J. Mohammed in her opening remarks. “The road ahead will not be easy, but we have the tools, energy and capacity to recover from the pandemic and make strides towards achieving the SDGs,” she added. “This will be a decade of action and transformation, with ambition, urgency and scale.”
United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of ESCAP Ms. Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana urged countries to “formulate a set of policy packages that could create harmony between health and economy, and between economy and the environment.”
“As we prepare for sustainable and resilient recovery, let us remember that the SDGs are our compass and can continue to play a force for good in transforming our societies in the post-COVID-19 era,” said Ms. Alisjahbana. “ESCAP is committed to strengthening, in close collaboration with the UN development system, multi-stakeholder partnerships at the regional, subregional and national levels to recover better together.“
“The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that business as usual will not suffice,” said H.E. Mr. Don Pramudwinai, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Thailand. “Homegrown development approaches will have a vital role to play in reviving our economies and societies, as well as our quest to achieve the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs.”
“We must address the structural obstacles which impede global growth and exacerbate inequality,” underscored H.E. Munir Akram, President of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). “We must build equitable trade, taxation, and technology regimes and enable the developing countries to unshackle the potential of their peoples for sustainable production and consumption. The country members of the Asia-Pacific region have a vital role in promoting such a transition to a more equal, dynamic and prosperous world.”
Civil society representative Ms. Wanun Permpibul, Climate Watch, Thailand added, “The COVID-19 pandemic will change the world. It is not enough to build back better. We need to build back fairer, and we need to build back differently. We must make sure the crisis delivers our region a healthier, kinder, more equitable future for all.”
This year, delegates at the APFSD will review Sustainable Development Goals 1, 2, 3, 8, 10, 12, 13, 16, and 17 in Asia and the Pacific. The Forum will also play a unique role as a catalyzer of solutions and peer learning to accelerate transformations for implementing the 2030 Agenda while recovering from COVID-19.
On the sidelines, ESCAP, the Asian Development Bank (ADB), and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) jointly launched the latest edition of the Asia-Pacific SDG Partnership Report – Responding to the COVID-19 Pandemic: Leaving No Country Behind. The report identifies pathways to recovery and how to build resilience in the region. It calls for a renewed focus on people and inclusive cooperation and underscores that environmental sustainability must become central to economic and physical integration efforts.
One of the report’s key findings is that inventive responses to the pandemic showed digitalization might be one of the most powerful forces of societal and economic change. Regional cooperation must also support countries to build greater resilience. These measures will be vital to mitigate the threat of an uneven recovery between countries where some are left behind and prepare countries to deal with future shocks.
Since 2014, the APFSD has provided a unique annual platform for countries in Asia and the Pacific to share perspectives, challenges, and best practices as they progress toward implementing the SDGs. Outcomes from the APFSD will provide input into the global discussions held at the High-Level Political Forum in July this year.
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