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Op-Ed by Kaveh Zahedi and Van Nguyen

Kaveh Zahedi, Deputy Executive Secretary for Sustainable Development, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP).

“The 2030 Agenda is coming to life”, declared the Secretary General at the opening of the first SDG Summit, a quadrennial event for the follow up and review of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. As leaders from Asia – Pacific took the floor, they highlighted country progress of SDG implementation and reaffirmed commitment to achieve the 2030 Agenda. Statements reflected different approaches across the region. Yet all converged on one priority: accelerated actions and transformative pathways.

Because we are not on track.

Van Nguyen, Sustainable Development Officer, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP).

Earlier this year, our Asia Pacific SDG Progress Report emphasized the region will not achieve any of the 17 SDGs by 2030 at the current pace of progress. While less people in Asia and the Pacific are living in extreme poverty (Goal 1), the poorest are harder to reach. They are more vulnerable to stresses and shocks as progress in reducing inequality has stagnated (Goal 10). Our region’s stubborn reliance on fossil fuels (Goal 7) continues to anchor countries to the grey economy of the past, shroud crowded cities with smog (Goal 11), and put millions of lives at risk (Goal 3). Communities living in low lying coastal areas are seeing their homes being swept away by rising sea levels (Goal 11) as climate actions have yet to take effect (Goal 13).

Business as usual is simply not an option.

Accelerating progress is essentially not about advancing on a single or a cluster of goals. Transformations are needed in the underlying systems behind the 17 Goals. Six entry points identified in the Global Sustainable Development Report 2019 offer a clear pathway to trigger change and multiply the impacts of our actions.

They resonate greatly with the development challenges of Asia – Pacific.

Investing in human well-being and capabilities such as increased public spending in Asia – Pacific to match the global average in the area of education, health and social protection, can lift over 328 million out of extreme poverty by 2030. It will also allow us to build resilience of the most vulnerable populations against external shocks, as revealed in ESCAP’s 2018 Social Outlook for Asia Pacific.

Increased investment to achieve energy decarbonization and universal access to energy would allow our region to reduce energy-related carbon dioxide emission by almost 30%; and avoid nearly 2 million premature deaths by 2030, as shown in ESCAP’s Economic and Social Survey of Asia and the Pacific 2019.

The entry point of promoting sustainable urban and peri-urban development is ever more critical as our region became majority urban for the first time in human history in 2019. The Future of Asian & Pacific cities Report 2019 shows that 1.2 billion new residents will move to Asian-Pacific cities by 2050. They will all need decent jobs, affordable housing, transportation, and clean water and sanitation.

We have the tools to support this transformation, with the four levers identified in the Global Sustainable Development Report 2019.

Governance, particularly effective, transparent, accessible and inclusive institutions, is fundamental to drive the implementation of the Goals. Countries gathering at the 6th Asia-Pacific Forum for Sustainable Development declared that the delivery of the SDGs relies on the whole-of-society approach.

Multi-stakeholder partnerships and participation are key success factors.

Sound economic policies and finance are key to fast track progress. ESCAP’s Economic and Social Survey of Asia and the Pacific 2019 estimates that the annual additional investment of 1.5 trillion to achieve the SDGs by 2030 in Asia-Pacific is affordable if countries develop sound tax policy, efficient public spending and private sector engagement.

Empowerment and inclusion, the epicenter of individual and collective action, was found to contribute to reducing inequality and accelerating the progress towards a broad array of the SDGs, according to the 2019 research Accelerating progress: An empowered, inclusive and equal Asia Pacific.

Emerging technologies and innovations have the potential to change lives on an unprecedented scale. One such example is the use of big data applications in forecasting and early warning of extreme weather events, such as during the super typhoon Mangkhut in 2018, documented in the ESCAP’s Asia-Pacific Disaster Report 2019. Such good practices need to be scaled up.

The SDG Summit concluded with a political declaration which calls for a “decade of action and delivery for sustainable development”. Since then, we have seen over twenty commitments for actions for Asia-Pacific by Governments, civil society organisations and the private sector across the 17 Goals registered on the SDG Acceleration Platform. This has given us hope as we move into the year of 2020. The region is arriving at this critical juncture in the path towards sustainable development. We know where we want to be. It is time to deliver on our pledge.

About the authors:

Kaveh Zahedi, Deputy Executive Secretary for Sustainable Development, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP)

Van Nguyen, Sustainable Development Officer, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP)

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