The Sixth Asia-Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development (APFSD) opened in Bangkok today with a resounding call for bolder steps to be taken to ensure greater empowerment, inclusiveness and equality, if the region is to realize the ambitious goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Despite its impressive economic growth coupled with advances in technology, recent estimates show that on its current trajectory, the Asia-Pacific region is unlikely to achieve any of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by the 2030 deadline. Empowerment and inclusion are approaches that can accelerate progress towards many of the SDGs. Today, over 50 per cent of women across the region remain excluded from critical decisions related to their health while poor and vulnerable populations still lack access to land and ownership rights. In some countries, more than 30 per cent of youth are not in employment, education or training.
“Over recent years, I have watched with fascination the progress of nations of Asia and the Pacific in their road to sustainable development. Your governments have taken on the challenge of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development with decisive leadership. You are making significant investments to enhance data and statistical coverage, take partnerships to scale and promote people-centered policies, strategies and programmes,” said United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed in her keynote address. She however noted that “In Asia-Pacific, rising inequalities have become a major obstacle to accelerating progress. Inequality of wealth, of access to basic services and inequality in the ability to withstand setbacks and respond to the ravages wrought by climate change, are all on the rise.”
Addressing the region’s lacklustre performance in implementing the SDGs, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) Armida Alisjahbana underscored the need for greater investment in key social sectors.
“To achieve the 2030 Agenda, increased investment is needed to quicken the pace of progress. Initial analysis suggests that most countries can afford it, although where the money is needed will vary greatly in a region of the size and diversity of Asia and the Pacific. What is consistent is evidence that empowering people and ensuring inclusiveness and equality – the theme of this APFSD – can help accelerate progress towards all SDGs,” said Alisjahbana.
The annual Forum, which brings together a cross-section of key development actors, including senior government and UN officials, the private sector, and a wide range of civil society organizations, will over three days undertake an in-depth review of the region’s progress on SDG 4 (Quality education), 8 (Decent work and education), 10 (Reduced inequalities), 13 (Climate action), 16 (Peace, justice and strong institutions) and 17 (Partnerships for the Goals). The outcome of the Forum is expected to feed into the High-Level Political Forum in July.
“The Forum provides an opportunity to take stock of lessons learned and the challenges ahead. I look forward to a frank exchange of ideas and proposals for new avenues of development and partnerships to strengthen the follow-up and review mechanism, not only at the regional, but also at the global level,” said Vice President of the UN’s Economic and Social Council Kira Christianne D. Azucena.
One of the highlights of this year’s Forum is the launch of the Asia-Pacific SDG Gateway, an interactive analytical tool developed by ESCAP that assesses regional and sub-regional SDG progress at goal, target and indicator levels. The innovative methodology for progress assessment can be used to inform follow-up at country-level and hence review the progress of implementation.
Organized by ESCAP, the APFSD has since 2014 provided a unique platform for countries to share perspectives, challenges and best practices as they progress toward implementing the SDGs. It is also an opportunity for governments to present their Voluntary National Reviews and assess Asia-Pacific’s collective efforts in realizing the Regional Road Map for implementing the 2030 Agenda adopted by countries in 2017.