The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) opened its 75th session in Bangkok today, with global and regional leaders calling for greater empowerment and inclusion of marginalized groups, if the region is to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Officiating the session, Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn emphasized the importance of a people-centred approach to sustainable development. “Development is an integrated work with dimensions and issues to address including healthcare, education and employment. Development work should not last only a few years but go on as long as possible. People who live in underdeveloped areas also deserve to be happier and live better.”
In her policy statement, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of ESCAP Ms. Armida Alisjahbana shared how empowered societies can respond to challenges which transcend borders and accelerate progress towards the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). “We can learn from each other as we strengthen policies, institutions and legislation to empower people and promote equality. This effort should be complemented by work to strengthen regional cooperation on population development and social protection – but also to promote gender equality, disability rights and safe, orderly and regular migration,” said Ms. Alisjahbana.
“In recent decades, quality of life has improved for most people in the region. Yet, growing inequalities present a threat to further advances. The challenge is to ensure that socio-economic progress reaches those left behind,” said UN Secretary-General Mr. António Guterres in a video message. “We must also do far more to combat climate change in the region. This is a battle we can and must win.”
President of Nauru H.E. Baron Divavesi Waqa also drew attention to the increasingly severe impacts of climate change and the deepening threats to the world’s oceans and seas. “The whole world must move if we are to change our current course. Limiting warming to below 1.5°C remains feasible and it is the only viable path. We need a much stronger multilateral system and much stronger regional consensus and agreements to raise ambition and commitment closer to a level where there is a chance for our children and children’s children to survive.”
“Cambodia’s experiences have made clear that peace and stability are indispensable foundations for development, and in turn an inclusive and equitable development are necessary conditions for strengthening peace and social stability,” said Cambodian Prime Minister H.E. Samdech Techo Hun Sen, while highlighting the county’s national policies on social protection, health equity funding and supporting ageing to ensure no one is left behind.
“Increased investments in social protection and stronger institutional and legal frameworks that promote inclusion and empower women and girls are the closest thing we have to a magic formula for the SDGs. This will require political leadership from within the region as well as multi-stakeholder action at all levels,” said President of the UN General Assembly H.E. María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés in a video message. She added, “By working together, we can use tools such as taxation, trade and technology to demonstrate that we, governments and multilateral institutions can deliver real benefits in people’s lives.”
Foreign Minister of Mongolia H.E. Mr. Damdin Tsogtbaatar, who was elected as the Chair of the 75th Session, underscored the important notion of the SDGs – to leave no one behind. “This session gives us opportunity to accelerate the pace of implementation, shape policies and integrate national strategies to reduce the gap between rich and poor and threats from climate change.”
The 75th session of the Commission is being held under the theme ‘Empowering people and ensuring inclusiveness and equality.’ A flagship report Closing the Gap launched to coincide with the annual meeting assesses whether disadvantaged groups such as rural populations, persons with disabilities and women have been effectively included in development.
It shows that disadvantaged groups have benefited from economic growth and social progress in several countries. There are positive signs of empowerment in education with secondary completion rates for rural residents now on par with urban dwellers. Encouragingly, women’s completion rates have caught up with those of men.
However, the report also finds that there is a growing divide between those who have and have not. Income gaps between the top 60 and the bottom 40 per cent of the income spectrum, as well as between rural and urban households, continue to remain stubbornly high. Persons with disabilities have been the least empowered and remain among the most vulnerable in the region.
At the Commission Session today, ESCAP also signed four Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) with the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR), International Solar Alliance (ISA), Association of Pacific Rim Universities (APRU) and Multi-GNSS Asia. Among others, the MoUs aim to increase regional cooperation in the areas of disaster resilience, early warning systems, renewable energy, research and evidence-based policy making.