Deputy Secretary-General's remarks at the Asia Pacific Regional Forum for Sustainable Development 2022
28 March 2022
[as prepared for delivery]
Your Excellency Mr. Don Pramudwinai, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Thailand
Your Excellency, Ambassador Suriya Chindawongse Vice-President of the Economic and Social Council
Ms. Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, Executive Secretary of ESCAP,
I am thrilled to be with you today for the opening of the Asia Pacific Regional Forum for Sustainable Development.
We are meeting at a crucial time, when our ability to achieve the goals we set ourselves in the 2030 Agenda hangs in the balance.
COVID-19 wrought havoc on our societies and economies.
And now, the war in Ukraine is destabilizing a global economy still reeling from the pandemic.
In the region, the combined risks of climate shocks, disasters and COVID-19, have disrupted as many as 122 million lives and livelihoods and could cost over USD 1.3 billion annually
Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals was never going to be easy.
But it is still possible.
Implementing the SDGs will require policy choices aligned with the 2030 Agenda, and a clear emphasis on leaving no one behind.
It will require public action and investment rooted in strong institutions and governance models tailored to deliver inclusive, sustainable growth and development.
The Secretary-General’s report on Our Common Agenda provides focus and strengthens the case for urgent action.
This ninth Asia-Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development is our opportunity to chart an ambitious path forward.
I want to highlight five priorities to help inform your discussions this week.
First, we must build resilience against the pandemic.
Rising cases and deaths in the region show that the pandemic is far from over.
In 16 developing countries across Asia and the Pacific, less than half of the population is fully vaccinated.
Vaccine inequity is a moral outrage – and a danger to us all.
But even if the expected targets are met, vaccines alone are not enough.
This is a watershed moment to build stronger health systems by investing in primary health care and health surveillance systems, and in local production of vaccines, diagnostics, and treatments.
Second, we need investments in people.
In the region, inequality is on the rise, with close to 90 million people pushed back into extreme poverty. Half of the population has no social protection system to fall back on.
We need to invest in women, young people, people with disabilities, people working in the informal sector as well as refugees and migrants. They have been hit the hardest by the pandemic and will continue to pay the highest price if we do not take urgent action.
The recent endorsement of the Action Plan to Strengthen Regional Cooperation on Social Protection demonstrates there is growing momentum in the region for comprehensive and inclusive social protection systems.
Our Global Accelerator for Jobs and Social Protection can provide critical support to these efforts.
It aims to create 400 million decent new jobs in the care, green, and digital sectors, and expand social protection to nearly four billion people – half the global population – by 2030.
I call on all Member States in the region to join the High Ambition Coalition and support the work of the Accelerator.
These actions need to go hand in hand with actions to achieve progress on SDG5 on gender equality.
We must tackle the dramatic increase in domestic violence since the start of the pandemic, strengthen policies to boost women’s economic participation and reduce the burden of unpaid care work.
The Secretary-General has presented five transformative recommendations to achieve gender equality in this generation:
Repealing all gender-discriminatory laws;
Promoting gender parity in all spheres and at all levels of decision-making;
Facilitating women’s economic inclusion by providing access to jobs and opportunities;
Ensuring greater inclusion of younger women;
And implementing an emergency response plan to prevent and end gender-based violence.
I call on all Member States to implement these without delay. We cannot hope to build strong economies and societies without the full contributions of half the population.
Third, we must recover the huge learning losses of the pandemic and reinvent the future of education.
Today, education systems across the world are being challenged. The Asia-Pacific region is not on track to achieve SDG4 by 2030 – and now pandemic-related school closures have created huge learning losses.
In some countries, the pandemic is causing a generational catastrophe.
And everywhere else, conventional education systems are struggling to prepare learners for our rapidly changing world.
That is why the Secretary-General is convening a Summit on Transforming Education this September.
The Summit will help mobilize the action, ambition, solutions, and solidarity needed to transform education between now and 2030.
We count on the active participation of governments and leaders of the Asia-Pacific region in the preparation of the Summit.
Fourth, we must supercharge just, green transitions.
The latest IPCC report laid out an atlas of human suffering – particularly across the Asia-Pacific region, where the very existence of entire nations is threatened by rising sea-levels and where we will see vulnerabilities grow with increased flodding, heat waves, drought and extreme weather events.
This report is a validation of why half of climate finance needs to be allocated to adaptation, and why we need to act urgently to build the capacity of developing countries to adapt and build resilience to the impacts of climate.
This will require urgent reforms are made to ensure that developing countries – particularly SIDS and LDCs—have access to climate finance. This will require all development banks to identify and design bankable, ready-to-go projects that will protect people and vulnerable communities.
Greenhouse gas emissions from the region are projected to increase by over 30 per cent by 2030 compared to 2010 levels, with catastrophic consequences.
Building on the progress made in Glasgow, we need urgent efforts to reduce emissions and keep global warming below 1.5 degrees.
The next climate conference – COP27 in Egypt – is a critical opportunity to generate more ambitious emission-reduction commitments from countries across Asia and the Pacific.
We must accelerate the energy transition by investing fossil fuel revenues in new, low-carbon development models in a just and inclusive way.
Moving away from coal and fossil fuels in a region that accounts for 75 per cent of global coal-fired generation capacity will not be easy. But it is essential for our common future, and it is financially and technologically possible.
This is why the Secretary-General has been calling for the formation of climate coalitions, to provide major emerging economies with resources and technology to accelerate the transition from coal.
Developed countries, multilateral development banks, private financial institutions and companies with the technical know-how need to join forces in these climate coalitions, to deliver support to coal-intensive economies.
In this region, Indonesia and Vietnam are leading the way, having announced their intention to get out of coal to transition to renewables, and India with their 500GW renewable energy goal.
Building a just transition includes more sustainable and resilient food systems. This is even more urgent in light of the global impact of the crisis in Ukraine on food security. Several Asian countries rely heavily on wheat imports from both Russia and Ukraine.
We must also advance digital connectivity for a just transition. Half the people in this region lack reliable and affordable access to the Internet.
The digital divide is a driver of inequality and exclusion.
But with investments in affordable connectivity and digital skills, the shift to digital could become a driver of inclusion for the entire region, increasing the participation of women, girls, young people, people with disabilities, and marginalised groups.
Fifth and finally, the Asia Pacific region must continue to attract the required financial resources to invest in a better tomorrow.
The Asia Pacific region holds enormous potential, with the value of thematic bonds growing 10-fold over the last 5 years.
But rising debt and shrinking fiscal space across the region are reducing governments’ ability to make sustained investments in healthcare, education, social protection, and green and resilient infrastructure that are essential for recovery.
Serious reforms to the international financial architecture and global economic and tax governance are urgently needed to create the necessary fiscal space to build a strong recovery and invest in the SDGs, not only in this region but around the world.
Getting back on track to achieve the SDGs will require an overhaul of the international financial architecture and global economic governance.
We also need to improve global tax governance and effectively combat illicit financial flows.
These are some of the key recommendations in the Secretary-General’s report on Our Common Agenda, along with a call for a stronger voice for developing countries in all global decision-making.
We will continue to advocate for the re-channelling of Special Drawing Rights from advanced economies to those in need, and for the speedy operationalization of the International Monetary Fund’s Resilience and Sustainability Trust.
And we will continue to work with national governments to develop long-term financing strategies in support of the 2030 Agenda, including through the use of Integrated National Financing Frameworks.
Tomorrow, I will chair the meeting of the Regional Collaborative Platform – our mechanism bringing together all UN regional directors in the Asia-Pacific region.
With the UN reforms now well advanced, I hope we will adopt an ambitious workplan to support countries across the region and agree on concrete deliverables.
Through the Regional Collaborative Platform, regional assets are providing more agile and coordinated support to Resident Coordinators and UN Country teams – from designing social protection and disaster risk reduction systems to raising the level of climate ambitions.
And we are ready to do much more. The Issue-based Coalitions stand ready to respond faster to emerging needs. Our collective work on SDG data and statistics supports countries to fill data gaps and go beyond GDP as a way to measure progress and development.
In closing, let me briefly return to the global ramifications of the crisis in Ukraine.
Across the world, supply chains have been disrupted, and the prices of food, energy, transport and other essential supplies have skyrocketed.
We now face the real risk of growing hunger on an unprecedented scale.
That is why the Secretary-General earlier this month set up the UN Global Crisis Response Group on Food, Energy and Finance.
Its primary role is to rally support and financing for countries – including in Asia Pacific – that are struggling to confront a cascade of crises.
At this pivotal moment, we need your leadership and engagement in support of the Sustainable Development Goals.
We count on this Forum to raise our ambition and put us on track for meaningful progress between now and 2030.
Together we can – and we will – build a future of peace, dignity and prosperity for all.