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UN regional forum opens with call for countries to drive SDG progress with urgency, ambition and scale

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On the back of the COVID-19 pandemic and recent crises, the region is fast losing ground on its ability to achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The Ninth Asia-Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development (APFSD) opened today in Bangkok with a resounding call for countries to ensure recovery strategies are inclusive, just and leaves no one behind despite the mounting challenges ahead.
Organized by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) from 28 to 31 March, the Forum brings together a cross-section of key development actors, including senior government and UN officials, the private sector, youth and civil society representatives to share their experiences and mobilize regional action under the theme “Building back better from COVID-19 while advancing the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda in Asia and the Pacific.”
Almost 90 million people in the region have been pushed back into extreme poverty to live with less than $1.90 per day. Meanwhile, over 30 million children are experiencing acute malnutrition. Some 109 – 166 million jobs have been lost in developing Asia and the Pacific, accounting for nearly 70% of total employment losses globally.
“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,” said United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed in her keynote address. She added, “Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals was never going to be easy.  But it is still possible.”
“For seven and a half decades, ESCAP has been the most inclusive platform to promote dialogue and foster joint regional action in Asia and the Pacific. Advocating complementarity of development approaches and frameworks remain at the heart of the transformation and resurgence in the region,” said Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of ESCAP.
Also at the opening, H.E. Ambassador Suriya Chindawongse, Vice President of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) underscored, “The challenges of sustainable development and the consequences of not achieving it ultimately affects all of us because we are all interconnected and interdependent. In the long run, no island of prosperity and no atoll of affluence can endure in a sea of poverty and an ocean of inequity.”
“All our efforts to achieve sustainable development would be futile without peace and stability. Attaining peace by strengthening human security and people-centred development must be our priority in this Decade of Action,” said H.E. Don Pramudwinai, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Thailand.
Over the next four days, Forum participants will undertake an in-depth review of the region’s progress on Sustainable Development Goals 4 (Quality education), 5 (Gender equality), 14 (Life below water), 15 (Life on land) and 17 (Partnerships for the Goals). The outcome of the regional Forum will feed into the global High-Level Political Forum in July.
“The unique experiences of countries in Asia and the Pacific, as well as our shared struggles to rise above the challenges posed by the pandemic, are replete with lessons and best practices we can all draw from as we strive to shape a better region in the face of a new reality,” said H.E. Karl Kendrick Chua, Secretary of National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), who was elected as Chair of the ninth APFSD.
“We have enough knowledge, resources and all the tools needed. I refuse to accept that we cannot achieve all the SDGs in our timeframe. What is required is the courage, compassion and conviction to do it now with the utmost solidarity,” shared Kailash Satyarthi, 2014 Nobel Prize Laureate and SDG Advocate.
“Indigenous peoples and grassroots communities play a vital role in developing alternative approaches and sustainably managing resources and biodiversity. A truth that has not reached adequate public recognition and attention, despite the agency that could benefit everyone in caring for the environment and seeking sustainable development,” said Beverly Longid, Global Director, International Indigenous Peoples Movement for Self-Determination and Liberation, representing the civil society.
Additionally, ESCAP, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) jointly launched the latest edition of the Asia-Pacific SDG Partnership Report – Building Forward Together: Towards an Inclusive and Resilient Asia and the Pacific. The report highlights the reversal of hard-won gains in development across the region, and points to the rising risks to developing countries, and poor and vulnerable populations.
The report calls for recovery strategies to consider six factors to avoid a “K-shaped” recovery – vaccination (including access to diagnostics and therapeutics), social protection, digitalization, economic structure, environmental risks, and fiscal space. As countries shift from delivering emergency response to long-term recovery, the report also shares three inter-related areas for urgent policy action, namely inclusion (ensuring social protection and quality education for all), women’s empowerment (advancing gender equality) and environmental sustainability (building inclusive green economies).
Since 2014, the APFSD has provided an annual and inclusive platform for countries to share regional best practices and lessons learnt, support the presentation of their voluntary national reviews, and assess progress made towards implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

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