Ramp Up Action for Transformative Change, Deputy Secretary-General Urges Asia-Pacific Forum, Warning Region Is 32 Years Behind Sustainable Development Goals Schedule

Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed’s remarks at the Asia-Pacific Regional Forum for Sustainable Development 2024, in Bangkok today: 

Asia-Pacific is a dynamic and diverse region that has been an engine of global economic growth since the turn of the century.  Yet, the region and our world are facing complex challenges:  A cost-of-living crisis — on the back of the COVID-19 pandemic and multiple conflicts; a triple planetary crisis — with 85 per cent of people in Asia-Pacific at risk of greater exposure to multi-hazard climate risks; geopolitical tensions, conflict and instability have caused displacement and untold human suffering.

At the current pace, the Asia-Pacific region is 32 years behind schedule in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  Fiscal constraints, high borrowing costs and debt burdens are further casting shadows with up to half of low-income countries in Asia-Pacific facing high risk of, or already caught in, debt distress.

Yet, across the world, there is reason for hope and there remains a deep commitment to securing a better future for all. The Asia-Pacific region has demonstrated how a long-term vision can be transformed into reality.  The region is on track to meet two key targets of SDG 1 by 2030 — ending extreme poverty and more than halving the proportion of people living below national poverty lines.

China, Japan and India were among the largest solar energy producers in 2022 and Asia is expected to lead in global electric vehicles production in the next five years.  In early childhood education, enrollment in the region has increased to 83 per cent in 2020 in East Asia and to 62 per cent in South Asia.

The annual issuance of sovereign green, social, sustainable and other bonds in the region is up from $5 billion in 2015 to $206 billion in 2022.  And we’ve seen the share of SDG indicators with data double in the Asia-Pacific region since 2017 — a solid investment in an essential building block for SDG progress.

We know that this progress is not enough — and that behind these figures lie hidden hardships for women and girls and many of the most vulnerable in our societies.  But, we also know that more and better progress is possible — if we mobilize at speed, at scale, and if we do so together.

At the SDG Summit last year, your leaders recognized the need to double down on our collective push for sustainable development.  The Summit’s Political Declaration constitutes a source of hope and a unified commitment to deliver on the promise of the 2030 Agenda.

So, the task before us now is to ramp up action.  And to focus in on those policies and investments that can drive transformative change across the SDGs.  To do so, we must accelerate efforts around several key transitions — from energy to education, social protection to food, climate to digital.  Allow me to delve a little deeper on three of these.

First, inclusive and sustainable energy. The age of fossil fuels is coming to an end and the Asia-Pacific region is leading the way — with record-breaking growth in renewable energy production since 2020.  Yet, much more is needed.  This means:  tripling renewables capacity by 2030; doubling the annual improvement of energy efficiency and battery storage; expanding green grids for accessible, reliable and affordable connectivity; transitioning away from fossil fuels.

And it means aligning the stepped-up commitments of the energy compacts with existing commitments such as nationally determined contributions and net-zero plans.

Second, decent jobs and social protection.  The Asia-Pacific region is home to some of the world’s most populous countries and some of the smallest populations.  A diversity that is accompanied by changing demographic trends — a youth bulge in some countries, an aging population in others and sizeable migration flows.  This region has enormous potential to create more and better jobs on the back of food systems transformation and to seize the opportunities provided by the green and digital transitions.

But, this will not happen automatically. Education systems in the region must be geared to respond to these dramatic shifts in the world of work.  I encourage all countries to deliver on their national commitments and actively participate in this year's Transforming Education Summit Stocktake and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Global Education Meeting.

It is also crucial that the underserved half of the population in Asia and the Pacific gains access to social protection schemes.  In this regard, it is encouraging that five countries in the region are already engaged with the Global Accelerator on Jobs and social protection for just transitions, launched by the Secretary-General in September 2021.

Third, digital connectivity.  The fact that fewer than two thirds of the population in the region use the Internet is a significant drag on your economic and social development.  Digitalization can drive new economic opportunities while building resilience and reducing poverty.

But, harnessing these benefits requires investment in digital public infrastructure, expansion of digital connectivity and equipping our populations with digital skills — now every bit as foundational as traditional literacy and numeracy.

The binding force between these transitions and an accelerator of all SDGs is stronger institutions, public participation, respect for human rights and the rule of law.  As underscored in the Secretary-General's New Vision for the Rule of Law, the steps taken by Member States to strengthen the rule of law serve as the foundation upon which all our efforts to address today’s challenges are based.

Across this work, the UN development system is your trusted partner.  Our resident coordinators, UN country teams and regional capacities are providing an engine room to accompany Governments.  To help shape regulatory frameworks and strengthen institutional capacities, to foster partnerships, mobilize resources and identify investment-ready projects.  We count on Member States to ensure the UN system — including the resident coordinator system — is sufficiently and sustainably funded to accompany you on your journey.

No country or region can achieve the SDGs or navigate contemporary global challenges alone.  International cooperation is essential but the multilateral arrangements of today are simply not up to the job.  Your leaders recognized this last September, supporting the Secretary-General’s call for an SDG Stimulus and demanding that it be advanced without delay.  And they also recognized the need for deeper change.

The Summit of the Future provides the opportunity to do just that.  To strengthen the role of global cooperation in supporting the achievement of sustainable development, peace and human rights.  To make it more inclusive, more networked and more effective in meeting the challenges of the 21st century.  In the weeks and months ahead, Member States will consider wide-ranging reforms to global governance.

Key among these are proposals for: a more equitable, more representative and more effective international financial architecture; a Digital Compact to help tackle the digital divide; a fresh approach to going beyond gross domestic product (GDP); and changes to governance systems to better reflect the priorities of youth and better protect the interests of future generations.

I urge you to harness the potential of this forum to make sure we accelerate and deliver on the SDGs and secure a more supportive global environment for the pursuit of your region’s development goals.  Under Secretary-General Guy Ryder and I look forward to our discussion.

For information media. Not an official record.