The eighth annual Asia-Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development included roundtables on each SDG under review in 2021, and the launch of a joint report on building forward from COVID-19 for the SDGs.
A Youth Dialogue ahead of the Forum resulted in a call to action with recommendations on three priority issues: “our right to health and quality of life,” “our right to employment,” and “climate change and our environment”.
The UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) hosted the eighth annual Asia-Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development. The Forum included roundtables on each SDG under review in 2021, and the launch of a joint report on building forward from COVID-19 for the SDGs.
The Forum convened in a hybrid format from 23-26 March 2021. In opening statements, UN officials echoed some themes voiced during the regional forum for Latin America and the Caribbean, including on the need for universal social protection and a new social contract between governments and citizens, and the need for COVID-19 vaccines to be considered a global public good. Opening statements at the Asia-Pacific forum also sent a “resounding call for countries to build resilience to … the twin crises that threaten our future the most” – the COVID-19 pandemic and the climate emergency.
Participants called for a ‘Green Deal for Asia and the Pacific’ to achieve a triple bottom line.
According to a draft of the Forum Chair’s summary of discussions, participants highlighted:
- The need for investment in national health systems;
- Commitments to carbon neutrality by 2050, green bonds for climate finance, and pledges by over 300 local governments to become ‘Zero Carbon Cities’ by 2050;
- Climate change as the greatest threat to small island developing States (SIDS), which require better access to climate finance and adaptive capacity building;
- The need to mitigate air pollution and reduce disaster risk;
- The role of infrastructure and connectivity to enhance industry and innovation, along with trade facilitation and transport linkages;
- The importance of closing the digital divide, which will require considerable investment;
- The need for more resources to invest in localizing the SDGs;
- Support for a ‘Green Deal for Asia and the Pacific’ to address regional and global sustainability challenges and achieve a triple bottom line;
- The potential of nature-based solutions for reducing hunger; and
- The need to ensure people with disabilities have a voice, recognize the mistreatment of indigenous peoples, and protect migrant workers against abuse.
Participants reviewed progress towards the nine SDGs that will be reviewed in-depth at the global level during the 2021 session of the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF). These Goals are: SDG 1 (no poverty), SDG 2 (zero hunger), SDG 3 (good health and wellbeing), SDG 8 (decent work and economic growth), SDG 10 (reduced inequalities), SDG 12 (responsible consumption and production), SDG 13 (climate action), SDG 16 (peace, justice, and strong institutions), and SDG 17 (partnership for the Goals).
A side event during the Forum served as the launch of the report titled, ‘Responding to the COVID-19 Pandemic: Leaving No Country Behind,’ which was produced by the Asia-Pacific SDG Partnership made up of ESCAP, the UN Development Programme (UNDP), and the Asian Development Bank (ADB). The report finds that each country in the region has been affected differently, posing the risk of a “K-shaped” recovery in which some recover faster than others and greater economic divergence emerges both within and between countries. In other words, in addition to leaving behind vulnerable groups within countries, “there is now a heightened risk of vulnerable countries being left behind.” The report considers options to mitigate this growing divergence, focusing on digitalization and regional cooperation.
In the foreword to the joint report, the leaders of the three organizations encourage a “differently-directed regional cooperation” that can prioritize resilience to health, economic, and environmental shocks. They add that regional cooperation to close digital gaps is needed in order to “leave no person and no country behind.”
The Regional Collaborative Platform, established in October 2020, held it is first meeting during the Forum.
Ahead of the Forum, a Youth Dialogue moderated by the UN Deputy Secretary-General took place from 14-16 March. It resulted in a call to action with recommendations on three priority issues: “our right to health and quality of life,” “our right to employment,” and “climate change and our environment.”
The other regional groups of UN Member States also held their sustainable development forums in March. Africa’s regional forum on sustainable development took place from 1-4 March, followed by the regional forum for the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) countries from 10-18 March, the forum for Latin America and the Caribbean from 15-18 March 2021, and the Arab Region’s meeting from 29-31 March. The outcomes of each regional forum for sustainable development comprise the regions’ input to discussions at the July 2021 session of the HLPF. [APFSD website] [Publication: Responding to the COVID-19 Pandemic: Leaving No Country Behind]