Asia Pacific countries failing on UN development goals

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  • Asia Pacific countries may fail on all 17 SDGs to be met by 2030
  • Lack of reliable data from the region a major challenge, says UN report
  • Mismanagement of natural resources and environment flagged

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[BANGKOK] Asia Pacific countries will not achieve any of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agreed upon by governments in 2015, warns the latest progress report released on Tuesday by the UN’s regional arm.   

The region has stagnated or regressed on many of the global goals due to be met by 2030, particularly those on providing clean water and sanitation (SDG6), ensuring decent work and economic growth (SDG8) and supporting responsible consumption and production (SDG12).

“The report finds that at the current pace of progress, the Asia Pacific region will not achieve any of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals by 2030”

Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, ESCAP

UN officials called for a redoubling of efforts to reverse trends identified in the report. They also called for governments to strengthen commitment to improving the quality of data and statistics essential to measuring progress on the SDGs.

The report by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) says lack of reliable data was one of the biggest challenges, with two-thirds of the SDG indicators lacking sufficient information to measure progress. Reliable data is critical for governments to make more informed policy decisions.

“The report finds that at the current pace of progress, the Asia Pacific region will not achieve any of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals by 2030,” ESCAP executive secretary Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana said.

She stressed an urgent need to better protect the environment, pointing to increased hazardous waste generation and a reduction in forests, lakes, wetlands and other permanent water bodies. Combating climate change is also a priority, with the region’s poorest communities expected to be hit hardest by rising sea levels, and more intense and frequent weather events like drought, floods and typhoons.

Asia Pacific is the fastest-growing region in the world, with steady economic growth in recent years that has lifted many out of poverty. But the gap between the rich and poor is also rising in many countries, and development has brought environmental degradation, including deforestation, to make way for agriculture and industries, as well as pollution and overfishing.

“The mismanagement of natural resources explains some of the most important gaps which need to be closed by 2030,” Alisjahbana says. “The report’s findings are a call to action.”

The 73-page report card says positive steps have been taken throughout the region on ending poverty (SDG1), ensuring better access to quality education and lifelong learning (SDG4), and on delivering affordable and clean energy (SDG7). “Yet, even in these areas, success can only be achieved by 2030 if progress is accelerated,” Alisjahbana said.

According to the report, North and Central Asia are regressing on gender equality, decent work and economic growth and sustainable cities and communities, while South Asia is going backwards on clean water and sanitation, responsible consumption and production and climate action. South-East Asia is falling back on decent work and economic growth, climate action and peace, justice and strong institutions, it said.

East and North-East Asia are reversing on sustainable cities and communities, climate action and “life on land” that includes loss of animal and plant species, as well as wildlife trafficking, desertification and forest management.

The Pacific, including small island states, is regressing on zero hunger along with “industry, innovation and infrastructure” such as access to information and communications technology, research and tech, and finance services, “life below water” that includes destructive fishing and marine and coastal conservation, and peace, justice and strong institutions.

UN and other leaders have expressed frustration at the lack of progress. They blamed the rising tide of nationalism globally for the foot-dragging on the SDGs instead of the unity in the international community that allowed the SDGs to be adopted in 2015. Others have called for new ways to ease national debts, boost wages and increase private investment in developing countries.

The report was released at an ESCAP commission session in Bangkok that drew government leaders, delegates and NGOs from around the region. The commission is focusing on the need for greater empowerment and inclusion of marginalised groups to achieve the 2030 sustainable development agenda.

“This session gives us opportunity to accelerate the pace of implementation, shape policies and integrate national strategies to reduce the gap between the rich and poor and threats from climate change,” Mongolia’s foreign minister Damdin Tsogtbaatar, who chaired the session, told the gathering.

Governments must do more to empower particularly poor communities at risk of tsunamis and floods in the disaster-prone region so they can better prepare, experts said at one of the commission’s meetings.

To illustrate, UN disaster prevention agency head Mami Mizutori says an early warning system correctly identified an incoming tsunami that struck the Indonesian island of Sulawesi last year. But an investigation by her office showed there was a breakdown in how this information was shared with local communities.

“This last mile of communication is critical to saving lives,” Mizutori tells SciDev.Net. The earthquake and tsunami that hit the Indonesian city of Palu, in September, killed more than 4,000 people.
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Asia & Pacific desk.