Amid Rising Inequality in Asia-Pacific, Empowering Marginalized ‘Matter of Urgency’
Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohamed’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, at the opening session of the Asia-Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development, in Bangkok on 27 March:
It is my great pleasure to be here today. I thank the Royal Thai Government for its warm welcome and hospitality.
This year, I intend to participate in all regional forums, across all five regions. Two thousand nineteen will be a defining year for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development; and the regional forums will pave the way for our first stocktaking on the Sustainable Development Goals in the General Assembly in September.
Asia-Pacific is a region like no other. This is an incredibly diverse group of countries. From large economies to the small island States.
From G20 [Group of 20] economies to countries facing long-lasting crises and seeking a transition back into development. From middle- to low-income countries this region is a microcosm of our global community. Each face unique challenges, but all driven by the same ambition of a better future for all.
Over recent years, I have watched with fascination the progress of nations of Asia and the Pacific in their road to sustainable development. Your Governments have taken on the challenge of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development with decisive leadership.
You are making significant investments to enhance data and statistical coverage, take partnerships to scale and promote people-centred policies, strategies and programmes.
This region has also established strong foundations for cooperation and peer exchange. And here I want to acknowledge the leadership of our ESCAP [Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific] Executive Secretary, for ensuring that you are well supported.
You have a regional road map for implementing the 2030 Agenda, which ensures clarity in the direction of travel. Your follow-up and review infrastructures were designed to allow you to understand the human stories behind the numbers and to exchange best practices to move forward. Many of you are leaders in South-South cooperation and – as we were reminded in Buenos Aires last week – cooperation amongst countries from the South is an invaluable asset to advance sustainable development. And you are taking steps, together, to leave no one behind; today’s focus on inclusion and equality speaks to that commitment.
This is a powerful message of the 2030 [Agenda]: no matter where you are born, how marginalized your community is, the world is determined to carry everyone along in our journey to 2030.
I encourage you to take advantage of the discussions today to address a few fundamental questions: Who are the “no ones” that we pledge to not leave behind? What determines their exclusion? What does it mean to feel included – or excluded? Are we doing enough, collectively, to empower all individuals in our human family?
These are not theoretical questions voiced through microphones in meeting rooms of New York, Bangkok or other capitals of the world. These are real-life dilemmas for billions around the world, who look at the 2030 Agenda as a life-changing possibility for a better future.
We must recognize that we are not on track to deliver on the ambitions we set for ourselves. The data starting to emerge indicates that the world is not on track to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
In Asia-Pacific, rising inequalities have become a major obstacle to accelerating progress. Inequality of wealth, of access to basic services and inequality in the ability to withstand setbacks and respond to the ravages wrought by climate change, are all on the rise.
The numbers are clear. The region’s combined income inequality has increased by over 5 per cent in the past two decades, including in the region’s most populous countries – China, India and Indonesia. As a result, 70 per cent of the population in this region lives in countries where inequality has grown over recent years.
Gender inequality continues to hinder progress. Close to two thirds of all working women are in the informal sector, with insecure employment and little – if any – social protection.
And while the region is now home to the largest number of billionaires in the world, millions of people lack access to fundamental services. This erodes social and economic progress, but also undermines the social contract, with consequences for peace and stability.
Environmental degradation is also taking its toll. The average loss in productivity due to pollution is roughly eight times higher in developing countries than in developed countries in the region. I know I speak for all of us when I say that it is time to share the benefits of growth and globalization more widely.
It is a matter of urgency to empower our women and girls; to leverage the immense potential of youth for positive change and innovation; to reverse the trend on inequalities; and to put people and planet at the centre. There is no need to look far. There are abundant examples in this region that point the way forward for empowerment and inclusion of everyone.
But the question we must all address is: how can we increase ambition and accelerate implementation of the 2030 Agenda? Allow me to highlight three drivers.
First, we need to break down the silos that constrain policy action across sectoral lines. The paradigm shift ushered in by the 2030 Agenda is not complete. We have not yet fully transitioned from the Millennium Development Goals into the era of the Sustainable Development Goals. For example, addressing climate change is not only about preventing catastrophic events; reducing fossil fuels use has also direct and immediate benefits on health.
Second, we need to match intentions with finance – both public and private. There is growing private interest in Sustainable Development Goal financing and a proliferation of impact investment in the region. This is great. But we are still far from the “trillions” that are required to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals everywhere, for everyone.
Third, we need to take action to scale to partnerships at a scale that we have not witnessed before. We will not achieve the 2030 Agenda – nor win the race against climate change – without involving all sectors of society towards our common goals. You can count on the United Nations to continue to transform and better support your efforts.
The Secretary-General is leading a deep reform of the United Nations, to place prevention at the centre and ensure that the Organization is better positioned to support the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. We now have a road map for change and clear and ambitious mandates by the United Nations General Assembly. And we are moving forward at full speed. We know many of you are already engaged with our United Nations country teams to leverage these reforms and effect change on the ground.
At the end of this process, you can expect to see more cohesive, effective and accountable United Nations country teams. We want to adapt more closely to the priorities and needs of each developing country, with an empowered leader for development, with much better coordination.
Resident Coordinators will be critical to leverage more systematically all the expertise and assets that are scattered across the United Nations – including in our Regional Economic Commissions and specialized agencies.
We are currently working on the review of all our regional assets, to see how we can maximize our impact in support to country action. We need an architecture that responds to the heightened demands of the 2030 Agenda. On 1 January, we have crossed a major milestone in this reform process with the creation of an independent and empowered system to coordinate all development activities of the United Nations.
Resident Coordinators were also Representatives of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Now they dedicate full attention to the coordination, policy and partnerships needs of the Sustainable Development Goals. And UNDP can fully focus on its important development mandate and reassert its role as a tough leader that is so deeply valued.
Later today, I will meet with Resident Coordinators from the region, who are here to engage in these regional discussions and come back with new tools to support you. Resident Coordinators are our leaders for development on the ground. And they work to support your efforts and make the 2030 Agenda a reality for all. I know they are excited to proceed in this journey with you.
The clock is ticking on the 2030 Agenda, and the true test of our reforms will be results in each country. It is our collective responsibility to show greater urgency. I know that we have both the energy and the leadership in this conference room to make it happen. In that spirit of partnership and shared endeavour, I wish you all the best for a successful forum.