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Championing sustainability despite adversities in Asia and the Pacific

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By Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana

· 3 min read

As we reach the midpoint of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, it is an opportune moment to reflect on the Asia-Pacific region’s progress and accelerate efforts to achieve our goals.

This year’s Asia-Pacific SDG Progress Report published by ESCAP features pace-leaders of the region who have successfully implemented evidence-based policies to accelerate progress. For instance, Pakistan has made great strides in increasing the number of skilled birth attendants. India has taken concrete steps to reduce child marriages. Timor-Leste has implemented a national remittance mobilization strategy to leverage remittances as an innovative financial diversification tool, and Cambodia is implementing an evidence-informed clean air plan.

These national achievements across the 17 Sustainable Development Goals are grounded in evidence-based approaches and provide hope and valuable lessons for other countries in the region to follow. By learning from one another's successes and building on them, the region can collectively accelerate its progress toward achieving the SDGs.

However, the report presents a sobering reminder of how much work remains. While a few nations have made remarkable strides in achieving some of the targets, none of the countries in Asia and the Pacific are on course. The region has achieved less than 15 percent of the necessary progress, which puts us several decades away from accomplishing our SDG ambitions. In the absence of increased efforts, the region will miss 90 percent of the 118 measurable SDG targets.

It is unsettling to observe that progress toward climate action (Goal 13) is slipping away. The region is both a victim of the effects of climate change and a perpetrator of climate change. Countries are not on track to achieve greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets, and more countries must report emission levels for all sectors to properly monitor their contribution towards global climate agendas.

Goals 5 (gender equality) and 16 (peace, justice, and strong institutions) also require urgent attention from all countries to fill the persistent data gaps. Unfortunately, the report shows that since 2017 there has been almost no progress in the region in the availability of data for these two goals with the most significant data gaps.

Investment in data systems is crucial to closing this gap, but more is needed. A data-driven approach to implementing the SDGs is critical to measure progress accurately. To progress towards SDG 5, collecting gender-disaggregated data and investing in education, promoting participation in decision-making, and ensuring access to essential services is crucial. To achieve SDG 16, countries need to strengthen the rule of law, promote human rights and good governance, and foster civic participation.

As we face a multitude of challenges, including climate change, human-made disasters, military conflicts, and economic difficulties, progress toward the SDGs becomes increasingly critical. Governments must act quickly, invest wisely, enhance partnerships and prioritize populations in the most vulnerable situations. We must renew our commitment to producing high-quality data and use every means available to ensure sustainability across social, economic, and environmental dimensions. National plans must align with the 2030 Agenda to guide development at the national level.

Despite significant challenges, we must not give up the ambition to achieve the SDGs. There are many inspiring examples of national achievements in carrying out data-informed actions in the region. These successes give hope for Asia and the Pacific, and there is a need to leverage them more effectively for change. Our collective commitment to the SDGs will serve as a compass toward achieving a sustainable, prosperous and inclusive future for all.

illuminem Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.

Photo by Christian Joudrey on Unsplash
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About the author

Ms. Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana is the Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP). She also serves on the Governing Board of the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA).

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