Reclaiming our future

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  • Opinion by Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana (bangkok, thailand
  • Inter Press Service

Since the creation of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) in 1947, the region has made extraordinary strides and has become a driver of global economic growth that has lifted millions of people out of poverty.

But as ESCAP celebrates its 75th anniversary this year, we face our greatest shared test of the cascading and overlapping effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, raging conflict and the climate crisis.

Few have escaped the effects of the pandemic: 85 million people have been forced back into extreme poverty, millions more lose their jobs or livelihoods, and a generation of children and young people is missing precious time for education and training.

As the pandemic ripples across countries, the world continues to face the grim implications of not keeping the temperature rise below 1.5°C — and of continuing to degrade the natural environment. In 2021 and 2022, countries in Asia and the Pacific were again ravaged by a relentless succession of natural disasters, with the frequency and intensity of climate change increasing.

More recently, the rapidly evolving crisis in Ukraine will have far-reaching socio-economic consequences, with higher fuel and food prices increasing food insecurity and hunger across the region.

Rapid economic growth in Asia and the Pacific has paid a heavy price, and the convergence of these three crises has exposed the fault lines in a very short time. Unfortunately, the hardest hit are those with the fewest resources to endure the hardships. This disproportionate pressure on the poor and most vulnerable magnifies and magnifies inequalities in both income and opportunity.

The situation is critical. Many communities are close to tipping points above which it will be impossible to recover. But it’s not too late.

The region is dynamic and flexible.

In this richer but riskier world, we need more crisis-ready policies to protect our most vulnerable populations and put the Asia-Pacific region back on track to meet the Sustainable Development Goals as the 2030 target approaches — our analysis shows that we are already 35 years behind and will not reach the targets until 2065.

To do this, we need to protect people and the planet, harness digital opportunities, trade and invest together, raise funds and manage our debts.

The first task for governments should be to defend the most vulnerable groups – by strengthening health care and universal social protection systems. At the same time, governments, civil society and the private sector must act to preserve our precious planet, mitigate and adapt to climate change, while protecting people from the devastation of natural disasters.

Governments can use technological innovations for many measures. Human activities are steadily becoming ‘digital by default’. To turn the digital divide into a digital dividend, governments need to encourage a more robust and comprehensive digital infrastructure and improve access, along with the necessary education and training to improve knowledge-intensive internet use.

Much of the investment in services will depend on sustainable economic growth fueled by equitable international trade and foreign direct investment (FDI). The region is now the largest source and recipient of global FDI flows, which is especially important in a pandemic recovery environment of fiscal tightness.

While trade relations have evolved into a complex noodle bowl of bilateral and regional agreements, there is ample scope to further reduce transaction costs for trade and investment through simplified procedures, digitization and climate-smart strategies. Such changes prove to be profitable business strategies. For example, full digital facilitation could reduce average trading costs by more than 13 percent.

Governments can create sufficient fiscal space to invest more in sustainable development. Additional financial resources can be mobilized through progressive tax reforms, innovative financing tools and more effective debt management. Instruments such as green bonds or sustainability bonds, and arranging development debt swaps, could have the greatest impact on inclusiveness and sustainability.

Significant efforts must be made to anticipate what lies ahead. In everything we do, we must listen to and collaborate with both young and old, to promote solidarity between generations. And women should be at the center of crisis-ready policy actions.

This week, the Commission is expected to agree on a common agenda for sustainable development in Asia-Pacific, setting out the region’s ambitions to make progress together by learning from and working together.

Over the past seven and a half decades, ESCAP has been an indispensable source of know-how and support for the governments and peoples of Asia and the Pacific. We remain ready to serve in the implementation of this common agenda.

To quote United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres:the choices we make today, or don’t make, will determine our future. We won’t get this chance again

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

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© Inter Press Service (2022) — All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service





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