The 8th Asia-Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development meeting was part of the 2021 High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) preparatory process. This year, 12 country members of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP or ESCAP) showcased their national VNR Reports.
The ESCAP Regional Forum on Sustainable Development official activities started on March 23. However, side events included in the Forum program opened the debates on March 22. In her introductory remarks, Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, Executive Secretary of ESCAP, drew a baseline for the forum, by stating: “One year on, the socio-economic crisis brought on by COVID-19 remains the most critical threat to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 (…) Simply speaking, our region is not on track to meet any of the 17 Goals by 2030.”
Together with Ms. Alisjahbana, two High-Level UN System officials introduced the Forum debates: H.E. Munir Akram, President of the Economic and Social Council, and Ms. Amina J. Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations.
Mr. Akram made the case to consider the COVID-19 vaccine as a global public good. He identified adequate finance, significant investments in sustainable infrastructure, and full utilization of science, technology and innovation as the three main drivers to recover better.
Ms. Mohammed urged countries for a renewed social contract as they recover, ensuring access to essential services, healthcare, education, and social protection for all. She described women’s full participation as “fundamental,” urging states to take decisive steps to prevent and end all forms of violence against women and girls.
Discussions continued in official sessions and parallel events until March 26, when the meeting Presidency gaveled the adoption of a 17 paragraphs final declaration, in an unusual plenary session in which the representative of the Russian Federation asked for the incorporation of three amendments to the draft document, which were accepted without any discussion. It must be underlined the last minute changes – implemented in paragraphs 11, 14, and 17 – aimed to weaken the importance given to the outputs of nine round-tables gathered to analyze the situation of each of the 2021 HLPF thematic SDGs and make suggestions on how to accelerate their implementation path.
Even when the promotion of a sustainable and resilient recovery from COVID-19 was the theme of one official session, it became a cross-cutting issue in all the debates. Notably, the situation of the most vulnerable groups to face pandemic impacts bubbled up once and again.
The inclusion of a subregional perspective while enabling young voices in the Agenda was remarkable, as ESCAP has a vast diversity in the five subregions where they work and managed to include them.