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Crunch time for the region

Danial Norjidi

While the Asia-Pacific region has made progress towards a few of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), overall progress is slow according to a new report from the United Nations (UN) Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP).

Launched on March 22, the Asia and the Pacific SDG Progress Report 2023 provides an analysis of progress on 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 targets in the region.

An annual flagship publication in partnership with seven other UN agencies, the report uses the latest data for global SDG indicators to determine where additional effort is needed in the region and where momentum for future progress is building.

This year’s report showcases national achievements in harnessing evidence for effective policies to accelerate progress. Recognising that data gaps are an impediment to SDG progress, the report provides guidelines, resources and examples of national initiatives towards filling the most critical gaps in data availability.

As the report explained, “Although the region has made progress toward a few of the goals, overall progress is slow. At the midpoint towards the 2030 target year, the region should have made 50 per cent of the progress needed to achieve the goals, yet the overall progress has reached only 14.4 per cent.”

Based on current trends, it was shared that achieving the SDGs in the Asia-Pacific region will take several more decades. “At the current pace, the Asia-Pacific region will miss 90 per cent of the 118 measurable SDG targets by 2030 unless efforts are multiplied. One in five SDG targets are regressing and need a complete trend reversal.”

The strongest progress in the region has been made on affordable and clean energy (Goal 7) and industry, innovation and infrastructure (Goal 9), said the study. It added that climate change (Goal 13), however, continues to regress and must be given priority to reverse negative trends, in particular in countries in special situations, namely least developed countries (LDCs), landlocked developing countries (LLDCs) and small island developing states (SIDS).

“These countries have been making efforts to advance the sustainable development agenda with assistance from international development partners. However, given the unique vulnerabilities of these countries, it is crucial that targetted assistance is provided for them to progress towards achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.”

The study further notes that on decent work and economic growth (Goal 8), reduced inequalities (Goal 10) and partnership for the goals (Goal 17), the region has managed to reverse some of the regressing trends since 2016.

“Despite the slow pace of progress in the region overall, there are areas where some countries have made faster progress,” said the report, which shared that it identifies and highlights heartening examples of expanded data use for progress monitoring, informed decision-making and evidence-based initiatives in the region.

The report added that although data availability for the SDGs has doubled since 2017, data remain insufficient for 51 out of 169 targets.

“Gaps in data availability are asymmetrical across the region with SIDS having significantly lower data availability than LDCs and LLDCs, though data availability has gradually improved over time.

“High-income countries also have some significant data gaps including for gender equality (Goal 5), life below water (Goal 14) and peace justice and strong institutions (Goal 16), and these countries should set a good example by filling data gaps as quickly as possible.”

It was shared that UN partners have developed many methods and tools to improve SDG monitoring. These and other resources are highlighted in the report, and they can help countries to fill the data gaps and facilitate SDG monitoring.

In a statement, Under-Secretary-General of the UN and Executive Secretary of the ESCAP Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana said, “As we face a multitude of challenges, including climate change, human-made disasters, military conflicts, and economic difficulties, progress towards the SDGs becomes increasingly critical. Governments must act quickly, invest wisely, enhance partnerships and prioritise populations in the most vulnerable situation.

“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,” she continued.

“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 towards achieving a sustainable, prosperous and inclusive future for all,” she added.

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