Over the past decades, South-South cooperation has gained increased importance in accelerating sustainable development in the Asia-Pacific region and has evolved as a key modality for countries to address transboundary issues such as the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, trade and transport connectivity, as well as issues of common concern, including poverty and inequalities, management of the environment and ecosystem and disaster risk reduction.
Through such mutual cooperation, countries have achieved significant socio-economic development and technological progress. With countries in the South increasingly championing homegrown solutions, many are now able to provide technical assistance and development finance and share their innovative approaches to support other countries to attain inclusive and sustainable development.
Since its establishment seventy-five years ago, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) has forged partnerships and promoted regional cooperation to enable countries to find solutions for the sustainable development challenges facing the region. As we recover from the pandemic, the importance of multilateralism, partnerships and enhancing targeted technical cooperation is even more pronounced and critical for a response to the myriad common and transboundary challenges in the region.
The Asia-Pacific region has seen significant progress in reducing extreme poverty, expanding social welfare and accelerating innovation over the past two decades thanks to the shared goals and targets set by the international community since the turn of the century. However, as we near the midpoint of implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, COVID-19, the increasing impacts of climate change and geopolitical conflicts have revealed the fragility of our interconnected world. All these crises threaten the hard-earned progress towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).
COVID-19 highlighted the widespread inequalities that exist among countries and within countries through widened gaps in access to health care and other services, financial resources and capacity to implement initiatives for economic recovery, just as rising levels of debt are limiting the ability of governments to address the impact of the pandemic commensurately.
In addition to the pandemic, geopolitical conflicts are compounding SDG financing challenges and exposing fault lines in energy and food systems, in international finance and in social protection. It is undoing efforts to strengthen food security and systems by putting additional pressure on limited public resources.
This is exacerbated by the impacts of climate change. We are already seeing the devastating impacts of climate change affecting countries that have contributed very little to it. Worldwide, our actions are currently insufficient to ensure the resilience and sustainability of our future. Rising sea levels, extreme weather events and food and water scarcities are projected to increase in intensity and frequency. But the political commitments continue to be vague, and indeed, the gaps between actions and commitments are clearly evident.
These issues, particularly inequality, environmental sustainability and climate resilience, require transformational policy measures at the country, regional and global levels. Development challenges that our countries face are too large and too complex to be addressed by one country alone.
Looking forward, three elements will be critical to support efforts to build back better and advance the implementation of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
First, increased access to financing for sustainable development is urgently required. Governments need to prioritize domestic resource mobilization, curb non-developmental expenditures and safeguard SDG investment, raise additional funds through innovative instruments and work together on debt sustainability. After decades of agreement, we are still far below the ODA target of 0.7 percent of GNI. Yet we have added new pledges to meet global challenges. Developed countries need to follow through on their old and new pledges, particularly the $100 billion per year for climate action, as the threat of climate change has become a clear and present danger for all countries.
We also need to adopt more effective approaches and rethink how multilateralism and regional cooperation can effectively overcome transboundary, interlinked challenges, build resilience against shocks and ensure that no one is left behind. All development partners need to work more closely together on a wider range of regional public goods, including through South-South and triangular cooperation.
Finally, partnerships need to be broadened and diversified. With a changing donor landscape and new emerging donors, we need to adapt partnerships towards more integrated, effective, and networked development cooperation strategies. We need to identify and overcome the barriers standing in the way of long-term and deeper partnerships with beneficiaries. It is only by interventions that are targeting systemic changes that we will have a sustainable impact.
It is also critical to keep existing partnerships dynamic and innovative, especially with more experienced development partners. With this purpose, in June this year, KOICA and ESCAP expanded the scope of collaboration towards achieving concrete outcomes in support of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Through this revamped agreement, we seek to strengthen our cooperation, including through emphasis on sustainable finance and technologies in achieving low carbon and climate resilient development, gender equality and women’s economic empowerment, improving connectivity, and combatting air pollution while ensuring that no one is left behind.
Looking forward, middle-income developing countries stepping into their role as new donors and enhancing South-South cooperation are promising steps in the right direction to ensure faster progress in achieving Sustainable Development Goals and reverse the alarming trends we currently observe.
I observed firsthand during the Eleventh Global South-South Development Expo that ESCAP was privileged to co-host from 12 to 14 September 2022, the richness and the diversity of development solutions that the Global South is bringing to the table. And we need all hands on deck if we are to surmount the challenges posed to our people, planet, prosperity and peace in the 21st century!
Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana is an Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP). - Ed.