How Asia and the Pacific is leading the way on the Sustainable Development Goals

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With the adoption of Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) we saw a vision of a sustainable, peaceful world take shape.

September 2015 was a high point for us development nerds.

With the adoption of Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) we saw a vision of a sustainable, peaceful world take shape; agreement on which was long thought of as unachievable. While many warned of the huge ambition of the Agenda with its 17 goals and 169 targets, the fact that over 150 UN member states adopted it, allowed for a momentary faith in the possibility of the world it promised.  

That high was soon gone.

Back we were to our day-to-day office grind. The news dominated by the war in Syria, the worsening migration crisis in Europe, new consequences of a warming planet. It is easy to feel discouraged. Even, or maybe particularly, for someone working for an institution like the UN.

But it isn’t all doom and gloom. In fact, I have been surprised by the readiness with which many countries have moved forward with the Agenda 2030. In the Asia-Pacific region most governments have started working on the Agenda only three months after the official start date!

In Indonesia, for example, the government is about to announce a presidential decree to align all its work with the objectives of the Agenda 2030. Nepal has formed a parliamentary committee that will oversee the successful implementation of the SDGs, less than a year after the devastating earthquake. Timor-Leste, a post-conflict country and leading member of the G7+ group has established a working group led by the Prime Minister to coordinate and monitor the SDGs, with its national policies informed by the Agenda.

And it goes on. In Bhutan and Tonga we have helped the government identify SDG gaps in their national development plan, using a Rapid Integrated Assessment. In Bangladesh, Mongolia and Pakistan we are looking at the data ecosystem to understand what data is available to track progress on the SDGs and assess the capacity and assistance these countries need to track the new agenda. China, the Philippines and Samoa are voluntarily reporting to the UN High Level Political Forum this July on their progress made in mainstreaming the SDGs.

What a difference. It took years before the MDGs had any traction at national level. Even more years before they had an impact on national planning and budgeting, and then only in some countries.

Sure, even these early actions are only valuable to the extent that they contribute to the larger outcomes. We do not have a silver bullet for accelerating progress. Allocating resources still involves setting priorities and deciding on trade-offs, which most often are the social and environmental considerations. Many actors, including the private sector do not become advocates for sustainable development overnight.  

Still, these early actions on the Agenda 2030 are promising and give us hope as to where it might lead. While small steps, they could build the basis for long term transformation that changes the way we live. Pave the way to a sustainable, peaceful world.

Asia-Pacific’s performance was critical for progress on the MDGs globally. Without countries like China and India, which together account for over a third of the world’s population, many of the SDGs will also not be achieved. But so far, Asia-Pacific is doing its part. And I like to think it is leading the way. Prove me wrong? If other regions are doing equally well than that would mean an even more positive story. Maybe a little faith wasn’t so misplaced after all.

Blog post Sustainable development Asia & the Pacific Agenda 2030 Inclusive growth

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