The Eleventh Asia Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development

Blog of Theresa Devasahayam, SI UN Representative at Bangkok. 

In the aftermath of World Earth Day, SI UN Representative Theresa Devasahayam reflects on the Eleventh Asia Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development in Bangkok, underscoring the urgent need for sustainable practices in achieving the 2030 Agenda while addressing poverty and climate crises.

Are We on Track to Achieving the 2030 Agenda?

The concept of sustainable development is especially critical in these times. In a nutshell, the concept encompasses pathways towards economic and social development without depleting natural resources and, in turn, destroying our environment.

The Eleventh Asia Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development was held in Bangkok on 20-23 February 2024. The Forum was attended by more than 1,000 participants, including government delegates, civil society organisations, United Nations bodies, international organisations, and major groups of various vulnerable groups such as women, persons with disability, older persons, and migrants, to name a few. Soroptimist International (SI) was represented virtually at the Forum.

Sustainable Development Goals under review at APFSD in 2024

Reinforcing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

The primary goal of the Forum was to address the theme: “Reinforcing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and Eradicating Poverty in times of Multiple Crises: the Effective Delivery of Sustainable, Resilient and Innovative Solutions in Asia and the Pacific.” Sub-themes discussed regarding individual Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) included: Poverty (SDG 1), Food Security (SDG 2), Climate Action (SDG 13), Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions (SDG 16), and Partnerships (SDG 17).

Other themes examined at the Forum were digitalisation and emerging technologies, the importance of data, and social protection, with gender equality and human rights as cross-cutting principles. These themes were also taken up at the roundtables and side events organised in conjunction with the Forum. In particular, the roundtables aimed at facilitating discussion around regional multistakeholder dialogues on pathways to accelerate action on the SDGs.

In particular, the Forum saw member states, major groups, UN agencies, and other stakeholders report on the progress made in the Asia Pacific as regards achievements made and challenges encountered in attaining the SDGs. Central to the discussion were the Volunteer National Reviews (VNRs) in attaining the 2030 Agenda undertaken by governments in the region. The report and addendum will be adopted on 23 February 2024 at the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific’s (ESCAP) 80th Commission in April 2024.

A critical point made at the Forum was that the region is 32 years behind in eradicating human poverty. The question then arose of how then to help the poor without leading to residual impacts on the ongoing climate crisis. It was acknowledged that local solutions must be integrated into ongoing strategies such that they do not lead to greater economic inequality. In relation to climate action, energy transition was also discussed in relation to climate financing: however, it was found that current climate financing pathways served to benefit countries in the Global North more than the Global South. Hence, policies have to shift in favour of the Global South to protect both the planet and people.

Considering People-Centred Models of Sustainable Development

Major groups raised significant issues on the importance of people-centred models. The main thrust of their contributions focused on prioritising the rights of people over profit; and how climate solutions should challenge governments and corporations whilst at the same time protect and empower communities; as well as all vulnerable groups, including women. Arguments were made that communities cannot have climate action without transforming food systems. Central to the official narrative on climate action is that, since public resources are insufficient, dependence on the private sector in achieving the climate targets is inevitable.

In this regard, people-centred models should take precedence in all climate partnerships involving the private sector, governments, other sectors, and communities. To this end, the exploitation of the Global South by the Global North through wealth transfers has to cease. Wealth transfers have occurred in the past and continue to this day in the region. Land grabbing by corporations is a case in point as to where power imbalances persist. Governments then should step up their efforts to eradicate such unequal exchanges between the different stakeholders. Thus, at the heart of development justice is social justice.

Future Action – Voluntary National Reviews

Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) constituted a significant discussion point at the Forum as a  vital tool to enable governments to take stock and assess progress and challenges in the implementation of the SDGs. For countries in the Asia Pacific, the VNRs have been a meaningful tool and have gained prominence since the creation of Agenda 2030 in 2015. Additionally, the role of voluntary local reviews (VLRs) was highlighted at the Forum: these include how local and regional governments become increasingly engaged in sub-national reviews of SDG implementation. Although VLRs have no official status, these sub-national reviews are valuable when fed into the broader process of SDG implementation.

Future Action – Zero Draft of the Pact for the Future

Also at the Forum, Under-Secretary-General for Policy at the United Nations, Mr Guy Ryder described the Zero Draft of the Pact for the Future. The Pact highlights five areas: (a) sustainable development and financing for development; (b) international peace and security; (c) science, technology, innovation, and digital cooperation; (d) youth and future generations; and (e) transforming global governance. The aims of the Pact are twofold. First, it serves to advocate for the renewal of multilateralism with the view of accelerating existing commitments and bridging gaps in global governance. Second, it aims to help countries achieve the two main goals of the Summit of the Future: accelerating efforts to achieve existing international commitments and taking concrete steps to respond to emerging challenges and opportunities.

Key Takeaways

There are two salient takeaways for Soroptimist International as an organisation from the Forum. First, it might be useful for clubs to refer to the VNRs more broadly, and the  VLRs more specifically, of the countries they are working in so that their projects are aligned with the SDGs. The VNRs and VLRs would serve to highlight the critical gaps in progress made towards achieving the SDGs and determine whether SI’s projects at the grassroots level can fill these gaps.

Second, SI should aim towards enabling women to organise beyond providing (adult) education or training to women and girls. Enabling to organise necessitates raising women’s and girls’ awareness on their rights, on the one hand, and talking to government authorities at the community level, on the other. Only then can women’s and girls’ voices be truly heard and their concerns, challenges, and problems be highlighted.



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