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APAC Countries Not on Track to Reach Sustainable Goals

A new United Nations report has warned that countries in the Asia and Pacific region are not on track to achieve any of the 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) and are in some cases even going in the “wrong direction”.

The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) published on Wednesday a progress report on the global targets to be achieved in 10 years’ time.

Data for some 20 percent of the many targets to be reached by 2030 indicate a worse situation today than when the goals were defined in 2015, according to the report.

UNESCAP executive secretary Armida S. Alisjahbana said the top priority for the region was to reverse the negative trends, especially on environment-related goals – responsible consumption and production (Goal #12) and climate action (Goal #13).

“It is not so much that consumption and production are not growing – of course they are growing, but not in a sustainable manner,” she said.

She said that progress on these goals had gone in the wrong direction, with one of the easy examples being the climate action goal.

The region emitted half of the world’s total greenhouse gasses – a number that has doubled since 2000, while 35 percent of the countries continue to lose forest cover. Meanwhile, the share of renewable energy in the region has dropped to 16 percent, one of the lowest rates globally.

“We are talking about global temperatures – not just in the region – which will increase [beyond] the maximum level, resulting in extreme weather,” Armida said.

According to a report compiled by the World Meteorological Organization, the average temperature globally between 2015-2019 was already on track to be the hottest of any five-year period on record. The period is currently estimated to be 1.1 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times (1850-1900) and 0.2 degrees Celsius warmer than the 2011-2015 period.

To overcome this, countries will have to commit to the 2015 Paris Agreement by taking measures to slow the pace of global warming, from cutting fossil fuel consumption and converting to renewable energy to protecting forests.

The 2015 Paris Agreement saw countries lay out national targets to reduce their emissions in order to limit the long-term temperature rise to below 2 degrees Celsius, or ideally 1.5 degrees Celsius, above pre-industrial levels.

Under the Paris climate accord, Indonesia has committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions unconditionally by 29 percent and conditionally by 41 percent by 2030. Despite calls from the UN and climate observers for countries to upgrade their commitments, Indonesia said it would maintain its targets on account of the challenges posed by annual land and forest fires.

While climate action and responsible consumption and production goals are going backward, good progress was made on economic goals, as real gross domestic product (GDP) per capita growth in the region was more than double the global average in 2017.

“It is true that there is economic growth, but the source of growth and the way we grow the economy is not sustainable,” Armida said.

Meanwhile, there were also goals where some progress was achieved, but not fast enough, including in addressing poverty, hunger, health, gender issues, clean water and sanitation.

“All these are basic services that are improving but are not adequate. With this level of progress, we will not be able to meet the 2030 targets,” she said.

SDG progress in the Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP)

SDG progress in the Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) (United Nations ESCAP/File)

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