Excellency Bui Thanh Son, Minister of Foreign Affair of Viet Nam

Distinguished panelists, excellencies ladies and gentlemen

It is a great honor for me to deliver remarks on behalf of the United Nations Development Programme at this important ASEAN Sub-Regional Cooperation Forum on Sustainable Development and Inclusive Growth, organized by the Government of Viet Nam.

Today, we are at a turning point in human history. The biodiversity and climate crises are severely affecting our lives. The COVID-19 pandemic is the latest consequence of ecological imbalance, and it has reminded us that human and planetary well-being are inextricably intertwined.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is widely considered a development success story. The share of the ASEAN population under 5.5 US dollars a day decreased from 85% in 1990 to below 40% in 2019.  Today none of the ASEAN countries falls in the “Low Human Development Category’.

However, progress is uneven across and within ASEAN member states. The proportion of people living below 5.5 US dollars a day ranges from less than 1.4% in Malaysia to more than 69.5% in Lao PDR. Moreover, inequality is rising in the region. Pockets of deprivation are found even in countries where a small proportion of the population lives below the poverty line.

ASEAN is one of the most vulnerable regions to the long-term effects of climate change. According to Germanwatch Institute, ASEAN countries account for five of the world’s twenty most vulnerable countries to climate change.

The impact of the COVID–19 varies depending on a range of pre-existing vulnerabilities, including access to infrastructure, the coverage of digital communications networks and environmental stresses like climate change. Countries with more resilient health and social protection systems covering a larger share of the population have achieved greater success in minimizing the impact of the pandemic on human well-being. There is a risk that countries with less fiscal capacity will recover from the pandemic more slowly, an outcome that would increase inequality among ASEAN countries.

Hence, there is an urgent need to address interlinked global challenges like climate change, biodiversity loss and the risk of pandemics. Acting on their own, individual countries cannot meet these challenges. But collectively, with a renewed effort to strengthen regional and global cooperation, we can succeed. ASEAN is an outstanding example of regional and South-South cooperation.  The three pillars of the ASEAN Community—peace and security, economic integration and social and socio-cultural harmony—are a strong foundation on which to build regional prosperity, equality and solidarity. The Complementarities Initiative, launched in 2017, establishes a direct link between these pillars and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. The ASEAN-UN Action Plan 2021-2025 further strengthens the relationship between the two organizations that was established in 2011. The United Nations sees the ASEAN-UN partnership as a model for other regions.

Yet there is still much more to be done. After COP26, the 1.5-degree Celsius goal is alive, but the world is still far short of where it needs to be to minimize the impact of climate change. While ASEAN is not the major contributor to the climate crisis, its member states have made significant commitments at COP26. Six ASEAN member states signed on to the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forest and Land Use to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030. Four ASEAN countries also entered a pledge to protect nature and transform farming systems to cut emissions. Eight (8) ASEAN countries committed to net zero carbon emissions by 2050.  We commend Viet Nam as host of this Forum for being signatory to all these commitments.

Greater coordination and coherence is needed to strengthen the region’s response to Covid-19, and to ensure that no one and no country is left behind in its efforts to protect citizens from the negative impact of the pandemic. Inclusivity will require heightened efforts to ensure free and universal access to vaccinations and therapeutic drugs when they become available. ASEAN can lead the way in negotiating voluntary licensing arrangement for vaccines and medicines to facilitate transfer of technology to companies in the region.

ASEAN countries can also work together to ensure safe movement of people across international borders through the adoption of reliable vaccine passports, and timely and reliable flow of information between countries.

We must redouble our efforts to increase and prioritise investments in areas that will generate high returns in terms of realizing the SDGs, including social protection and assistance, education and health, essential infrastructure, green technology and economy, digitization and governance.

While public action and domestic resource mobilisation are key, initiatives from the business sector and civil society will also make an important contribution to progress on the SDGs.

Addressing global challenges requires strong commitment to partnership. Greater ambition is still needed in all areas to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement and to protect those on the frontlines of the climate crisis. While official Development Assistance has increased over time, it does not match the scale that is necessary to meet the challenges facing developing countries. The target of committing 0.7% of GNI to ODA remains an important benchmark of global solidarity.

Regional organizations like ASEAN have a crucial role to play in promoting cooperation and partnerships, for the aspirations of the Agenda 2030 and the ASEAN Vision 2050 to become a reality.  The UN system including UNDP stands ready to support ASEAN member states to become leaders in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and to realize an inclusive, green and resilient recovery with people at its center as highlighted by Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh in his opening remarks. 

Thank you!

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