Building back better and differently together through the SDGs - Bambang Susantono

Speech | 7 July 2020

Speech by Bambang Susantono, ADB Vice-President for Knowledge Management and Sustainable Development, for a side event at the High-level Political Forum for Sustainable Development, 7 July 2020

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen. It is a pleasure to join you in this virtual side event of the high-level political forum on the SDGs. Thank you, Executive Secretary Alisjahbana, for your presentation of our joint report. Let me also welcome Ms. Wignaraja, UNDP’s Assistant Administrator and Director of Asia Pacific Bureau. I believe this is our first time to be on a virtual panel together, representing the tripartite partnership of ADB, ESCAP, and UNDP. I am looking forward to working with you. Finally, a warm note of thanks to Director General Berananda of Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs for joining us today. Thailand’s efforts to manage the COVID-19 pandemic have been a source of hope to many in our region, and we look forward to hearing your insights.

Today, I will discuss how we can work on “Building back better and differently together through the SDGs.”

The Sustainable Development Goals are more relevant than ever

COVID-19 has highlighted our region’s vulnerability to shocks and stresses. We were already off track in the achievement of the SDGs, and measures to manage the pandemic have made a challenging situation even harder. 

The SDG Reports prepared for the 2018 and 2019 Asia Pacific Forum and High-Level Political Forum highlighted the need for transformation to create sustainable and resilient societies, where people are empowered to pursue inclusion and equality.  COVID-19 has driven home the importance of both these themes.

Transformation and resilience are critical

As we cope with the immediate effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, we must not lose sight of the need for transformative changes to achieve the SDGs. The goals can provide a framework and road map as we turn our attention to the question of how we will weather, live with, and recover from this pandemic.

Resilience must be central to our strategies and interventions.  Such shocks do not respect borders, so the pathway to saving lives and securing livelihoods lies not in national isolation, but in cooperating across borders on information sharing, capacity building, and policy coordination. We must use the SDGs and Paris agreement as the guiding frameworks for our recovery efforts and do what it takes to prioritize their attainment.

Entry points for transformation: energy, infrastructure and decarbonization

Each of the 6 entry points for transformative change explored in this year’s SDG Report has been affected by COVID-19, while also presenting potential opportunities to help us respond to the pandemic. Effective responses today could, in turn, enable us tackle longstanding and challenging issues, by building-back-better.

Let us take one entry point as an example: energy decarbonization and access to energy. The report notes that this entry point is particularly challenging as it pulls in two potentially opposing directions. Too many countries in our region have increased access to energy without introducing measures to address greenhouse gas emissions or promote clean energy. Pausing our economies to contain the pandemic has resulted in some temporary reductions in air pollution and emissions. Cities had blue skies, rivers and streams were clear, and nature was back to its pristine condition. This to remind us not only that we must, but we can, make fundamental changes for sustainability. Going back to business-as-usual will put us back on a path to the climate change crisis.

In past financial crises, infrastructure investment has been an important part of recovery and stimulus packages, aimed at restarting economies. Infrastructure investment is also closely related to many of the other transformative entry points explored in the report, including urban and peri- urban development; human capabilities and wellbeing; and building sustainable food systems. For example, stimulus packages in response to the 2008 financial crisis helped enable some of the renewable energy investments that the world has benefited from over the past decade. Now, as we slowly open our economies, we will need to ensure that we sustain the policy and investment support mechanisms, for clean and renewable energy that we have put in place over the past few years.

Multilateral Development Banks are coordinating closely to support countries in this difficult situation. We at the Asian Development Bank have taken significant steps to expand our fiscal capacity to support our developing member countries. We are also working to ensure that our financial and economic support packages promote green, resilient, and inclusive infrastructure. Climate change and adaptation finance targets under our ADB Strategy 2030 take on renewed importance. ADB projects related to COVID-19 response efforts are also screened carefully to benefit the poorest and most vulnerable people, and to support long-term, environmentally sustainable development.

The power of partnerships

We can only realize the SDGs through strong global and inclusive partnerships — we are really strongest when we work together.

Partnerships help finding new ways to take on longstanding challenges in unprecedented times. It can help inspire and lay the groundwork for the new approaches to development. This will be essential if we are to “bounce forward, and not, to bounce back”, from this crisis, by building-back-better and together toward achieving the SDGs.

To succeed, each of us will have a role to play—as development organizations, governments, businesses, civil society bodies, local community groups, and of course, individuals. This week, we have come together at this High-Level Political Forum to remind ourselves that there is no success without joining forces. We value and cherish our partnership with ESCAP and UNDP on the SDGs as an important part of ADB’s efforts, but we cannot stop here. ADB is committed to the SDGs, and we will make this partnership an inspiration, to promote more collaboration and alliances across all in Asia and the Pacific.

With that, I end my talk. Thank you.