Environmental sustainability, inclusion vital for recovery from COVID-19 for SDGs, says ADB

By Asian Development Bank

Environmental sustainability, inclusion vital for recovery from COVID-19 for SDGs, says ADB

The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has worsened poverty and inequality in Asia and the Pacific, while increasing inequalities between and within countries in the region, according to a new report released.

A stronger focus on inclusion, empowerment, and environmental sustainability are essential to support recovery that aligns with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), according to the report, Building Forward Together: Towards an Inclusive and Resilient Asia and the Pacific.

The pandemic has resulted in a global decline in human development for the first time in 30 years, and in Asia and the Pacific a rise in extreme poverty for the first time in 20 years, the report says. Nearly 90 million people may have been pushed into extreme poverty (less than $1.90 per day) and more than 150 million and 170 million people are under the $3.20 and $5.50 poverty lines, respectively.

For developing Asia and the Pacific, employment losses in 2020 are estimated to have reached 109 million to 166 million jobs—or nearly 70% of total employment losses globally, the report says. Wage income losses for the region range from $348 billion to $533 billion, or about 30% of global losses.

Jointly prepared by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, the Asian Development Bank (ADB), and the United Nations Development Programme, the report considers how countries have been responding to the pandemic. It says that the dynamics of recovery in Asia and the Pacific have been substantially shaped by access to COVID-19 vaccination, diagnostics, and therapeutics, as well as the adequacy of social protection coverage systems.

Economic structure and concentration in key sectors affected by the pandemic such as tourism, as well as fiscal space have shaped countries’ ability to cope. Digitalization has accelerated during the pandemic and helped economies and societies cope, but inequalities in access to digital opportunities persist. At the same time, the growing severity of environmental problems in the region increases the likelihood of new shocks and stresses to further set back development progress.

The report emphasizes the need for a stronger focus on green recovery. It highlights key elements of a policy agenda aimed at putting countries on a path to longer-term recovery that is inclusive, resilient, and aligned with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It calls for raising the ambition of efforts to align national recovery strategies with the SDGs, by putting the SDGs and the pledge of leaving no one behind at the heart of national recovery strategies. It also calls for mobilizing and steering all sources of available finance towards the SDGs.

“Even before the pandemic hit, we knew the financing demands of the SDGs were vast,” said ADB Vice-President (Operations 1) Shixin Chen at the launch. “As our joint report highlights, fiscal stresses and rising public debt have added to the challenge: we need to reinvigorate our commitment to financing the SDGs.”

The pandemic has disrupted progress on achieving the SDGs, with significant impacts on Goal 4 on education, due to widespread closing of schools before other sectors of the economy, and Goal 5 on gender equality. Many of the social and economic inequalities women and girls have long faced worsened during the crisis, including vulnerability to higher employment and income loss, unpaid care burden, lowered access to quality education, and heightened risks of violence. All of these effects have been especially severe in lower-income groups.

“Governments should review and revise national recovery strategies to ensure alignment with the 2030 Agenda—with emphasis on the needs of women, persons with disabilities, and other population groups in vulnerable situations,” the report says. “Regional cooperation and multistakeholder partnerships must play a critical role in supporting needed policy and institutional reforms and accelerating and scaling practical solutions that can put countries on a path to inclusive, sustainable, and resilient recovery.”