Regional Workshop on ‘Sustainable Development Goals: Priorities and Solutions’

Regional Workshop on ‘Sustainable Development Goals: Priorities and Solutions’

by Dr. Angus Munro

Dr. Munro attended the above inaugural meeting of the Southeast Asia Regional Hub of the Sustainable Development Systems Network (SDSN) at the Westin Hotel, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

The SDSN is an initiative of the United Nations under the direction of Professor Jeffrey Sachs of the Earth Institute (Columbia University) which aims to contribute to the establishment of a series of global Strategic Development Goals (SDGs), as the next step after the 2015 expiry of the programme for developing nations’ pursuit of their Millennium Development Goals. As such, the SDSN seeks to create a synergistic network of regional and national organisations for the entrenchment and thereafter the reinforcing of the four pillars for sustainable development (economic prosperity, social inclusion, environmental sustainability and good governance). The President of the University of Cambodia, Dr. Kao Kim Hourn, is a member of the SDSN Southeast Asia Regional Board.

The purpose of the workshop was to give regional inputs to the relevant United Nations’ Open Working Group (OWG-SDGs) on a targeted framework of regionally-relevant (and hopefully globallyachievable) SDGs. It was co-organised by Professor Emeritus Dato’ Sri Dr. Zakri Abdul Hamid (Science Advisor to the Prime Minister, Malaysia; Chair, Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services; expert member of the newly-established Scientific Advisory Board of the UN Secretary-General, Ban-Ki Moon) and Sir Bob Watson (Sir Louis Matheson Distinguished Visiting Professor, Monash Sustainability Institute, Monash University; a past scientific advisor in the US White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy, scientific advisor, manager and chief scientist at the World Bank, and chief scientific advisor to the UK Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs).

The meeting involved about 100 participants from ASEAN member countries and Australia (mainly from Monash University), as well as representatives of ADB, ANZ, UNDP and UNESCO. As such, it included contributions from governments, academia,

the business sector and other stakeholders from the region.

The following is my personal take on a few of the major items arising. The major conclusions, based on the individual presentations, are that:

  • poverty and increasing inequality remaining a major issue which the SDGs should seek to rectify;
  • the threat of climate change compounds the problem, in the face of governments’ inertia;
  • education is a pre-eminent factor in promoting the quest for SDGs and their subsequent realisation (apart from human capital development in general: there is the need for promoting quality rather than just quantity, together with the promotion of life-long learning to prepare for the future);
  • there is the need to expand social safety-nets, especially given the fact that the region is prone to natural disasters;
  • local and national governance issues are important in different ways (for example, city governors from different countries can meet to discuss solutions to their problems, which might not be possible at the national level);
  • there is the need for involvement of the private sector and also other stakeholders (so that all have a sense of ownership and can participate in the decision-making process);
  • the media play an important role (but this may be destructive as well as constructive in the modern age) and, more broadly, effective communication is vital; and thus
  • there is the need to responsibly embrace new technologies, including genetically-modified organisms and nuclear power (so that there is the need for balanced risk-assessment rather than knee-jerk reactions).

A document has been submitted, after due consultation with all participants, to the OWG-SDGs for consideration and inclusion, as appropriate, in their report to the UN General Assembly in late 2014. Arising out of the meeting, it is planned to launch the Cambodian Chapter of the SSDN, and the relevant office in the United Nations has been contacted accordingly.