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Navigating the uncertainties ahead in North and Central Asia

Photo by Unsplash/Irina Shishkina

2022 started with an abnormally warm January for North and Central Asia, followed by civil unrest, and the lingering impacts of COVID-19. How the year ahead would look like is still fraught with uncertainties. It is against this precarious backdrop that the Asia and the Pacific SDG Progress Report 2022 was launched.

The need to reach those furthest behind has never been greater.

The COVID-19 pandemic has slowed down progress towards sustainable development. More worryingly, we are observing widening disparities among different socioeconomic groups. In North and Central Asia, proficiency in reading and mathematics has differed between rural and urban populations. Time spent on unpaid domestic chores and care work continue to widen between women and men, with women spending 3 to 4 times more time on these chores. Urgent attention is needed to reverse these widening inequalities.

Disaggregated data – by sex, age, wealth, etc. – is important to inform and shape more inclusive decision making and policies. Vulnerable population groups and their needs may be hidden behind aggregated data. Given the limited progress for Goal 5: Gender equality in the subregion, countries need to put in place measures to encourage equal participation of female and male in school and in the work force. Among these are to recognise care work as a foundational premise in our lives and to put in place care-sensitive policy actions, such as investing in gender-sensitive infrastructures that caters to basic needs and putting in place care-related social protection transfers and benefits.

Enhanced multistakeholder coordination and cooperation is needed.

The volatility of current global developments is expected to aggravate the progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Logistical disruptions stemming from COVID-19 is expected to continue and have been observed to spread across different sectors, from agriculture to energy to retail. The reduction in supply of agricultural products coupled with logistical bottlenecks lead to higher costs and rising food prices. This is of concern for North and Central Asia as the subregion has observed high prevalence of food insecurity in the population. We need to brace ourselves for rising commodity prices and higher inflation rates. Moreover, it will be increasingly challenging to achieve Goal 16: peace, justice and strong institutions, and Goal 17: Partnerships for the goals.

Joint efforts are needed to reduce barriers and obstacles to the movement of goods, services, capital, and labour. Digitalisation offers opportunities for stakeholders to streamline processes and reduce costs. It can also facilitate the inclusion of micro, small and medium enterprises into supply chains. This will need to be complemented with adequate access to digital infrastructure and financial resources, which can be rolled out through targeted policy measures of governments with technical and financial assistance by development partners. Countries in the subregion can demonstrate their readiness to coordinate actions and policies through established platforms such as the UN Special Programme for the Economies of Central Asia (SPECA). Cooperation with regional organizations, such as the Eurasian Economic Commission, Shanghai Cooperation Organization and Economic Cooperation Organization, should also be strengthened. Coordination and cooperation are especially important for collection of statistical data, monitoring and measuring SDG progress, and implementation of measures to support the realization of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Regressing environmental trends need to be reversed.

Concerning trends of regression are observed for Goal 12: Responsible consumption and production, Goal 13: Climate action and Goal 14: Life below water. Although renewable energy capacity has increased, the share of renewable energy in the total energy supply remains very low, amounting to approximately 3.4 per cent of the total energy supply. Fossil fuel subsidies as a percentage of GDP in North and Central Asia is the highest among all subregions in Asia and the Pacific. Implementation of green economy strategies need to be accelerated across the subregion.

Among sectors that can be targeted for the development of low carbon systems are agriculture, energy and transport. The energy sector is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases and accounts for 64 per cent of the emissions in Central Asia. Countries in the subregion need to firmly commit to implementing their emissions reduction pledges as per the Paris Agreement and follow through on pledges for carbon neutrality. To mitigate the possible economic impact of this shift, carbon pricing instruments can be applied to generate revenues and create the fiscal space needed to support the transition towards sustainable development.

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Nikolay Pomoshchnikov
Head, Subregional Office for North and Central Asia
Andrey Panteleev
Head, Economic Policy Strategies Section, Eurasian Economic Commission
Subregional Office for North and Central Asia +7 727 338 4417 [email protected]