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Delivered by Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana

25 November 2020

Opening Remarks

Chair of the ESBN Executive Council, George Lam,

Colleagues, friends from the ESBN Executive Council

Distinguished participants, Ladies and gentlemen,

Welcome all to the 8th meeting of the ESCAP Sustainable Business Network.

We last met in October 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic. Even at that time, the region was not on track to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. Among the goals, only a few were more or less on track. So, with this COVID-19 crisis, it has certainly further stalled the much-needed progress.  

It has impacted health, caused delays in regional and global production networks, severely strained our economies, worsened the often already challenging liquidity situation for businesses, certainly for SMEs, and led to many losing their jobs or livelihoods. This in turn has led to increased poverty, vulnerability, even more our segment of population such as the informal sectors workers and women are one of the most impacted from this crisis. 

But any crisis can also serve as a wake-up call – of the need to better manage our economy, our society and more importantly, how to recover better. Which I believe is also one of the topics that will be discussed further in our meeting.

Several priority areas, policies such as scaling up social protection in which ESCAP is working a lot with partners such as ILO as well how to improve social safety nets, accelerating decarbonization of the economy, as well as increasing digitalization of not economy and other sectors including education, health, government and so on.

Government stimulus packages which is one of the priority spending of governments should also aim to accelerate all those priority objectives such as accelerating decarbonization, greening the economy, so recover better. One term is how to recover better to advance the priority policy of a greening the economy and also blue economy, because our region is home to two oceans: Indian and the Pacific.

Therefore, tackling these challenges will require government-government and government-business cooperation. It will also require companies to do what they can in their own operations and supply chains to contribute to those objectives.

At its May 2020 meeting, the ESBN Executive Council outlined the vision for the ESBN to be a regional network of corporate sustainability leaders, engaging with ESCAP to scale up business ambition and action to accelerate the achievement of the SDGs.

One of the decisions was also to convert the network from in-person to corporate membership and seek to expand it with large sustainability focused companies in the region.

ESCAP hope that the ESBN can serve as a vehicle to showcase Asia-Pacific company leadership on sustainability, and for drawing on the extensive knowledge and experience of companies in the region. This can be done by sharing their views and experiences, best practices, lessons learned in policy discussions and through involvement in practical initiatives or projects that we have yet to see. 

Over the past years, the ESBN has contributed inputs and knowledge products, e.g. on sustainable finance, participated as speakers in ESCAP events, and been a driving force and partner in organizing the annual Asia-Pacific Business Forum which was convene a few weeks ago. However, until recently ESBN taskforces were operating rather independently, and were not yet closely linked to the work of ESCAP divisions.

Moving forward, to increase impact, we enable closer alignment with ongoing and planned ESCAP work. So through this meeting, we have asked our divisions to identify how business, through ESBN, can help to forge this closer alignment by contributing expertise, access to networks as well as other resources.

The resulting presentation of potential ESBN engagement opportunities which you will hear more about today includes concrete proposals for how ESBN and ESCAP can work together to address climate action, plastic pollution, sustainable finance and digital economy.

This is of course an initial list, and based on our current and predicted funding, and we are sure that you have many more ideas for how we can work jointly in an effective and efficient manner, again with the objective to maximize impact and contribution.   

I am looking forward to the discussion on the ideas both in today’s meeting and in taskforce meetings, and hope that by the end of the year, we will have distilled a few impactful initiatives that ESCAP and the ESBN can jointly work together and to take a few initiatives forward.  

Thank you.

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