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Delivered by Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana

21 May 2020

Honourable Chair,

Excellencies, distinguished delegates,

Welcome to the 76th session of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific. It is indeed a privilege for me to be able to greet all of you from across our region.

We are going through challenging times, as the COVID-19 pandemic impacts people’s health, strains our economies and shapes on our societies.

These times call for our compassion. While many are suffering directly from the pandemic, loss of family and friends deepens the pain for others. Many have lost jobs and face poverty as savings dwindle.

This sudden change affects not only individuals or communities, but societies as well, as the pandemic spreads across countries, without respect for borders.

This socioeconomic uncertainty has drawn our attention to the importance of public health infrastructure and social protection. It has also forced us to consider how these programmes and stimulus measures can be financed.

And it has called attention to the criticality of data and information management to formulate evidence-based policies. The pandemic has accelerated some structural changes, such as digitalization, that was already underway, as it affects the way us work, study and lead our lives.

Given this rapidly changing environment, we must rise to the challenge so that we can maintain the progress we have attained in the years to come.

Excellencies, distinguished delegates,

As decided by member States last year, the theme of this year’s Commission is “Promoting economic, social and environmental cooperation on oceans for sustainable development”.

The study “Changing Sails: Accelerating Regional Actions for Sustainable Oceans in Asia and the Pacific” highlights the importance of the health and sustainability of oceans, in the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The theme study calls for regional cooperation in data and statistics, maritime connectivity, sustainable fisheries and marine plastic pollution.

I look forward to listening to your deliberations on this theme. In this connection, I am pleased to inform you that Portugal and Kenya, the co-hosts of the next United Nations Oceans Conference, have confirmed the convening of this global event at a later date. Your conclusions from our discussions today will therefore be received and considered at the conference.

Let me now reflect on some of our recent work, delivered through our intergovernmental platform, policy research and analysis, and capacity development, that remain relevant, and especially timely, at this juncture.

Excellencies, distinguished delegates,

May I highlight several recommendations made by Committees that met last year after the seventy-fifth session of the Commission.

Recognizing the needs to align integrated national financing framework and to identify mobilization of additional sources of financing, the Committee on Macroeconomic Policy, Poverty Reduction, and Financing for Development, requested the secretariat to facilitate regional cooperation on innovative finance to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

We are also taking forward our assistance to member States on enhancing the access to finance available to micro-, small and medium-sized enterprises with a focus on women entrepreneurs through relevant information technology and financial technology solutions.

Similarly, the Committee on Energy also welcomed the continued work of the Expert Working Group on Energy Connectivity and the draft regional road map on power system connectivity and promoting cross-border electricity connectivity for sustainable development.

The Committee on Disaster Risk Reduction recognized the work of the Regional Cooperative Mechanism for Drought Monitoring and Early Warning and its service nodes in the region. The Committee recommended to scale up space applications for disaster risk reduction and resilience to support high disaster risk, lowcapacity countries.

As many of us adopt a different way of life, the Seventh Asia-Pacific Urban Forum met in Penang, Malaysia in October 2019, stressed the need for sustainable planning to build resilience and encourage low-carbon development.

We are facilitating the transition to finance solutions, including through developing capacities to implement public-private partnerships.

We noted that Smart Cities, enabled by new technologies, could lead to green jobs and better people-centered development, if the digital divide could be further narrowed. Social distancing only adds another wrinkle to this complex discussion.

At the Asia-Pacific Ministerial Conference on the Beijing+25 Review, I noted the criticality of region’s commitment to action on gender equality and women’s empowerment.

With intensification of priority actions towards realizing women’s economic empowerment, improvement of access to formal economy is important measure to ensure equal opportunities for education, jobs and financial inclusion. The rise in unemployment therefore only brings this issue back to the forefront.

In this regard, ESCAP’s regional programme on Catalyzing Women’s Entrepreneurship is an important step forward.

As we adapt to the “new normal”, we need to consider how to apply these recommendations to our now different world.

We will ensure that our interventions complement national and subregional efforts to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, where economic growth is intertwined with social inclusion and environmental sustainability.

This applies not only to our work in the least developed countries, landlocked developing countries and small island developing States, but also to our efforts in our middle-income and developed member States as well.

Excellencies, distinguished delegates,

As the United Nations development system undergoes a regional reform, ESCAP has increasingly placed emphasis on strengthening partnerships.

Under the revamped regional architecture, ESCAP will strengthen policy coordination and joint programming with the UN agencies, funds and programmes, through issue-based coalitions on climate change mitigation; resilience; inclusion and empowerment; gender and human rights; and human mobility and urbanization.

We have also strengthened our collaboration with subregional organizations, private sector, think tanks, academia and civil society. We recently co-organized the high-level policy dialogue on building a resilient ASEAN in the aftermath of COVID-19 with the ASEAN secretariat.

Another dialogue on enhancing complementarities between the ASEAN Vision 2025 and the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development will take place in June in line with the outcomes of the 10th ASEAN-UN Summit in November 2019 under the Chairmanship of Thailand.

In the Pacific, ESCAP has likewise worked with subregional mechanisms to promote multi-hazard risk assessment and early warning, in line with the SAMOA Pathway.

These are a few examples among many.

Excellencies, distinguished delegates,

No society and country, small or large, developed or developing, can escape from the unfolding devastation caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Country after country have experienced a dramatic fall in economic growth and jobs, to be followed by a “new normal” of low demand, constrained trade and reduced human mobility.

When addressing this health crisis, countries face an unprecedented dilemma: the need to balance measures to contain the pandemic against those for socio-economic recovery.

And in order to support countries in building back better, refocus of our work is necessary.

The thematic areas, builds on its mandates, of our refocused streams of work are:

  • Protecting and investing in people and enhancing resilience;
  • Supporting sustainable and inclusive economic recovery; and
  • Restoring supply chains and supporting small and medium enterprises.

First, let us invest in social protection and public health systems to reduce inequalities and build resilience.We must raise our policy support to enhance emergency preparedness of societies by establishing well-coordinated health care system.

Second, economic recovery, led by expansionary fiscal and monetary measures, must be sustainable and in line with the 2030 Agenda as well as the Paris Agreement. Concerted action may also be needed to ensure that debt does not unduly constrain the policy options of countries.

Third, we must build resilience in supply chains through regional cooperation and accelerated digitalization. Given region’s leadership in advancing technological breakthroughs, governments must ensure that the trade, investment, transport and ICT sectors promote connectivity that is environmentally sustainable as well as development of SMEs.

Finally, as we lay foundation for the principle of building back better framework, it must include three immediate policy responses on socio-economic pillars, accelerate our collective actions to protect environment by addressing pollution reduction, decarbonization and energy efficiency as well as climate change and biodiversity.

As this is a shared responsibility, I encourage governments to leverage regional cooperation to drive this change.

Excellencies, distinguished delegates,

These challenging times calls upon us, as citizens of the region, to extend our hands to the most vulnerable. Upholding our collective strengths, rekindling our values and reinvigorating the spirit of compassion unite us as we chart new pathways.

Under the leadership of the Secretary-General, we commit to uphold the enduring values of the United Nations Charter, and to take forward his call for solidarity and inclusive multilateralism.

Today, together with you, at this transformative juncture of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the United Nations, I am fully committed to supporting the peoples of Asia and the Pacific.

I wish you a very successful Commission.

Thank you.

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