Asian-Pacific Region Needs To Refocus On Their Global Goals

Climate Goals

A new UN report has revealed that the Asia-Pacific region is not on track for achieving any of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) or global goals set by the United Nations. The current pace means that the region could achieve less than 10% of the SDG targets.

According to the report titled Asia and the Pacific SDG Progress Report 2021, UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, only nine of the region’s 104 measurable targets are being met.

According to the report, half of the Asia-Pacific goals have not been met, and many are still at a level below 2020. In addition, the report highlighted that progress in achieving environmental goals was very disappointing.

Other goals that the region failed to meet were gender equality (Goal #5) and clean water and sanitation (Goal #6), affordable, clean energy (Goal #7), decent employment, and economic growth (Goal #8), and life on land (Goal #15).  It is necessary for countries to achieve their climate global goals.

We celebrated the 2021 Women’s Entrepreneurship Day with the awareness that we are still far from making circumstances where female entrepreneurs can thrive every day. To put it simply, countries must rebuild after the pandemic and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, or called global goals, by empowering women as decision-makers and business people.

Due to the limited fiscal space, no country can afford to ignore gender equality. This could increase the region’s GDP up to $4.5 trillion per year by 2025. First, however, countries must overcome the obstacles women entrepreneurs face to seize this opportunity.

The limited access of women to information and communication technology, discriminatory legislation frameworks, and cultural and social norms all hinder women’s ability to start, sustain, and grow their businesses. The same goes for women’s access to finance.

In some countries in the region, the financing gap for women entrepreneurs is as high as $6Billion. The Honorable Minister of Women Affairs of Cambodia stated that 61% of Cambodia’s businesses are women-owned. However, only 3% of these businesses have access to loans from financial institutions. Women are also restricted from engaging in productive entrepreneurial activities by the uneven distribution of domestic and unpaid work at the household level.

The past two years have brought new challenges to women entrepreneurs. In the aftermath of the pandemic, the micro, small and mid-sized enterprise (MSME) sector was the most affected. Women entrepreneurs have also suffered a significant loss in economic security.

ESCAP’s most recent study on COVID-19 and MSMEs in Vietnam found that women-led MSMEs are twice as likely as men to have had to suspend some or all their business activities. The majority of enterprises owned by women in the region are concentrated in the most vulnerable, informal, or micro sectors. These include the clothing, food, and beverage industries. All of these sectors were severely affected by the pandemic. This segment requires extraordinary attention.

COVID-19 has also contributed to the escalating risks and challenges. Accessing finance was made more difficult by the fact that women-led MSMEs in Asia and the Pacific were unable to obtain funding support because of complicated procedures and documentation.

The internet user gender gap affected women entrepreneurs’ ability to use technology and create alternative business models during the pandemic. ESCAP’s program on Catalyzing Women’s Entrepreneurship, supported by Canada’s Government, was a lifesaver during these difficult times for women entrepreneurs.

This program addresses three main barriers to the growth of women-led companies: accessing finance, digital and business skills, and an enabling policy environment.

The programme improves access to financing by supporting women’s economic empowerment and moving beyond profit-based financing. The programme helped to create the first global bond that focuses on improving women’s lives. The programme has also created innovations at the convergence of finance and technology. For example, the ESCAP/UNCDF-led FinTech Challenge Fund supports tech start-ups to enhance access to finance for female entrepreneurs.

The program promotes digital skills through various digital finance and eCommerce solutions, for example, a digital bookkeeping application in Cambodia or training in e-commerce and other countries. These have helped women entrepreneurs reposition their businesses to be more flexible, capable, and prepared for unexpected events. Therefore, it was encouraging to listen to Vanessa Seow, Vice President at Lazada, state that increasing e-commerce access for women could bring an additional $280 million to the South-East Asia economy between 2025-2030.

Thirdly, the programme fosters a strong institutional and policy environment. Agencies overseeing SMEs as well as gender ministries have helped to guide policy reforms that address the issues faced by women entrepreneurs. Viet Nam’s current SME law was re-evaluated in collaboration with the Ministry of Planning and Investment. A new decree is currently being prepared with specific provisions for women-led SMEs.

Solving the complex problems facing our region’s female entrepreneurs will require a new collaborative approach that involves partnerships that bring together the private sector, UN agencies, funding partners, governments, and women entrepreneurs. According to Manesha Chadha, J.P. Morgan, the private sector can bring about catalytic funding, innovation, digitalization, and inclusive procurement throughout the value chain of women-led businesses.

To remove multiple obstacles to women’s entrepreneurship, it is essential to harness the strengths of many actors. It is impossible to overlook the contributions of women entrepreneurs to COVID recovery and set the region on the path to inclusive, resilient, and sustainable development.

Climate Action and Life Below the Water

A particular concern is a poor performance in achieving goals for climate action (Goal 13) and life below water(Goal 14). The situation is actually worse now than it was back in 2000.

Regressive trends in climate action and life below the water have been observed in all five regions: east and north-east Asia; north and central Asia; south-east Asia; and the Pacific.

More than half of global greenhouse gas emissions are from the Asia-Pacific region.

This region continues to be affected by natural disasters and is one of the most disaster-prone in the world.

According to World Disasters Report 2020, there was a record number of climate-related disasters in the region in 2020. These events affected tens of thousands of people already hard hit by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

While there has been progress in protecting coastal areas, the economic benefits of sustainable fishing and the quality of oceans have declined.

It is not on track to meet the targets of clean water and sanitation.

Water stress is the biggest obstacle facing the region. The situation has deteriorated significantly since 2000 and will likely continue to worsen unless there is collective action.

Green Recovery During Pandemic

Since 2000, the region has not made any progress towards the SDG goals for sustainable communities and cities.

It also missed an opportunity to rebuild better during the pandemic. The pandemic caused large cities in Asia to produce 154 to 228 tonnes more medical waste each day than they did before.

According to the Central Pollution Control Board, India’s COVID-19-related bio-medical waste production increased from 3,025 tonnes in June 2020 to 4,527 tons in December 2020.

Addressing Data-Deficit

Due to a lack of data, nearly 40% of the SDG targets can’t be measured in the Asia-Pacific region. In addition, data were scarce for climate action goals and life below water.  It is essential to do more with data to better assess environmental goals.

Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, United Nations under-secretary-general and ESCAP executive secretary, said: We have the opportunity to rethink our options regarding development paths that are more inclusive, resilient, and respectful of planetary boundaries.

The report stated that nations must ensure that they respond to the pandemic in a way that accelerates progress towards the 2030 Agenda.

UNESCAP has asked governments to renew their commitments under the SDGs monitoring framework to ensure a sustainable and inclusive recovery after covid.

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