The start of the “Decade of Action” to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) has also marked the start of an unprecedented period of overlapping crises. The Covid-19 pandemic and crises of conflict, hunger, climate change and environmental degradation are mutually compounding, pushing millions into acute poverty, health and food insecurity. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has further disrupted supply chains and brought spikes in food and fuel prices. The devastation caused by efforts to control the spread of Covid-19 across the Asia-Pacific region is now well documented. At least 90 million people have likely fallen into extreme poverty, and more than 150 million and 170 million people are under the poverty lines of $3.20 and $5.50 a day, respectively. The pandemic drove home the consequences of uneven progress on the SDGs and exposed glaring gaps in social protection and health-care systems.
The dynamics of recovery in Asia and the Pacific have been shaped by access to vaccination and diagnostics, as well as by the structure and efficacy of national economies and public health systems. Yet for all the economic contraction, greenhouse gas emissions in the Asia-Pacific region continued largely unabated, and the long-burning climate crisis continues to rage. The positive effects of producing less waste and air pollution, for example, have been short-lived. Action lags, even as many countries in Asia and the Pacific have committed to scale up the ambition of their climate action and pursue a just energy transition. The political and economic drive to move away from fossil fuels remains weak, even with soaring prices of oil and gas across the region.
As the Ukraine conflict drives greater uncertainty and exacerbates food and fuel shortages, leading to surging prices, security is increasingly at the centre of economic and political priorities. This confluence of issues is adding to the shocks already dealt with by the pandemic and triggering crises of governance in some parts of our region. Again, the poorest and most vulnerable groups are the most affected. Price pressures on everyday necessities like food and fuel are straining household budgets, yet governments will find it more difficult to step in this time. Government responses to the previous succession of shocks have reduced fiscal space while leaving heightened national debt burdens in their wake. It has never been more important to ensure that the integrated aspects of economic, social, and environmental sustainability are built into our approaches to recovery.