Post-covid recovery. Almaty hosts SDG Summit

On June 16, the Second Regional Summit on the Sustainable Development Goals of the Central Asian countries “Beyond COVID - Towards a Just Recovery in Central Asia” began its work in Almaty. The summit was organized by the Government of Kazakhstan in partnership with the United Nations Development Program in Kazakhstan with financial support from the European Union and the Asian Development Bank.

The summit was attended by political leaders of the governments of Central Asian countries, international experts, representatives of international organizations, diplomatic circles, private sector leaders and representatives of civil society in Central Asia.

Opening the event, Prime Minister of the Republic of Kazakhstan Alikhan Smailov and UN Deputy Secretary General, UNDP Assistant Administrator Usha Rao-Monari addressed the summit participants with a welcoming speech on behalf of the organizers.

In his speech, Alikhan Smailov noted that Kazakhstan is committed to achieving the UN 2030 Agenda, as evidenced by the inclusion of indicators of the Sustainable Development Goals in national development strategies and programs. To implement the commitments made in the country, the Coordinating Council for SDGs is functioning.

At the same time, according to the Prime Minister of the Republic of Kazakhstan, against the backdrop of deep structural changes in the global economy, it became necessary to adapt the national economic development policy for the medium term.

“In this regard, we have begun to develop the economic policy of New Kazakhstan with the active participation of the business community and experts from international organizations. Within the framework of this document, new measures are being developed to improve the investment climate and business environment, reduce the participation of the state in the economy, introduce innovations and alternative energy, and expand green financing,” the head of the Government of the Republic of Kazakhstan noted.

At the same time, Alikhan Smailov added, special attention will be paid to the development of education and scientific and technical potential, expansion of R&D, training of qualified personnel for the needs of the economy.

Moving on to the next topic, the Prime Minister of the Republic of Kazakhstan emphasized that one of the main issues for many countries today is food security. Against this background, given that the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations considers a further increase in prices on the world market likely, Kazakhstan will step up steps to develop the potential of the agro-industrial complex and increase its productivity.

According to Alikhan Smailov, in the long term, the issues of food supply are also complicated by climate change, so the environmental agenda in Kazakhstan occupies one of the key places.

At the end of his speech, the Prime Minister of the Republic of Kazakhstan once again emphasized that regional cooperation between the countries of Central Asia is a key element in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. In this regard, it is planned to open the UN Center for SDGs for Central Asia and Afghanistan in Almaty.

“Resolute action and strong partnerships at both the national and regional levels are required to achieve progress and global goals. I am deeply convinced that further expansion of cooperation and interaction between our countries with the active participation of UN structures will contribute to building a sustainable and prosperous Central Asia,” Alikhan Smailov concluded.

Jutta Urpilainen, Commissioner of the European Union for International Partnership, also greeted the summit participants in the format of a video message. EU Commissioner Urpilainen stressed the EU's commitment to helping Central Asia achieve the SDGs.

According to Ms. Urpilainen, constructive dialogue, partnership and decisive action at both the national and regional levels are needed to achieve sustainable development in the post-pandemic period. All stakeholders - the state, business, civil society, academia, international organizations - have a role to play in ensuring that the necessary measures are taken to achieve sustainable development.

“This Summit on the Sustainable Development Goals in Central Asia is very timely. The pandemic has slowed Central Asia's progress towards achieving the SDGs. The SDGs are our common compass towards a sustainable future. Let me reaffirm the EU's commitment to helping Central Asia achieve the SDGs,” she said.

The European Union Commissioner for International Partnerships added that the organization's new strategy will help connect Europe and partners around the world through investments in sustainable and high-quality infrastructure.

“The EU is supporting a regional program worth 10 million euros. This promotes inclusive skills development for young people, including returning migrants. This comes in addition to our support for vocational training to help diversify the region's economy. In addition, we are preparing a project to help migrant workers and their families. The focus is on using smart digital technologies to drive remittance flows and new growth,” Urpilainen added.

The World Health Organization is also launching the second phase of the EU-funded COVID-19 crisis response program. This will make immunization systems more resilient.

In turn, the UN Under Secretary-General, UNDP Assistant Administrator Usha Rao-Monari expressed the opinion that the success of achieving the SDGs will require a fundamental change in the development path.

“With just eight years to 2030, we must put in more effort and commitment to get development back on track and move forward. This requires investing in people, improving social protection, providing quality education, creating decent jobs, switching to renewable energy sources and ensuring digitalization for all. Such bold actions entail a rethinking of the SDG financing system,” said Usha Rao-Monari.

The summit takes place during important geopolitical events. The combination of health, economic, environmental and political emergencies, record high prices for food, energy and commodities, rising interest rates and a looming debt burden create additional challenges for the recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The pandemic has exacerbated the fragility of social safety nets and public health systems, a dual labor market and disparities in access to finance. For the first time in a generation, we are witnessing a failure to achieve the SDGs by 2030. Global extreme poverty has increased for the first time in 20 years,” she added.

As in other regions, the pandemic has exposed the vulnerability of Central Asian economies to external shocks. Disruptions in trade, reduced consumption and investment, remittances from migrants, oil and mineral export revenues affect the gross domestic product of all countries in the region. Small and medium enterprises and the self-employed are particularly vulnerable as demand for their services has plummeted. Success in achieving the SDGs will require a fundamental change in development pathways. Just eight years to 2030 is needed for a broader effort to "get development back on track" and move forward. This will require investing in people, expanding social protection, providing quality education, creating decent jobs, switching to renewable energy sources and ensuring digitalization for all. Such bold actions call for a rethinking of the SDG financing system.

“In the new UNDP Strategic Plan 2022-2025, we commit ourselves to achieving the goal of lifting 100 million people out of poverty. Through the Global Jobs and Social Protection Accelerator, supported in partnership with other UN agencies, UNDP is committed to massively expanding social protection and creating decent jobs in the care, digital and green economy,” said UN Under-Secretary-General, UNDP Assistant Administrator.

In addition, the next four-year plan will focus on promoting sustainable finance and investment with development impact. There is an ambitious goal to encourage investment of more than $1 trillion of public and private capital in the SDGs. Scaling up finance requires public-private partnerships that are focused on long-term and transformative impact, not just profit. The SDGs provide the necessary framework for informed investment decisions.

The inclusion of the nationalized SDGs in the country's development plans, the creation of national sustainable development leadership structures and the preparation of voluntary national reports are a demonstration of the commitment of the governments of the countries of Central Asia to strengthening peace, ensuring the prosperity of people and protecting the planet. Most of the SDGs are cross-border in nature and cannot be achieved without joint efforts and regional cooperation. The Central Asia SDG Platform, funded by the EU and implemented by UNDP, is designed to do just that, serving as a platform for cross-border engagement, peer learning and regional coordination between governments, the European Union, international financial institutions, the private sector, UNDP and other UN agencies.

Given the multifaceted nature of development issues and the interrelationships of the SDGs, most governments are likely to seek to review their medium-term development plans and performance indicators, as well as to take into account new realities when it comes to financing for development. The interconnected nature of the SDGs requires comprehensive solutions, not piecemeal sectoral approaches. This is especially needed at the local level.

In conclusion, Usha Rao-Monari said that the conditions for continued partnership and integrated efforts are necessary if the region is to make significant progress towards the SDGs and accelerate recovery from the pandemic. UNDP is committed to supporting an enabling environment for creating such synergies by developing cooperation among countries and institutions in Central Asia.

She also expressed her hope that this summit will chart new paths towards closer cross-border and regional cooperation.

The Prime Minister of Uzbekistan Abdulla Aripov, starting his speech, expressed gratitude to the United Nations Development Program and the European Union for their support and assistance in holding the event.

“Over the past almost two and a half years, the world has felt the severe consequences of the spread of COVID-19, which have affected all spheres of life of the state and society without exception. And today it is extremely important that we have gathered to discuss the ways of post-pandemic recovery of our countries. Without a doubt, the key factor on this path will be the adoption of effective measures to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals,” said Aripov.

He noted that even in the context of the pandemic, Uzbekistan continued to fulfill its obligations under the SDGs and achieved significant results. The country, effectively using the available internal reserves and external borrowings, was not only able to quickly form an anti-crisis fund, but also to get out of the pandemic crisis with minimal losses and positive economic growth.

In addition, the Strategy for the Development of the New Uzbekistan for 2022-2026, recently adopted at the initiative of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan, covers all key goals. One of the main goals is to halve the poverty rate by 2026. The provisions of this policy document are closely linked and harmonized with the National Goals and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

“The Government of Uzbekistan sets itself a very ambitious, but quite achievable goal of joining the first group of countries with an upper middle income by 2030. To this end, we have to ensure the growth of GDP per capita by 2.5 times and, in general, the annual growth rate of GDP at the level of 6-7 percent. At the same time, we intend to ensure the inclusiveness of improving the welfare of the population and the development of human capital,” the Prime Minister of Uzbekistan emphasized.

The implementation of these goals, first of all, will be ensured through the transformation of commercial banks and the privatization of state-owned enterprises, the reform of land relations, the liberalization of the energy market, the modernization of the agricultural sector, and the active introduction of green and digital technologies. Separately, the head of the Government of Uzbekistan emphasized that the basis of all reforms in the republic is the main principle, in which the interests of the person are above all. This priority fully reflects the key principle of the UN Sustainable Development Agenda “Leaving no one behind”.

Abdulla Aripov voiced some suggestions to improve the efficiency of achieving the SDGs:

- first, the consistent reform of the role of the state, reducing its participation in the economy - increasing the efficiency of the management activities of government bodies, their accountability to citizens, ensuring transparency in decision-making, fighting corruption, and actively introducing e-government;

- second, stimulating the growth of the private sector and creating sustainable and high-quality jobs - improving the mechanisms for the distribution of land, labor and financial resources, improving the regulatory framework in this area, paying attention to protecting the rights of workers;

- third, the adoption of joint proactive measures to address the problems of food security, mitigate the negative impact of a sharp rise in world prices;

- fourth, the direction of joint efforts to develop alternative transport corridors, the creation of new value chains in such areas as the production of food, textile, pharmaceutical, engineering products and other industry sectors;

– fifth, investing in human capital development programs, promoting large-scale reforms in the field of health and education, the implementation of the national strategy for gender equality;

– sixth, taking actionable steps towards an inclusive green transition, including knowledge sharing and green investment.

“At the same time, the “green transition” should not create shocks for developing economies and vulnerable segments of the population. It is important to direct efforts towards the development of green energy, the introduction of innovations and digital technologies, and the modernization of infrastructure,” said Abdulla Aripov.

According to him, Uzbekistan intends to increase the share of renewable energy sources to 25% in the total volume of electricity production by 2030 (today this figure is 0.5%). In the coming years, it is planned to build solar power plants with a total capacity of 5,000 MW and wind farms with a total capacity of 3,000 MW.

The task was also set to switch all state institutions and companies to renewable energy sources by the end of this year. Norms are being introduced for the mandatory introduction of alternative energy sources and energy-saving technologies in the construction of social, infrastructure and housing facilities within the framework of ongoing state programs.

At the same time, it is necessary to manage natural resources more effectively, take measures to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and improve the disaster risk management system. Uzbekistan is determined to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement.

The Prime Minister of Uzbekistan also recalled that the ecological catastrophe of the Aral Sea remains on the agenda. Under the auspices of the UN, it is important to continue filling with practical projects the activities of the multi-partner trust fund for human security for the Aral Sea region. This will be facilitated by the active implementation of the resolution of the UN General Assembly adopted last year at the initiative of the leadership of the republic "On declaring the Aral Sea region a zone of environmental innovations and technologies."

“Uzbekistan is ready to expand productive practical cooperation with the United Nations Development Program, the Economic Commission for Europe, the World Health Organization, UNESCO, UNICEF, UNIDO, FAO and other international structures. We are interested in continuing intensive contacts and exchanges, deepening cooperation and implementing joint activities to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals in Uzbekistan, aimed primarily at improving the quality of life and improving the welfare of the population,” he said.

Chair of the Cabinet of Ministers of Kyrgyzstan Akylbek Zhaparov expressed his commitment to the implementation of the international sustainable development agenda. He noted the timeliness of convening a regional forum to review the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“Obviously, due to the coronavirus pandemic and its negative socio-economic consequences, we are behind the SDG implementation schedule. It is encouraging that by common efforts we have stopped the coronavirus threat with vaccination measures and are protecting the lives and health of our citizens. Now our common goal is to collectively move forward in achieving the SDGs and consolidate the results achieved.

The Kyrgyz Republic is committed to the implementation of the international sustainable development agenda and adheres to the global commitment to “leaving no one behind”. The sustainable development goals are taken into account in state policy measures and integrated into the National Development Strategy of Kyrgyzstan until 2040. Currently, national counterparts have been developed for 140 out of 232 global SDG indicators,” said Akylbek Zhaparov.

He continued that in June of this year, during the visit of the First Under Secretary-General of the UN Amina Mohammed to the Kyrgyz Republic, the United Nations Framework Program for Cooperation in the field of sustainable development in the Kyrgyz Republic for 2023-2027 was signed, which is designed to assist the efforts of our country to achieve the Goals sustainable development. According to the voluntary national review on the implementation of the SDGs, conducted in 2020, Kyrgyzstan has achieved 50% of all SDG indicators set by the UN.

Akylbek Zhaparov emphasized that, while defining national priorities in achieving the Goals, the Kyrgyz Republic pays special attention to the negative impact of climate change on our unique mountain nature. Last year, at the general debate of the UN General Assembly, the fifteenth session of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Biodiversity in Kunming and the climate summit in Glasgow, the republic informed the world community about the detrimental effects of climate change on mountain glaciers and biodiversity.

The Chair of the Cabinet called on international partners to support the efforts of Kyrgyzstan and the mountainous countries to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

Invited world-class experts also presented talks on different topics. The list of speakers included the well-known economist and director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University (USA) Jeffrey Sachs, Senior Fellow of the Global Economy and Development Program at the Brookings Institution (USA) Johannes F. Lynn, Professor Columbia University (USA) and Sciences Po University (France) Shiv Somshvar, Director of the UAE Federal Center for Competitiveness and Statistics Hanan Ahli, Executive Director and Chairman of the Board of the Estonian Academy of e-Governance Hannes Astok and others.

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