A new report by a regional arm of the United Nations says that an additional annual investment of $1.5 trillion — equivalent to a dollar per person per day — would allow countries in the Asia-Pacific region to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. Survey 2019: Ambitions Beyond Growth, is the latest edition of an annual report by the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP). It finds that the price tag for achieving the SDGs is within reach for many countries, given their fiscal space and potential to leverage private investment.
The UN defines 17 SDGs as a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity. These include targets such as “No poverty”, “Zero hunger”, “Good health and well-being”, “Quality education” and “Gender equality”.
The new report argues that keeping the old paradigm of prioritising GDP growth at all costs is neither feasible nor desirable. Instead, UNESCAP proposes an investment package, equivalent to 5% of the combined GDP of Asia-Pacific developing countries in 2018, that includes:
$669 billion to support basic human rights and develop human capacities
$590 billion to achieve clean energy for all and live in harmony with nature
$196 billion for improved access to transport, information and communications technology (ICT), and water and sanitation.
“Closing this investment gap is within reach for many countries, but the gap is widest in countries which can least afford to narrow it. North-South, South-South and triangular cooperation as well as strengthened multilateral financing mechanisms will be essential to accelerating the pace of sustainable development,” UNESCAP Deputy Executive Secretary Hongjoo Hahm said at the launch of the report. “Innovative financial instruments such as green bonds and promoting new investor classes can help leverage the massive $51 trillion in assets managed by the private financial sector in the developing Asia-Pacific region. In addition, there is considerable potential to raise tax revenues in the region while improved investment efficiency” Hahm said.
Emphasis on quality of education
The report says that significant savings could be achieved through greater emphasis on education quality and outcomes. It cites UNESCO estimates in 2014 that globally, $129 billion was wasted annually due to the disconnect between schooling years and acquisition of basic skills alone. Using an efficiency frontier approach, it says, Asia-Pacific developing countries on average could save more than 30% through efficiency gains without compromising on education performance.
“Strengthening teaching quality and teacher training is key to achieving better educational results. The Asia-Pacific region significantly increased education access and average schooling years over the past several decades, but quality remains an issue. As of today, 92 million children in the region fail to obtain basic literacy and numerical skills even after completing primary school (World Bank, 2018),” the report states.