Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals in South Asia: Key Policy Priorities and Implementation Challenges

Report15 Sep 2018

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted by the world leaders in September 2015 represents a transformative framework to spur national actions to end poverty and hunger and build an inclusive and sustainable world. Encompassing 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 associated targets, the ambitious Agenda presents a historic opportunity to make development more inclusive, equitable and sustainable and to end extreme poverty and provide a life of dignity to all within a generation. It is of particular relevance to South Asia, a region accounting for 36% of the world’s poor and nearly half of undernourished children.

Given the weight of the subregion in the world population, extent of poverty, hunger and other deprivations, global progress on the SDGs would depend on their achievement by South Asia.

South Asia’s economic dynamism and promising prospects provide confidence in the subregion’s ability to transform itself and build a sustainable future for all. A determined political will is, however, required if the subregion is to expeditiously adopt and implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. To do so, the subregion will need to mainstream the SDGs into national development plans and budgets as well as reorient growth frameworks to be inclusive, equitable and promote low-carbon development pathways.

To achieve the 2030 Agenda, South Asia must promote an industry-oriented structural transformation for creating decent jobs without jeopardizing environmental sustainability. As per capita incomes rise and the middle-income demographic grows, targeting manufacturing sector development will become even more critical to meet the increasing domestic demand. The lack of export orientation of some economies also carries the risk of external account vulnerabilities. Structural transformation therefore needs to focus on nurturing higher value-added and new and innovative products and services for domestic, regional and global markets. Sustainability in South Asia must therefore, rest on a core foundation of diversification and competitiveness.

Recognizing the host of challenges faced by South Asia, UNESCAP has attempted to unpack the 2030 Agenda at the subregional level in this Report, and outlined tangible, high priority and relevant policy actions that are critical for the implementation of sustainable development. The Report identifies seven key priorities that can help accelerate the SDG achievement in South Asia by leveraging the relationships between the Goals. Among others, our policy simulations and evidence offer insight into how a regionally coordinated sustainable industrialization strategy in South Asia could generate more than 56 million new jobs by 2030 and lift 71 million additional people out of poverty, relative to a business-as-usual scenario.

The subregion’s success in implementing the SDGs, however, hinges on addressing current capacity gaps and strengthening the means of implementation. Mobilizing diverse sources of finance is imperative to the subregion in this respect. This includes, but is not limited to, domestic resource mobilization, official development assistance, and harnessing private sector investments and public-private partnerships for sustainable
development. Science, technology and innovation agendas in the subregion must also be aligned with the new sustainable development paradigm and the countries must strengthen their capabilities and capacities in the sector. This requires conducive policies and legal and regulatory frameworks, supported regionally and globally by favourable technology transfer provisions, a global technology facilitation mechanism, and a technology bank for least developed countries. Regional and subregional cooperation would play a critical role.

This Report will be useful for analysts and practitioners of development policy in the subregion and beyond, in stimulating a debate on the ways and means of bringing sustainable prosperity to all in South Asia and help it, at last, harness its latent development potential.

This Report is first released in May 2017 and is revised in September 2018.