On 16-17 May, prominent leaders of sustainable development projects gathered at the Astana Economic Forum (AEF), in Nur-Sultan to propose practical solutions for long-term economic growth and social development, especially in the area of education, decent work and economic growth, reduced inequalities, climate action, peace, justice and strong institutions as well as partnerships.
Former President of Colombia and Nobel Peace Prize Winner Juan Manuel Santos explained Colombia’s pioneer role in shaping the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) while reminding that Colombia was the first country to turn the 17 SDGs into law and to regionalise them. “The latter is very important for large countries, such as Kazakhstan, whose regions have different conditions,” he noted. “We must make many more people aware of the urgency with which we have to act.”
“We lost 20 years of time to implement sustainable policies between the two Rio Summits despite the fact that our survival depends on this. This week the temperature in the Arctic Circle reached 29 Celsius degrees,” stressed Professor Jeffrey Sachs from Columbia University. “We should think ahead in a generational scale instead of living from tweet to tweet. The quarterly GDP accounts are meaningless if we don’t have long term perspective in terms of debt and environmental devastation. We should not look at shallow indicators but at the quality of life.”
“For Kazakhstan, which is at the heart of Eurasia, the Belt and Road Initiative is very important. But we have to find ways to make it a green sustainable development initiative instead of constructing more coal plants under this banner,” Sachs concluded.
The Vice-President of the Asian Development Bank Shixin Chen stressed the role of regional organisations in supporting the implementation of the SDGs. “We can help countries to reform their policies to build up public management capacities and to boost technological progress,” he said.
The Under-Secretary-General of the UN and Executive Secretary of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana highlighted the need to transform economies to more diversified models in the region and to make them less dependent on oil, gas and minerals.
“Kazakhstan has a huge potential due to its geographic location at the centre of the sub-region connecting not only several countries in the region but also Europe to the rest of Asia. This strategic location could be developed as a transportation or connectivity hub. This is the direction where the Kazakh economy is going,” she said.
She also highlighted that Central Asia could hugely benefit from the from ASEAN’s initiative of global energy interconnection development cooperation (GEIDO), which foresees an interconnected grid of renewable energy.
“To accelerate the progress of the Asia and the Pacific region in order to achieve the SDGs by 2030, strategically targeted investments, a deeper economic integration and trade facilitation measures will be needed,” she added.
The President of PlaNet Finance, Jacques Attali, who was the initiator of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, highlighted that the top 14 countries in terms of SDG performance were in Europe, Sweden constituting a good example. “But there is a major flaw in the SDG mechanism: It doesn’t take into account the spill-over effects of imports,” he argued. “If we think in terms of global impact, the results for importing countries, such as Germany and France, are much worse.”
Referring to the Global Positive Index, taking into account different factors, such as democracy, demography and transparency, Attali underlined that, “the capacity of OECD countries to take care of the next generation is diminishing. No investment should be done without an impact analysis for future generations.”
Haukur Hardarson, Chairman and Founder of the Arctic Green Energy Cooperation, pointed out that 80 percent of the energy used for the heating and cooling of cities is generated from fossil fuels, which is responsible for environmental pollution and public health damage. “This will be more problematic in the future as the urban population is increasing. Due to the fact that solar and wind energy cannot be stored, geothermal energy could solve this problem,” the Icelandic speaker put forward.
Suggesting that SDGs should be applied to businesses, Dinara Seitjaparova, Financial Director of Almaty International Airport, gave an example of her enterprise, which reduced 30 percent of emissions by investing in equipment to increase visibility during the landing of planes in foggy weather and thus managed to avoid extra miles to land in other airports.
More than 460 politicians, businessmen, Nobel prize winners and top representatives of international organisations spoke in the forum, which was organised for the 12th time this year. Some 5600 participants representing government, private, NGO and media sectors from 74 countries joined the deliberations of the event, which now competes with the likes of St. Petersburg International Economic Forum.