Standing before an audience at the opening of the inaugural Trans-Pacific Sustainability Dialogue, Ban Ki-moon, the eighth secretary general of the United Nations, stressed the urgency of collaboration in confronting the climate crisis, stating that “We need to come together to organize all of Asia’s unique assets and strengths to achieve our goal of sustainable development and net zero by 2050.”
The two-day event, held on October 27 and October 28, 2022 in Seoul, South Korea, brought together a new network of scientists and social science researchers, government officials, private-sector practitioners, and student leaders concerned with the roles of climate finance, technology, and international diplomacy in pursuing sustainable development across the Asia-Pacific region and globally. Throughout the conference, they examined actionable strategies to accelerate progress on the United Nations-adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
APARC Director Gi-Wook Shin welcomed participants and described the necessity of focusing on the Asia-Pacific region, stating, "What happens in the Asia-Pacific will be crucial, as the region is home to more than half of the world's population, and responsible for more than half of the world's emissions. It is the fastest-growing part of the global economy and is vulnerable to the devastating impacts of climate change. What Asia does to expedite the implementation of the SDGs will have worldwide consequences."
The opening sessions of the conference featured remarks and a discussion with former Prime Minister of Australia Kevin Rudd, former President of the Republic of Colombia Iván Duque, and Chairman of the State Great Hural (Parliament) of Mongolia Gombojav Zandanshatar.
Rudd noted that recent macroeconomic and geopolitical trends have stymied progress on the SDGs, and convenings like the Trans-Pacific Sustainability Dialogue were necessary to re-align international efforts. “The headwinds against substantive action on the SDGs are formidable,” he said. “It is important for those of us who continue to exercise positions of informal political leadership around the world to…re-inject political momentum behind those initiatives which are in support of the planet’s long-term interests.”
Rudd identified climate finance as one of the most pressing aspects of the push towards a sustainable future, noting that “The critical question for all of us is how to mobilize international finance for action.” Plans for transforming the existing financial system in a manner that will account for sustainable growth were a recurring theme of the conference. Chairman Zandanshatar provided an optimistic charge to the audience, stating that, "together, we shall overcome these difficulties that hinder progress toward sustainable development goals with consolidated efforts and integrated, proactive policies."
In the second plenary session, Henry Gonzalez, deputy executive director of the Green Climate Fund, also stressed the importance of advancing green finance as a viable alternative to traditional investment strategies for the private sector. According to Mr. Gonzalez, the path forward lies in blended finance, the strategic use of development finance for the mobilization of additional finance towards sustainable development.
Mr. Gonzalez proposed that blended finance now represents one of the best vehicles to implement rapid change, as at least two-thirds of blended investment portfolios are committed to abetting climate change and protecting those most vulnerable to its impacts. The focus should be on generating human-centered climate action to make sure that those who are affected the most have better livelihoods, he said.
In a similar vein, Ambassador Hyoeun Jenny Kim, deputy minister for climate change in Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, discussed the centrality of climate finance. Kim acknowledged that many leaders are tempted to focus on imminent pending issues like economic downturn, and challenged leaders to concentrate on addressing climate change with a stronger sense of urgency and political commitment. “Those countries who contribute very little to climate change are the most affected […] they are affected by climate adaptation but also loss and damage,” she said.
Ambassador Kim promoted green finance reform as a necessary step in this commitment, stating that “The role of the Green Climate Fund must be strengthened… [the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change] must make [climate finance] funds more accessible for developing countries.” She also promoted the role of public-private partnerships in this endeavor, arguing that “Public money is not enough… in order to make a real green transition we will need over a trillion dollars, and this number invites strong engagement with the private sector.”
The Green Climate Fund, which assists developing countries in adaptation and mitigation practices to counter climate change, was also represented at the conference by Director of External Affairs Oyun Sanjaasuren. Sanjaasuren discussed innovative financing tactics and the need for leaders to engage in replenishing funds more ambitiously. Sanjaasuren specifically called for U.S. reengagement, increased participation from Australia, and continued cooperation with developing countries.
Another primary theme of the dialogue was the need for greater multilateralism and interdependence in achieving the SDGs. Kaveh Zahedi, the deputy executive secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, argued that in the current risk landscape, the game-changer is sustaining adequate finance for sustainable development and spurring resilient and inclusive development.
He stressed the need to undo the current multilateralism structure, where there is an unfair debt architecture management system. “Capital is flowing out of developing economies when developed economies raise interest rates to tackle their own inflation… countries are lurching from crisis to crisis… with little political or financial space for long-term investments needed to deliver sustainable development,” he said. Kim Sook, former ambassador and permanent representative of the Republic of Korea to the United Nations, also pointed to mainstreaming and establishing SDG-focused institutions and business ventures as an innovative way to resuscitate multilateralism.
Building off of themes presented during the plenary sessions of the opening day, the dual-track second day of the Dialogue included expert and student panels that featured researchers from Stanford University, Ewha Womans University, Osaka University, and De La Salle University, among other Asian universities. The student presenters provided a glimpse into their ongoing research, applied work, and entrepreneurial activities across the region. Discussion topics included innovations in green financing, gender mainstreaming and climate governance, development cooperation for sustainable governance, and scaling environmental solutions through a business and social justice lens. Among the presentations on the expert panels were contributions from members of Stanford’s Natural Capital Project, who examined innovative methods of mapping and valuing goods and services from nature.
In her closing remarks, Nicole Ardoin, Emmett Faculty Scholar and associate professor in Stanford's Doerr School of Sustainability, stressed the interdependent nature of sustainable development and the collaborative approaches required for successful implementation. “The ideal of global sustainable development will not be achieved by ticking off individual boxes, including achievement of individual goals, but will only materialize when we have shifted the cultures, the power structures, the mindsets, and the fundamental ways that we all live,” she said.
In the context of wider collaboration in the Asia-Pacific region, the Dialogue initiated vital conversations on how policymakers, academics, and industry can promote sustainable outcomes. Critically, it spotlighted complex issues that merit further scholarly investigation and intellectual exchange. The Trans-Pacific Sustainability Dialogue will continue to develop these lines of investigation in the coming months and years.
APARC is grateful to our partners who made the Dialogue possible: co-hosts Korea Environment Institute and Ewha Womans University, and co-organizers the Natural Capital Project (NatCap) of Stanford University, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Korea, Korea Environmental Industry and Technology Institute (KEITI), Korea Environment Corporation (K-eco), and Korea Water Resources Corporation (K-water).
The conference made headlines in Korean media and elsewhere. Explore selected media coverage, the event press release, the conference agenda, and the YouTube playlist including the full livestream recordings via the links below.