NUR-SULTAN – Kazakh Prime Minister Alikhan Smailov addressed the Second Regional Summit on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) taking place June 16-17 in Almaty calling on Central Asian countries to intensify cooperation, reports the Prime Minister’s press service.
One of the key initiatives is to open the UN Center for SDGs for Central Asia and Afghanistan in Almaty. The region was significantly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic that reversed its progress and affected all population groups, hitting the most vulnerable.
Organized by the Kazakh government, in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Kazakhstan and funded by the European Union and the Asian Development Bank, the two-day event is attended by the heads of government of Kyrgyzstan Akylbek Japarov, Tajikistan — Kokhir Rasulzoda, Uzbekistan — Abdulla Aripov, Deputy Chair of the Cabinet of Ministers of Turkmenistan Muhammetguly Mukhammedov, UN Under-Secretary-General Usha Rao-Monari, as well as international experts, representatives of international organizations, diplomats and civil society.
Addressing the summit participants, Smailov emphasized the importance of regional cooperation as one of the main priorities for Kazakhstan. According to him, intra-regional trade in Central Asia stands at $6.5 billion, while the share of mutual trade between the countries of the region accounts for nine percent of their total trade.
“Obviously, we have a significant potential to build up cooperation. In this regard, we consider it necessary to strengthen joint measures to expand trade relations between our countries,” said Smailov.
He reaffirmed Kazakhstan’s commitment to achieving the UN 2030 Agenda. In doing so, the country incorporated SDG indicators in its national development strategies and programs and set up a coordinating council for the SDG agenda.
The framework program in sustainable development signed between Kazakhstan and the UN in 2020 serves as an important tool in consolidating government bodies, representatives of civil society, and the private sector.
Smailov said deep structural changes in the global economy forced Kazakhstan to adapt its national economic development policy, which is expected to improve the nation’s investment climate and business environment, reduce the state’s role in the economy, introduce innovations, alternative energy, and expand green financing.
Kazakhstan will also focus on the development of education, scientific and technical potential, expansion of research and development, and training of qualified personnel for the needs of the economy.
Smailov also spoke about his country’s readiness to contribute to UN efforts in ensuring food security which has come under a big strain in recent years with food prices continuing to rise. Kazakhstan, with its vast territory and abundant agricultural resources, seeks to boost its agricultural sector and increase agricultural productivity.
Food security is also affected by climate change, which puts environmental issues on top of the national agenda. Rising temperatures and water shortage are just among a few of the implications.
“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,” said Smailov.
European Commissioner for International Partnerships Jutta Urpilainen addressed the meeting in a video format declaring the EU’s comprehensive support for Central Asia to achieve SDGs.
“We stand by Central Asia in building a more sustainable and inclusive future and advancing the regional dialogue. Our new Global Gateway Strategy will help connect Europe and its partners with investments in sustainable and high-quality infrastructure, inclusive skills development for young people, and more resilient healthcare systems for the region,” said Urpilainen.
While in Almaty, Smailov held a meeting with the UN Under-Secretary-General and UNDP Associate Administrator Usha Rao-Monari, Adviser of the UNDP Executive Agency in New York Derek Pieper, Deputy Director of UNDP Regional Bureau for Europe and the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) Marina Walter and UNDP Resident Representative in Kazakhstan Yakup Berish. They discussed UNDP activities in Kazakhstan.
According to Smailov, UNDP activities in Kazakhstan are largely focused on environmental protection. With the participation and support of the UNDP, environmental projects have been implemented in the Kyzylorda and East Kazakhstan regions. Six specially protected natural sites with a total area of more than two million hectares have been created.
He explained that Kazakhstan supports the new UNDP Country Program for 2021-2025, which affects the priority areas of the country’s development noting their relevance to the large-scale political and economic reforms.
Usha Rao-Monari confirmed the readiness of the UN to continue to provide support for the sustainable development of Kazakhstan.
“Success in achieving the SDGs will require a fundamental change in the path of development. With just eight years to 2030, we must put in more effort and commitment to get development back on track and moving forward,” said Usha Rao-Monari. 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 rethinking the SDG financing system.”.
On the sidelines of the regional summit, Smailov also held bilateral meetings with the heads of government of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan.