SDSN’s ASEAN Workshop on Sustainable Development Hosted at Sunway University Reinvigorates Regional Commitments to the SDGs

Hosted by SDSN and the Jeffrey Cheah Foundation, the 2023 ASEAN Workshop on Sustainable Development (AWSD) focused on charting pathways for sustainable development in Southeast Asia ahead of the 2023 SDG Summit and 2024 Summit for the Future.

On July 21-22, 2023, SDSN and the Jeffrey Cheah Foundation, with the support of the Office of the Secretary-General of ASEAN, convened the 2023 ASEAN Workshop on Sustainable Development (AWSD) at Sunway University. With the theme of ‘‘Charting Pathways for Sustainable Development in Southeast Asia,’ the 2023 AWSD convened sustainable development experts, policymakers, and civil society to draw out and update national commitments of ASEAN countries to the SDGs ahead of the 2023 SDG Summit and 2024 Summit for the Future. The event saw more than 325 individual participants across the two days, including representatives from 15 countries. 

The event, held at Sunway University in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, featured an opening address from Tan Sri Dato’ Seri Dr. Jeffrey Cheah, the Chairman of the Sunway Group and Founding Trustee of the Jeffrey Cheah Foundation, officiated by the Secretary-General of ASEAN, Dr. Kao Kim Hourn, and the Minister of Natural Resources, Environment and Climate Change of Malaysia, His Excellency Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad.

Following the opening remarks, the event featured three plenaries composed of high-level speakers from the ASEAN region and around the world. The plenaries were as follows: Plenary I, “Converting Crisis to Opportunity," which focused on strengthening ASEAN regional partnership in sustainable development and generating commitment to action to accelerate progress on the SDGs and climate actions to make up for the time lost in the last three years due to the COVID-19 pandemic; Plenary II, “Mobilizing Science for Protection of Biodiversity and the Success of President Lula’s “OPEC of Rainforests”, which identified policies for biodiversity conservation and carbon reduction that relate to science, technology, and innovation (STI); and Plenary III, “The Next Key Steps in Strengthening Sustainable Development in ASEAN," which explored long-term development pathways to solve the SDG problems.

Key takeaways from the Plenary Sessions included:

  • Regional collaboration in renewable energy: Increased collaboration among ASEAN countries, as well as support from developed countries, is necessary for decarbonization. Decarbonization cannot be done country by country, as the cost will be too high for each country if they do it alone. Regional cooperation in ASEAN is fundamental; and a partnership between ASEAN and China, Japan, Korea, Australia, and New Zealand would present a very viable cooperation model for regional decarbonization, with each player or group of players bringing different strengths to the table. 
  • The role of education: Of all the goals, there is none more important than education. Only through education can we solve our present and future crises – whether the climate crisis, the environmental crisis, the poverty crisis, the health crisis, the biodiversity crisis, or any other crisis.
  • Regional and international collaboration for rainforest conservation: Cooperation between the three rainforests (Amazon, Congo, and Southeast Asia) is critical. A holistic, green, integrated economic approach would address these related problems. This requires finding new sources of economic growth, new economic incentives to protect the forest, empowering indigenous people, and encouraging industrial responsibility.
  • The need for long-term development pathways for the SDGs: Long-term development pathways specify clearly where we are headed in the achievement of the SDGs and have detailed plans which describe all the steps required to reach the goals.
  • The importance of increased funding: Funding for SDG implementation needs to be channeled from Multilateral Development Banks (MDBs) and Public Development Banks (PDBs) to enable adequate and affordable financing for low-income countries.
  • The transnational nature of the SDGs and the role of SDSN: The SDSN’s national and regional networks, which are composed of leading universities and research institutions, are critical in supporting the development of long-term development pathways at the ASEAN level. For example, the issue of the regional power transmission grids and the conservation of forests and natural ecosystems are issues that transcend national borders.

The Workshop also held parallel sessions on a host of topics relating to projects conducted by SDSN's Kuala Lumpur's Office. 30 experts from universities, research institutes, government agencies, and international organizations presented their work and insights during these sessions. Sessions on the Science Panel for Southeast Asia – meant to mirror the Science Panel for the Amazon – focused on biodiversity protection and soil conservation on the island of Borneo. Speakers came from all parts of Malaysia, particularly the Eastern states of Sabah and Sarawak on the island of Borneo, and from Indonesia. 

The ASEAN Green Future, a project that aims to demonstrate how sustainable, decarbonized economies offer enhanced economic development and more resilient futures for the region, brought together academics and practitioners from Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam, and Australia.

The session on Mission 4.7 titled “Reorienting Education to Contribute to Sustainable Development” focused on regional efforts to bring Education in Sustainable Development (ESD) into the mainstream.

See a full schedule of the event sessions on the event page.

Learn more about projects from the SDSN's Kuala Lumpur Office.

A recording of the event can be found on SDSN’s YouTube Channel, or watch recordings from Days 1 & 2 below.