South Asia is home to nearly forty percent of the world population, yet accounts for less than ten percent of world GDP. It is home to several paradoxes- amongst the highest economic growth rates in the world coexist with the high rates of poverty, malnutrition, and mortality. Some of the world’s most dynamic economies are in this region; rapid urbanization, and rising economic opportunities have combined to put pressure on terrestrial and marine ecosystems. Further, the region is expected to bear some of the most devastating consequences of climate change-drought, changing patterns of rainfall and increasing frequency of extreme weather patterns which are particularly critical for a region where the majority of the population depends on rain-fed agriculture for survival. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are critical to the region as they embody the challenges of the region, and their success depends on the question of how best the SDG framework can help address these complex, interrelated issues.
This was precisely the question raised at the meeting of SDSN South Asia on 17 February, 2018. SDSN South Asia is hosted by The Energy and Research Institute (TERI), and was established in July 2014 to bring together academic and policy institutions from the region to focus on the SDGs. The meeting participants included several SDSN members, as well as policy makers and thought leaders in the sustainable development space from the region. The meeting was chaired by Dr. Ajay Mathur, Director-General, TERI, and addressed by Professor Jeffrey Sachs, Director, SDSN, who framed the central question: How can South Asia achieve the SDGs?
Participants agreed that regional cooperation on the big questions of energy transitions, water management, and biodiversity conservation will be critical- notwithstanding the geopolitical compulsions specific to the region. At the sub-national level however there is already a policy momentum amongst state and provincial governments for SDG based planning and monitoring. Universities in the region have typically not systematically supported governments; but there was a widespread recognition that university-government linkages are both important and long overdue. Several participants stressed the need to embed the SDGs in local contexts, and communicate their purpose locally to build regional and ultimately national momentum for the SDGs.
Finally there was a recognition that universities are critical in strengthening the capacity of governments and civil society to monitor progress on the SDGs, and to hold governments accountable. Possible collaborations on flagship government programs such as Smart Cities (in India) with local universities could open the space for such support. The meeting ended with an agreement to codify some of the large SDG challenges discussed in the meeting, and to prepare a one year action plan in anticipation of annual regional convening of SDSN members.
Participants included, among others, SDSN Leadership Council members Dr. K Srinath Reddy and Jeffrey Sachs, participants from SDSN and TERI, SDSN members from Nepal, India, Pakistan (Amrita University, Charities Aid Foundation, Center for Environment Education, Kathmandu University, LEAD Pakistan, the Red Elephant Foundation, and COSAN, Nepal) and heads of economic policy think-tanks in India (Dr. Rathin Roy, NIPFP, Ms. Yamini Aiyar, Center for Policy Research).
 PPP, current US$, World Development Indicators, World Bank 2016