UNESCAP: Innovation for climate action and inclusivity

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Despite efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change, Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 13 on Climate Action has seen an overall regression in progress in Asia and the Pacific. A 2023 ESCAP report details that, in some countries, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have risen by 22 per cent from 2010-2019, while emissions are just reaching their peak in others. However, to keep global warming within the 1.5°C pathway under the Paris Agreement, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recommends that global GHG emissions need to peak before 2025, followed by rapid reductions of 43 per cent compared to 2019 levels by 2030, and more by 2050.  To achieve this, economy-wide emission reduction targets need to be established, requiring implementation by the whole of society and new approaches.

Given this immense and urgent challenge, innovations are essential for accelerating progress on SDG 13, decisively changing the way societies produce and consume and facilitating a just transition to green economies. With a global climate action financing gap estimated between $6-12 trillion per year in 2023, there are also considerable opportunities for innovation, and the UN 2.0 policy—a vision for a modernized UN system—views challenges as opportunities for groundbreaking sustainable solutions.

Considering insufficient progress achieving the SDGs by 2030, ESCAP’s work is aligning to the so-called “Quintet of Change” (as advanced by UN 2.0) comprised of innovation, data, digital, and foresight. Additionally, ESCAP provides support services for national innovation policies and recognizes that enabling policies and entrepreneurship are crucial for innovative low-carbon and resilient technologies. Meanwhile, directly building the capacities of different stakeholders to innovate—such as youth—is important for harnessing the full potential of innovation.

Regional progress on SDG 13 indicators

As part of its forward-thinking approach, UN 2.0 also places importance on youth empowerment, as well as nurturing innovation through hackathons. One example of applying this approach was the Youth Climathon held alongside the 11th Asia-Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development (APFSD) in February 2024, where SDG 13 was under review in the context of delivering innovative solutions.

Children and youth are disproportionately vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Indeed, their vulnerability is reflected in the fact that 60 per cent of people aged 16-25 are worried about climate change. Engaging youth in climate action is therefore imperative to address their concerns and ensure sustainable futures. This entails more than simply listening to their concerns. It requires equipping them with the knowledge and opportunities to build a brighter future for our planet. At the same time, youth possess unique attributes—such as disruptive approaches—that make them assets, reflected in their recognition in the 2024 ECOSOC Youth Forum as essential innovators, with leveraging youth-led innovation and entrepreneurship emerging as a key message from the session.  

The multi-month Youth Climathon saw over 100 young people from the region come together to develop innovative solutions to climate action challenges surrounding electric mobility, climate-smart agriculture, climate-resilient cities, natural ecosystem preservation, and the just transition. This included youth from particularly climate-vulnerable countries such as Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Myanmar. The event culminated on the first day of the APFSD, when four finalist teams pitched their ideas to a panel of expert judges, providing a high-level demonstration of youth’s ability to innovate.


Photo credit: ESCAP Photo/Gabriela Ana Cestino Lopez


Climate action requires the involvement of the whole of society; however, new innovations and technologies also carry the potential to exacerbate inequalities between those who can and those who cannot access them and the promise of technology and innovation remains largely unfulfilled for many of the region’s poorest.

It is therefore important that innovations are designed to include marginalized groups. For example, the Youth Climathon teams championed the Leave No One Behind principle by designing solutions that blend innovation with inclusivity. From user-friendly agricultural monitoring systems, promoting affordable precision agriculture for small-scale farmers in the Philippines, to eco-friendly insulative materials designed to counteract excessive heat in Thailand’s buildings, their ideas address the challenges faced by vulnerable communities on the frontline of climate change.

 However, the momentum does not stop at the Youth Climathon: it paves the way for future innovation-oriented events at the APFSD and sets a track towards the Summit of the Future in September 2024.

The summit will result in a negotiated intergovernmental, action-oriented Pact for the Future, containing chapters on both science, technology, and innovation (STI) and youth and future generations. In the outcome, it is important that actions acknowledge STI’s environmental and social benefits—including the potential for innovations to reduce inequalities among people and countries—and that the capacities of future generations are built to take climate action forward.



Liam O Connor
Associate Urban Climate Change Specialist, Environment and Development Division

Christian Mortelliti
Consultant, Environment and Development Division, ESCAP

Juliet Braslow 
Sustainable Development Officer, Countries in Special Situation Section

Aneta Nikolova
Environmental Affairs Officer, Environment and Development Division


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