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Speeches & Transcripts June 23, 2021

Opening Remarks by World Bank Vice President Victoria Kwakwa at the 2021 Asia Infrastructure Forum

  • Distinguished guests, on behalf of the World Band Group, it is my great pleasure to welcome you to the 2021 Asia Infrastructure Forum.  
  • I am honored to be joined today by Hiroshi Matano, Executive Vice President of the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA), and Alfonso Garcia Mora, IFC Vice President for Asia.
  • As you can see, the World Bank Group is present in full force, which is a testament to the importance that we attach to the partnership we have with the Government of Singapore. 
  • And let me start by thanking the government of Singapore, Minister Indranee Rajah, and Infrastructure Asia for convening this forum here in Singapore and for providing online access across Asia.
  • For me personally, this is the first time I have traveled in 15 months and I’m excited - and truly grateful - for the opportunity to begin this journey toward some semblance of normality and, of course, to discuss an issue that has such great importance for the countries around this region.
  • I would like to especially thank Minister Indranee Rajah for her leadership on this event and on our partnership more generally.    
  • We gather today as the unprecedented health, economic, and social crises brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic continue to ravage the globe.
  • In East Asia, we mourn the more than 110 thousand people who have lost their lives to this virus, even as we look for ways out of a crisis that has produced the sharpest economic contraction in the region since the Asian Financial Crisis.
  • Sadly, for the first time in two decades, we are seeing a halt in the critical gains we have made in reducing poverty across Asia. As a result, we now expect 29 million people to remain poor or become poor – living on less than $5.50 a day – by the end of 2021.
  • These challenges are compounded by the human capital losses we are seeing. Schools remain closed and access to virtual learning remains limited for large swaths of the region’s population.
  • Regular health services – including regular immunization programs – have been halted or scaled back, while nutritional insecurity continues to rise.
  • As governments rightfully extend support to their citizens in response to these challenges, public debt has increased by 7 percentage points of GDP across the region, on average - creating additional macroeconomic challenges for governments.    
  • Businesses have been hobbled by lockdowns, leading to growing debt levels, rising corporate sector vulnerabilities, and risks to the region’s financial sector.
  • However, as we enter the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are beginning to see some good news as well. 
  • East Asia is the first region to witness the emergence of a rebound - albeit this is happening at varying speeds across different countries and the process of turning this rebound into a full-blown recovery must not be taken for granted.
  • We have witnessed the development of vaccines at an unprecedented speed. But much of the region remains unvaccinated, while new variants continue to appear: creating third, and even fourth, waves of community transmission; threatening lives; and complicating re-opening plans.
  • With COVID-19 expected to evolve into an endemic disease, progress on vaccinations is a critical first step in protecting people and creating the conditions for safely reopening and launching a true recovery.
  • This daunting task requires effective global cooperation and remains a key area of focus for the World Bank Group. 
  • On this front, we continue to make financing available to help countries strengthen their health systems and purchase and deploy vaccines.
  • We are also working with our partners to help ensure excess vaccine supply in developed countries is matched with the vaccine demand in developing countries - ensuring all countries are given a fair chance to vaccinate their populations. 
  • Another worrying trend we are seeing stems from the growing evidence over the last year that we are significantly off track in our quest to keep a global temperature rise below a 2-degree threshold.
  • We know that Asia has an extremely important role to play in overcoming the hurdles presented by climate challenge.
  • On the mitigation front, the East Asia and Pacific region represents about 36 percent of global GHG emissions.  On the adaptation front, we know that countries in Asia are among the most vulnerable in the world to climate and climate related disasters. East Asia alone accounts for 70% of the world’s losses to natural disasters.
  • So, as countries in region embark on their journey toward recovery, they must place sustainability squarely at the center of their efforts.
  • Recovery plans must address the economic and social challenges presented by the ongoing COVID crisis, while simultaneously contributing to the longer-term efforts of getting us all back on track toward meeting our climate goals.
  • As the World Bank Group, we have responded to these challenges by expanding the scope and accelerating the speed of our ambitions to tackle climate change.
  • We have just completed a new Climate Change Action Plan which will provide a framework for bolder climate action – in the region and around the globe.
  • We will now ensure that at least 35% of our financing will generate climate Co-Benefits. We are also increasing our financing available for climate adaptation to $50 billion over the next five years.
  • Our plan marks a paradigm shift for the institution: moving from merely investing in “green” projects to greening entire economies.
  • Partnership and cooperation will be key elements in creating a successful economic recovery in the wake of COVID-19 and in the face of looming climate challenges.
  • In this regard, we believe our partnership with Singapore can be fully leveraged in support of this vision of a sustainable and green recovery.
  • This Forum represents a concrete example of how this leveraging can work in practice.
  • I am excited to participate in the substantive discussions which will ensue and welcome the opportunity to transform these discussions into action that we can collectively advance in pursuit of a green, sustainable future. 
  • I’d like to thank all of you again for joining us and look forward to an active and successful Forum.